Community Gardeners, Carlow County Council and local stakeholders have been involved in a European Project called Ru:rban (Urban Agriculture for Resilient Cities ) funded under URBACT. This project, which has been ongoing for the past 15 months, is focused on the governance and development of community gardens to help enhance the county’s tourism and community offerings.
URBACT is a European-funded programme which encourages co-operation, growth and idea exchange between different cities. They do this in many different ways, but mainly they aim to share knowledge and good city practices through their work.
Ru:rban, meanwhile, is a project which takes the management model of Rome’s urban gardens and shares them with newcomer cities through mentoring.
The aim is to share knowledge about urban and community gardens with cities which are culturally, geographically and historically diverse. Rome is the model city because in 2017, it was awarded Good Practice City at the URBACT City Festival for its approach to urban agriculture.
In Carlow, the project began with international engagement with their EU partner cities. Secondly, activities for the project included finding ways to inspire, creating new networking methods and training people to manage urban gardens. These people are known as ‘Gardenisers’ under the project model. Finally, Carlow County Council developed the necessary governance, regulations and guides for the project to succeed working with its URBACT Local Group (ULG).
Head of economic development and enterprise for Carlow County Council – and ULG co-ordinator – Kieran Comerford, says there have been numerous benefits to taking part in this multi-faceted project.
“The Ru:rban project has been an excellent vehicle for Co Carlow to develop and enhance its capacity in terms of community and tourism gardens,” he explains. “And this, in turn, will improve the user experience – whether it be for a visitor to a community garden or a tourist visiting one of the many gardens on the county’s Garden Trail.”
Carlow’s Garden Trail features 19 unique gardening attractions. These gardens come in many forms and different sizes, but all are skilfully cared for and ideal for locals and tourists alike to enjoy.
Kieran believes that, by being a part of this project, Carlow has reached a significant milestone in what has been the “first exposure for the county and for many ULG members to the EU experience and benefits, in terms of sharing knowledge across the partnership of four European countries”.
The partners in the project are all local government organisations: the lead partner location is Rome, Italy, and the other partners are located in Split, Croatia; Alexandroupolis, Greece; Algeciras in Spain and, of course, Carlow Town in Co Carlow.
Commenting on the experience of partaking in an EU Project, Kieran says it has all been “massively positive”. “It provides a focus – not just on community gardens, but also on biodiversity and general community development,” he says. “This wouldn’t have been possible without the help, input, support and collaboration from all of our stakeholders, volunteers and the local community.
“We hope that this will only be the start of a new era in which community-led projects will benefit from monetary support and stakeholder expertise to improve our gardens in Co Carlow.”
To learn more about the Ru:rban project, log onto RU:RBAN Second Wave | urbact.eu or by calling the Local Enterprise Office on 059/9129783.
The Delta Centre was established in 1990 from humble beginnings as an adult centre for people with intellectual disabilities. The centre now caters to 127 adults with disabilities.
The Sensory Gardens, which were officially opened in 2007, were the first of their kind in Ireland. Originally created with a therapeutic focus as benefit for the centre’s own residents, it is now a major attraction in Carlow for local, national and international visitors.
An oasis of peace and tranquillity, the Delta Sensory Gardens feature 16 interconnecting gardens set on 2.5 acres, just outside of Carlow town. Visitors can stroll and admire the beautiful limestone sculptures throughout the gardens, bask in the tranquillity of the water features and marvel at the one tonne piece of pink marble floating on a cushion of water.
These beautiful gardens have come about with the help from renowned and award-winning designers, including Gordon Ledbetter, Mary Reynolds, Rachel Doyle, Elma Fenton and Paul Martin.
The theme for each of the 16 gardens celebrates the use of natural elements, like stone, water, foliage and plants. It offers visitors a unique opportunity to rest and indulge their senses of touch, taste, smell, hearing and visual delight.
The on-site garden centre has lots of seasonal colour year-round, with plenty of pots, containers and bedding. A selection of seasonal gifts are available in the gift shop.
