Purchasing a historic estate with 17 acres of gardens and landscaping at the age of 28 is no small feat, but Adam Clayton did just that when he bought on Dunsmoat – and he also had the foresight and foresight to plant thousands of trees and shrubs, restoring views and bringing life back. and the color of this beautiful river valley. Jane Powers tells a story with pictures by Jonathan Hession.
“We used to sneak in the back to smoke and charm girls,” says Adam Clayton, bassist for U2. It was in the 1970s when he was studying at St. Columba’s College in Dublin. He did not suspect that in the next decade he would become the owner of that very estate at the foot of the Dublin Mountains.
In 1986, the band rented an empty house to record their fifth studio album. Joshua tree, in an acoustically gorgeous, majestic living room. The then owner, Mr. Clayton recalls, said, “If anyone wants to buy the house at the end of the record, I’ll subtract the rent from the price.” So, in 1988, at the age of 28, he ended up in the possession of Danesmoat: a large Georgian house, numerous outbuildings (including a dovecote and a double toilet) and 17 acres of gardens, pastures and a river valley – all this needed improvement. . serious attention. Although only seven miles from Dublin, the place was remote and quiet.
This will change in the coming years with the advent of Dublin’s ring road, the M50, which now runs close to the property boundary. When he bought Danesmoate, Mr. Clayton knew the road was close and that mitigation was needed. “The only thing I knew ahead of time was that I would need trees.” He hired Neil Murray, a designer and nursery owner who lives nearby. They removed all the “old wood and all the laurel that filled the place” and set about planting trees – about 4,000 of them – and creating views. The forest areas were planted with oak (“a lot of oak!”), beech, sycamore, ash, birch and various conifers. Dr Murray, a keen and well-connected plant specialist, has adorned the woodlands with selected trees, including test specimens from Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens and Windsor Great Park.
Dr. Murray arranged visits to the fabulously extravagant gardens at Mount Congreve in Waterford, famous for their magnificent displays of acid-loving plants such as camellias, rhododendrons and magnolias. There, on the banks of the Shur River, the industrialist and lover of gardens Ambrose Kongrev planted not in twos or threes, but in 10 and 20 pieces.
Mr. Clayton was shocked by this sight. “After that, we started growing camellias here” – now they shine on the road and in the forest in early spring. And he unabashedly admits: “We are a little obsessed with magnolias.” There are 50 varieties in Dunsmoat, many of which are planted in multiples.
They focus on the more formal gardens around the house and run through the forest and along the banks of the Little Dargle River, which meanders for half a mile along a small valley. They are a breathtaking sight as their thousands of fluffy buds open to reveal magnificent blooms. Among them are decadent, lush-petalled, rich pink magnolia campbellia “Darjeeling”, exquisite snow-white M. kobusand the cheerfully glowing ‘Yellow Bird’, bred at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens in New York, USA.
Mr. Clayton is “a great lover of rhododendrons.” Seeing how they grow wild in the Himalayas, he appreciated their nobility. They were in a different league from the wild ones pontic rhododendron grows “in swampy ditches in Ireland”. There are about 100 varieties here, including almost delicate species such as fragrant R. Griffithianum.
Danesmoat has a special microclimate: the planting of trees has created a pleasant shelter, and the river helps to conduct cold air. tree ferns (Dixonia antarctica) thrive in humid environments, as does the European chain fern (woodwardia radicans). Growth rate supercharged: Caucasian lamb (Pterocaria fraxinifolia) and the Chilean southern beech (Nothofagus dombeyi) 50 feet high; towering sequoia coast (Sequoia evergreen) is so fat that two people can hug it.
Although most of the planting dates back to the past three decades, there are fine trees from the garden’s former days: venerable beech trees with elephant trunks; large plane trees with a strong, kind presence; ancient yews of unknown crop; sinuous, smooth-skinned rhododendrons. There are remains of the famous Picturesque Garden (see box) including rustic stone frenzy and – on the river – bridges and cascades. Jim Barco, a talented mason, added more bridges and stone elements and helped reinforce and restore the stonework along the banks. Additional weirs and waterfalls enliven the journey of the water, increasing the volume of its pleasant splashing. Small trout rush about in the water, and dippers and herons feed in shallow water. Wildlife is abundant in Danesmoat: otters have been sighted, sparrowhawks nest in one of the pine trees, and buzzards are everywhere.
The house overlooks a meadow that is maintained as a semi-natural grassland habitat and inhabited by butterflies and other invertebrates. Pheasant eyes and Wordsworth’s daffodils in spring (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) lighten the turf, but in the rest of the year it is a reserve for buttercups, clover, vetch, cornflower, swivel and other natives.
Around the house, British designer Elizabeth Stavely created a structure of well-structured garden rooms. In recent years they have been populated with an intensively managed menu of perennials and bulbs. June Blake, whose beautiful Blessington Garden is half an hour away, has developed much of the planting: late spring starts with thousands of richly colored tulips and transitions into a festival of onions. Throughout the year, a riotous parade of perennials fills the flower beds. Head gardener Darra Stone, who has been here since 2020, has developed some of the new plantings. A team of four gardeners (including two part-time) are supported by Joe Mulligan, a Danesmoat resident for over 30 years who knows every inch of the terrain.
The range of plants at Danesmoate continues to grow with interesting woody plants and other gems. The collection of Irish strains is also growing and includes a cute little blue streak. omphalodes “Star Eyes” originated in Woodtown Park, a couple of miles down the road; and the variegated holly “Lady Valerie” which was discovered at Dargle Cottage in Enniskerry by Dr. Murray.
Plans for the near future center around a 19th-century walled garden, which will soon be centered on an elegant glasshouse and conservatory. The newly acquired five-acre field is being developed as woodland with meadow clearings. Mr. Clayton wholeheartedly approves of the restoration of wildlife and the addition of new trees to his estate. He looks forward to “planting trees over the next 40 plus years.”
The gardens at Danesmoate, Dublin are open by appointment for groups. Email Head Gardener Darra Stone (email@example.com)
History of Danesmoat
The oldest parts of the garden were created between 1766 and 1802 by Captain William Southwell and his wife Julia Ponsonby, when the site was known variously as Glen, Glen Southwell, New Dargle, Little Dargle, and later Glynsatwell.
The name Danesmoate was first used in the 1950s. Captain Southwell’s family was an aristocratic military family, and among his wife’s relations were eminent horticulturists such as the 1st Viscount Duncannon of Bessborough in County Kilkenny and the 5th Earl of Meath, whose Anglo-French gardens at Killruddery in County Wicklow survive. Julia’s cousin married Sir William Founce of Woodstock, Kilkenny, another property famous for its regular gardens.
The Southwell garden was done in a fashionable pictorial style, the indomitable power of the “wilderness” celebrated by carefully chosen perspectives. Gothic buildings and other rustic elements added to the drama. In Glen Southwell, a steep valley with a seething river and mossy boulders was awe-inspiring.
The site was universally admired, not least by the Reverend John Wesley (the founder of Methodism), who remarked in a letter: “Though many places may surpass it in grandeur, I believe that none of them can surpass it in beauty.”
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