Traveling to Ireland this summer to keynote at the very green and sustainable Bloom 2010 event was a tremendous experience because of the warmth and beauty of Ireland’s people. What made the trip completely over-the-top was receiving an invitation to tour the gardens of Áras an Uachtaráin, President Mary McAleese’s official residence gardens in Dublin, Ireland.
President McAleese is known for a quote which I think strongly reflects the garden which has been built surrounding the Presidential Residence, “That past is still within our living memory, a time when neighbour helped neighbour, sharing what little they had out of necessity, as well as decency.” Áras an Uachtaráin’s grounds are built to be shared with the people of Ireland and the world; encouraging others to building community and garden organically.
Robert Norris, Head Gardener at the Áras an Uachtaráin gardens, walked with me in a very special private tour of the Presidential property. While there, a smile rarely left my lips. Our first stop was to walk around the Presidential residence and view the formal gardens which were originally built in the Victorian era. Every notable head of state is invited to plant a tree on the grounds, the largest being Queen Victoria’s tree. Aptly, on one of her three visits, Queen Victoria planted a Redwood – a Giant Sequoia – at this front garden. It is so absolutely magnificent and huge that it transforms the view of the garden from the stately home sometimes referred to as the “Irish White House”.
Closer to the residence, the Victorian theme is duplicated with a rose garden and gorgeous rows of lavender which form unique frames to the walking paths in the rose garden, as well as scenting the air with their delightful aroma. It is a wonderful spot to host visitors from all over the world.
After the more formal gardens immediately surrounding the home, I was lead through majestic, tree-lined allee’s filled with specialty bulb gardens and sweeping views of the property. This part of the tour was quiet and calming with its sprawling trees, green grass, and grand views of nature – it was a place for thought and reflection.
Next came my favorite garden on the property; the private organic kitchen garden. Although the Presidential gardens are not yet fully certified organic, they have for many years been working on a conversion process which involves switching over to organic cultivation, fully eliminating the use of artificial fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, and synthetic chemicals. Although “organic” status has not been awarded yet, the process will soon be complete. The kitchen garden is not open to the public and I was unable to video
this portion of the Presidential garden. However, I was allowed to take photos which you can see in the photo series.
What truly amazes me about this garden is the dedication of the staff, under President McAleese’s guidance, creating an example of organic living for the people of Ireland. Utilizing organic fertilizers, such as manures, the garden is very carefully managed so chemicals are not used. This creates an environment where most of the food served at the Presidential residence which is taken from the gardens is healthy and chemical-free.
Within the walled kitchen garden is an amazing array of table vegetables, fresh herbs of every possible type, and house chickens. Delightfully, the chickens peck at any greenery beneath their hen house, and their eggs help
feed the household. They adore fresh greenery, and their coop is moved regularly over various sections of the
garden so the hens can act as natural “weeders”. Each hen had its own personality and plays an important part in supplying the President’s chefs with the freshest eggs imaginable.
Surprisingly, the perennial flower cutting gardens surrounding the Peach House, a very special green house designed by the renowned 19th century Architect Richard Turner (and recently restored), are also without chemical use. Any cut flowers from these gardens used for the tables inside the Presidential residence are chemical-free as well. This means that seeds and petals dropped on the tables are also chemical-free. What a terrific example of President McAleese’s healthy initiatives; setting a sustainable example for the world on a better and more positive way to live.
Each garden is kept surprisingly clear of weeds, and you will see in the video I made of the experience, that the staff is utilizing every creative technique possible to manage the garden. The only weeds I saw were between potato plants near the fruit orchard; soon to be creatively smothered with the vegetable plant’s top-growth. Because Áras an Uachtaráin is located on the Phoenix Park property, right next to the Dublin Zoo, there are plenty of opportunities for the gardeners at the Presidential residence to use organic and natural zoo manure. This is a great arrangement which encourages the staff to continue building rich organic gardens. Composted manure is one of the best natural fertilizers ever. There was even a sustainable permeable paving parking on the property. This parking area allows water to drain back down to the water table instead of being washed away into the sewer systems.
Aras an Uachtaráin is the official residence of the President of Ireland and I was privileged to have an invitation extended to me to visit the gardens. I hope some day to meet the President personally and thank her for her amazing organic initiatives. The best way to educate the public on sustainable practices is certainly by setting an example. President McAleese and her staff are doing an astounding job of that.
Below is a video which shows me giving you a tour at the gardens at Áras an Uachtaráin, with a focus on creative tips and ideas you can learn from the gardens which are going organic. Remember, the gardens are still in process of being officially certified organic, so references made to “organic” in the video and in this article mean the areas which are in process of being certified.
The house and grounds are at Phoenix Park in Dublin, Ireland, and are open to the public each Saturday. To learn more about the residence and other information about the President of Ireland, please go to the Official Website of the President of Ireland.
Special thanks go to the Presidential staff at Áras an Uachtaráin for welcoming me and my sponsor escort, Emma Walls of Glenisk Organic Dairy, to the presidential gardens. It was truly a personal dream come true.
*This has been posted on both The Casual Gardener blog site and the Gardening blog site as it is about sustainable practices AND gardening.