There are but a handful of gardens in Ireland designed by the Englishman Edwin Lutyens and Heywood Gardens is one of them. As if this isn’t recommendation enough, he collaborated with the renowned plantswoman Gertrude Jekyll in designing the formal gardens at Heywood in about 1912.
Although the original Heywood House was destroyed by fire in the 1950s, the formal gardens remain as a fabulous legacy of their work. Since the 1990s the gardens have been managed by the Office of Public Works, with the whole garden undergoing substantial restoration. Fragments of the original garden remain from the 1770s found within the large demesne.
I first visited Heywood In July 2017. From the moment you walk through the grounds, along the slowly ascending path passed huge, ancient beech and oak trees, the magic of the garden becomes apparent. Even without the magnificent house that once stood proudly at the highest point, the formal gardens form a series of terraces from which to enjoy the spectacular views of the Laois countryside, lake and distant church spires of the nearby Ballinakill village.
From the uppermost terrace, the visitor descends to another level with a wide lawn bordered by herbaceous beds, full of Jekyll trademark plants such as bergenia, Stachys byzantina, nepeta, peonies, Japanese windflowers and pink phlox.
From here a short avenue of pleached limes leads to what must be one of the finest sunken gardens to be seen anywhere. Entering through an ornate wrought iron gate, the oval terraced garden is pure heaven! On the lowest level is a pond with eight turtles spouting water and a central fountain creating a spectacular centrepiece. Circular ‘windows’ cut into the outer walls of the garden, allow glimpses of the lush rural landscape beyond. Simply divine! Another gorgeous feature here is the summerhouse made of split limestone and adorned with jasmine. In one corner of the sunken garden a set of steps leads enticingly to a series of smaller interconnected ‘garden rooms’, all concealed behind yew hedging.
Re-tracing your steps through the iron gate at the entrance to the sunken garden, the flagstone path leads to another set of steps down to a splendid pergola which appears to float above the surrounding landscape, it’s so close to the edge of the embankment.
From here are lovely views towards the lily-covered lake. I spotted white swans nesting on the edge and a bridge a little way off. There are further walks alongside the lake to enjoy the serenity and beauty of this most romantic and remarkable garden.
LOCATION: Co. Laois is in the midlands of Ireland. Heywood Garden is located 7km from Abbeyleix, just off the main Dublin to Cork road, approx. 100km from Dublin and some 154 km from Cork. ADDRESS: Heywood Garden, Ballinakill, Co. Laois. Take the R432 road from Abbeyleix to Ballinakill. The garden can be found in the grounds of Ballinakill Community School. No entrance fee.
OPEN: All year in daylight hours.