I was in Leighlinbridge last Saturday week to deliver a talk as part of the annual Carlow Garden Trail. The festival takes place around this time every year and consists of a series of lectures, talks and workshops at various venues throughout the county.
My presentation, which concerned the origin and evolution of my Bloom 2016 garden ‘’GOAL’S Damascus Courtyard, War and Peace’’ took place in the Parish Centre in the town at 2.00pm. Later that evening at the Arboretum around the corner I went to see Diarmuid Gavin delivering a talk on his career in garden design in general and specifically the genesis and execution of his Chelsea 2016 garden.
So I spent all of Saturday in Leighlinbridge. I got to see it very closely and speak at length to several of its more prominent and proactive residents.
The whole experience prompted me to repeatedly pose the following question; why isn’t every town in Ireland like Leighlinbridge?
It is a town which embodies and showcases everything that I have repeatedly written about over the past year; valuing public space, civic pride, the power of strong community.
The momentum which culminated in the winning of a gold medal in Entente Florale in 2001 has evidently not abated one iota since. The moment you set foot in the town you realise you are in the domain of some progressive, determined, well organised and hard working local citizens.
The array of spectacles is truly impressive;
“The Millennium Garden consists of seven small individual gardens, each with its own theme represented by trees, shrubs and stones. Using materials indigenous to the local area, the garden tells the story of life through a series of themes including peace and tranquillity, happiness, friendship, reconciliation, hope, harmony and eternity.
The Vivaldi Garden is based on Vivaldi’s musical concerto The Four Seasons and comprises four formal gardens, each depicting a season of the year. To create a formal effect each rectangle is lined with Buxus sempervirens and formed into triangles with lavender while each season is represented by specific planting.
The Garden of Remembrance straddling the River Barrow commemorates important occasions in the history of the village including the visit of the Canadian Prime Minister, Brian Mulrooney, a World War 1 Memorial and the Entente Florale Gold Medal Award. A number of commemorative trees have been planted together with ballerina roses and shrubs.
The Sculpture Garden is dedicated to three of Leighlinbridge’s most famous sons – Cardinal Patrick Francis Moran, Australia’s first Cardinal, John Tyndall, the mountaineer and scientist who developed the light pipe, the forerunner to fibre optics and Captain Myles Keogh, second in command to General Custer who lost his life at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876 at the hands of the Sioux.”
These are community conceived, community themed, community executed and community maintained gardens. They elevate an already picturesque village onto another plane.
Entente Florale is a European wide competition in which entrants are rated under such headings as; enhancement through flowers, shrubs, trees and green spaces, respect for nature, development that is environmentally and ecologically sensitive, maintenance of buildings and streetscape and a sense of colour, tidiness and cheerfulness.
The Carlow village joined Clonakilty and Skerries who were the only other Irish entrants to achieve Gold Standard in the event in its then 26 year history.
What I found interesting as I toured the town is how the private homeowners seem to have bought into the wider village ethos. Gardens are blooming and well tended, front walls are invariably freshly painted. And this is a key point; the pride seems to permeate throughout. Set the bar high and inevitably everyone will try to measure up.
It all makes for a wonderful experience and, I imagine, an idyllic place to grow up. How formative it must be for a young person to see up close such evidence of the power of community collaboration and the pursuit of a shared vision.
Leighlinbridge is known as The Garden Village. Combine a stroll of its streets with a visit to Rachel Doyle’s outstanding Arboretum Home and Garden Heaven on its outskirts and you’ll understand why.