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

Diagram celtic gardens
A diagram of Reynolds's gardens Mary Reynolds

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.

Imbolc

The Celtic spring begins on February 1, and Reynolds’ garden invokes its spirit. Basketwork swings hang among the apple trees, and a spiraling path winds through a wildflower meadow. “Nature uses the spiral to circulate and transmit energy and consciousness from one place to another,” Reynolds writes in her book. “It emits a powerful frequency that evokes movement, energy and growth.”

Bealtine

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(Joe O'Shea)

The summer garden, named after the fertility-themed May Day festival, features a grassy area named after the ancient princess Grainne and her lover Diarmuid. A line of standing stones leads to a ceremonial fireplace and a throne.

Lughnasa

The harvest garden was designed to suggest dancing and feasting. Reynolds planted different varieties of oats, a grain that has always grown more readily than wheat in the acidic Irish soil. Her design features two interlinked stone circles, as well as earthen mounds covered with thyme and eyebright—herbs that are said to help visitors see the fairies who live underneath.