Back to life
The 25-acre private gardens and grounds of Malahide Castle have been part of a spectacular and extensive redevelopment, writes FIONNUALA FALLON
When the diplomat Lord Milo Talbot of Malahide Castle died suddenly, in 1973, at the age of 60, the avid plantsman left behind him the Talbot Botanical Gardens, a remarkable 25-acre private garden that was home to one of the finest, largest and most meticulously curated plant collections in Ireland.
Talbot began the collection around 1950, shortly after he succeeded to the title of Baron de Malahide. The collection highlighted his particular interest in plants of the southern hemisphere, honed throughout his lifetime by his extensive travels, as well as regular visits to his second home in Tasmania.
A dedicated plant collector, whenever an opportunity presented itself to acquire a rare, unusual, or what he called “a less common plant”, Talbot generally took it.
Just as importantly, from a garden history point of view, he carefully recorded each and every plant acquisition – not only its provenance but the date it was acquired, the method of propagation used, its location within the garden, and whether or not it flourished.
Many of the plants, such as the semihardy evergreen climber Berberidopsis corallina, had rarely been grown before in this country. Others – including Banksia serrata, a plant first collected by Sir Joseph Banks during Captain Cook’s voyages to the Pacific Ocean – are so tender that Talbot had to house them in a heated glasshouse specially constructed for the purpose.
When he died, the castle and its gardens passed into public ownership, acquired by Dublin Corporation from the Talbot family for the modest sum of £650,000. Since then, the corporation, and one of its later evolutions, Fingal County Council, have done a great job of caring for this wonderful garden, while successive generations of horticultural students, sent there on work experience, have enjoyed the unique opportunity to study its remarkable plant collection.
That said, the walled gardens were open to the public only one day a week during high season, something that often frustrated would-be visitors. More recently, the glasshouses and the hard landscaping of paths, lighting, and signage had also begun to look in need of a revamp. Cue one of the most extensive public-garden redevelopments in recent years, with a total of €10.5 million in funding for the project coming from Fingal County Council and Fáilte Ireland.
Work on the castle and its gardens began in early 2011 and continued throughout last year, with the formal reopening last November and the announcement that the site would be operated by Shannon Heritage on behalf of the council.