Take a Closer Look at Mary Reynolds’s Innovative Celtic Gardens

The award-winning landscape designer bases her ideas on the four seasons, but with a regional twist

A diagram of Reynolds's gardens (Mary Reynolds)
smithsonian.com

When the Irish landscape designer Mary Reynolds was just 28 years old, she sketched out a plan for a Celtic sanctuary garden, wrapped it in wild mint leaves, and sent it off to the judges at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show. “People travel the world over to visit untouched places of natural beauty," she wrote in her bold proposal, "yet modern gardens pay little heed to the simplicity and beauty of these environments.” 

After Reynolds won a gold medal at the show, those words became the slogan for a new gardening movement—and the catchphrase for Dare to Be Wild, a visually dazzling film about Reynolds’ cinematic designs. Some of her most famous gardens have invoked ancient kings, Yeats poems, and the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. But her ultimate goal is to bring people back to a simpler way of being. “If you can just slow down and reintroduce yourself to the earth,” she writes in her new book, The Garden Awakening, “a magical gate will open for you.”

In 2003, Reynolds was hired to create a design for Brigit’s Garden, a Galway attraction named after a pre-Christian goddess. She created four spaces, each representing a different season and named after a corresponding Celtic festival. Below are some of the most noteworthy elements of her design.

Samhain

To evoke the somber, reflective atmosphere of the winter festival, Reynolds designed a stone walkway leading into the middle of a quiet pool. A bronze female figure sleeps inside a ring of birch trees, which symbolize death and rebirth. In the autumn and winter, her metallic body is bare, but in the warmer months, she’s covered with clover and grass.

About Jennie Rothenberg Gritz

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is a senior editor at Smithsonian magazine. She was previously a senior editor at the Atlantic.

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