Delta Centre and Gardens host many events throughout the year. Some are well-established and have seen great success over the years, including Daffodil Week in March, the Carlow Garden Festival at the end of July and the Christmas lights display and Sensory Santa in December.
Address: Delta Sensory Gardens and Garden Centre, Strawhall Estate, Carlow, R93 Y959
+353 (0) 59 914 3527
Facilities: Car park, toilets, wheelchair accessible, restaurant.
An Gairdín Beo is a two-acre community garden in the centre of Carlow Town, where people both work, and then reap the rewards together. The overall vision of the project is to have a space in which diverse people can connect to nature, to growing and making food, and to each other.
The ethos of the garden is based on an ecological orientation: on valuing diversity, sustainability and indigenous species. Events are held throughout the year using produce from the gardens, and all members of the community are welcome to attend.
The origins of the gardens date to 2014 when the Sisters of Mercy (from St Leo’s Convent) contacted several groups and individuals in Co Carlow, inviting them to a meeting to discuss the possibility of a community garden on land adjacent to the convent.
There was huge interest in the overgrown two-acre site and, from the initial meeting, a number of sub-committees of volunteers were formed to move the idea into action.
In 2015, a board of directors was established and An Gairdín Beo was registered as a charity with a 20-year lease negotiated with the Sisters of Mercy to bring longevity to the project.
It is a location with which the people of Carlow have a long association and a deep appreciation.
Many years ago, the two buildings on the grounds were used by St Leo’s College staff and pupils. Then, they were known as “Bethlehem” and “the gym”.
The meditation area of the garden was known as St Joseph’s Walk and was used by the Sisters of Mercy.
Recent years has seen growing interest from visitors in An Gairdín Beo, and 2022 saw the garden participate in the Carlow Garden Festival for the first time – which attracted visitors from all over the country to learn about the wellbeing aspects of community gardening.
The workshops delivered by Ireland’s holistic gardener Fiann O’Nualláin also focused on vegetables, native species, medicinal herbs and other plants grown on site to explain their health benefits.
Address: Old Dublin Road, Carlow
Open: weekdays (other times by appointment)
With over 40 acres of lush gardens and riverside walks, Altamont Gardens is one of Ireland’s most beautiful botanical attractions and a must-see for anyone who enjoys nature. Altamont is an enchanting blend of formal and informal gardens where lawns sculpted by yew trees slope down to a lake surrounded by rare trees and lead in turn to a very different garden featuring exotic shrubs and trees. From there a fascinating walk through the Bog Garden and Ice Age Glen with its canopy of ancient oaks and huge stone outcrops leads the visitor to the River Slaney.
The estate gains much of its character from many mature trees, both natives in the avenues and woodland areas, and exotic specimens throughout the gardens. Golden tones and orangey hues together with the beautiful silhouettes of the mighty trees make the gardens a special place to visit during the autumn season. Pauline Dowling, manager at Altamont Gardens, notes: “Every visitor says it has a special atmosphere, that’s why so many people come back. Every element you want from a great garden is here, from lovely lawns, floral beds and beautiful woodland going down to the river, to a walled garden and really superb collections.”
Each season brings with it a new experience to enjoy in Altamont from the wonderful snowdrop collection in spring to daffodils and other spring bulbs. Rhododendrons, azaleas and later on the rose collection is in full bloom in mid-summer.
An unmissable highlight of a visit to Altamont Gardens, situated within the grounds of the estate and run privately by the gardener and nurseryman Robert Miller is Altamont Plant Sales which has earned a reputation as a place to acquire seriously good garden plants.
Always renowned for its extensive range of herbaceous perennials, Altamont Plant Sales can also boast of having one of the largest collections of old shrub roses available for sale to the gardening public year round.
The gardens were passed to the State over 20 years ago by the great gardener Corona North. Ongoing stewardship has been taking place under the careful management of the OPW since.
Address: Tullow, Co Carlow, R93 N882
+353 (0) 59 915 9444
Facilities: Toilets, outdoor picnic tables, large car and coach park, restricted wheelchair access, Walled Garden Café