Ard na Mara, Dalkey

An architectural masterpiece

overlooking Dublin Bay

Situated in Dalkey, this stunning architectural masterpiece designed by RIBA award winning Richard Murphy and completed in 2019, is cleverly positioned upon a ‘wedge shaped’ site that steadily slopes down to the north taking in the panoramic views of Dublin Bay at all opportunities, whilst maximising the natural light where possible.

A clever design gives the feel of being within a well-crafted ship with its strong and bold lines, a marriage of beech timber ceilings with maple wood floors and hardy tiles emulating the site-won granite. The ocean feel continues with the sea views visible from within and again outside from the beautiful timber finish decking outside. There is a movie star quality about this house. Every thought and aspect of this house has been carefully taken into consideration and given the star treatment.

Upon our first visit in spring of 2019, the remaining garden canvas was suitably blank, comprising of a predominant grass slope with beautiful protrusions of the granite rock and boulders that are characteristic of the Dalkey hillside. The brief: to best utilise planting to enhance the space, to connect closely with it, and to complement the house.

One of our largest volumes of planting designs to date, we were excited for the possibilities. Taking the strong architectural lines present, we naturally gravitated to a more organic approach using curves to enhance the built lines within a more naturalistic body of planting. The key design idea was that one would have a view over a tapestry of planting when standing on the balcony at the back of the house.  This view would be over the planting towards the sea, and the planting would provide connectivity with the entirety of the surrounding landscape of pretty houses and gardens also.

A centralised pathway was the only design feature we added, apart from the planting.  Extending on the slope below the main part of the house, this would bring the user on a journey winding down the slope gently meandering from side to side. Whilst taking in the views, the garden visitor would be immersed and able to engage with the sensorial planting alongside. A matrix tapestry rich with flowering perennials and ornamental grasses would engulf the pathway and every now and again a punchy specimen tree or shrub bringing one to a pause; a place to stop take in the view, look back up at the house whilst appreciating the planting also.

It felt natural to retain the path under lawn without a need to bring in heavy hardscape. This softer approach, as mentioned earlier seems to work well and complement the strong lines of the modern house. Timber steps were inserted where required to deal with level changes ensuring the gentle and organic journey through the planting was uninterrupted. This path was nicely visible from the balcony above also.

Other interesting planting areas developed included a shadier planting scheme up the side of the house that is integrated with stone terraces, rocks and stones.  At the roadside edge of the property a steep slope was planted with grasses and flowering perennials also, this provides a welcoming vista on entering the property.  To the opposite side of the house there were grass terraces with a few specimen Japanese Maples present.  These grass terraces were left unplanted as they provide a calming complement to the architecture of the house.  However, we did gently add to the planting around the Maples to create attractive “islands” of planting within the grass lawn.

The overall planting was completed and installed in early 2020 and what a transformation. Even in its infancy, when bark chips had just been applied to the bare soil around the plants, when viewed from the lower levels of the garden up towards the house as well as from the house outwards to Dublin Bay, one’s eye could not help but be drawn towards the designated planting areas.

There was a buzz of excitement as evidence of the many plants were beginning to emerge and awaken. We could not wait for the next visit when the explosion of colour, structure and textures would occur.  Eremurus, Geranium palmatum, irises and special hydrangeas have not failed to disappoint.

We continued to be rewarded as all the planting has settled in, spread and matured. The rich tapestry vision is being realised successfully year after year. The gentle journey with a simple organic path highly rewarding to all the senses. This architectural ‘ship’ of a house can be viewed and appreciated from above or below now ‘cutting’ through the sea of planting.

A planting design which was a joy to work on, one of our highest volumes of plants carefully selected and installed however a high reward and success in return.

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