“Irish Demesne Landscapes 1660 – 1740” by Vandra Costello: A Review   

“Irish Demesne Landscapes 1660 – 1740” is a scholarly treatment of an era of Irish gardening written in a delightfully accessible and pleasantly readable style. Vandra Costello was inspired after reading the diaries of Samuel Pepys to read those of John Evelyn and was very taken by the many references they contained to gardens in Ireland.

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Further research – and, indeed, the research was obviously extensive – lead Vandra to write this description of demesne landscapes of the late 17th and early 18th centuries in Ireland. This was the era when the formal symmetrical style of gardening was fashionable on the continent and Irish gardens were influenced by those in France, Holland and Italy.  Charles II was in exile on the continent at the time and was accompanied by, among others, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond. These developed a taste for the continental style of gardening and developed their own gardens along similar lines on returning home. This style held sway until about 1740 when the English landscape style of William Kent, Charles Bridgeman and Lancelot “Capability” Brown became prevalent.

The book presents a description of these Irish gardens (1660 – 1740) based on an examination of what remains of the gardens along with archival material, maps etc. and ranges through an examination of the political and economical background of the seventeenth century, the culture of improvement in gardens, the development of the pleasure garden, advances made in horticulture at the time, the use of trees and timber plantations, botanical studies and the physic garden, the use and control of water and concludes with the role of parks for field sports and domestic animals.

The gardens which are the subject of this book are of a bygone era and are almost entirely lost to us. They are part of our horticultural heritage and this book is a wonderful resource which will inform our understanding and appreciation of them. An understanding of the past will inform us in the present and guide us in the future and this book is a valuable contribution to that understanding.

This quotation from John Evelyn might suitably be attributed to this author also: [I] pretend not here to write to cabbage planters; but to the best refined of our nation who delight in gardens, and aspire to the perfection of the arte.

[Irish Landscape Demesnes, 1660 – 1740, Vandra Costello, Four Courts Press, 2015, HB, 256pp, €45, ISBN: 978-1-84682-506-4]

Paddy Tobin

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