Visit to Heywood Gardens in Laois

 So last week was my birthday - and my first birthday post autism diagnosis, so for that reason, it felt somewhat like a bit of a milestone. I did contemplate doing something social, like planning a lunch with a friend but in the end, I decided to do just what I enjoy most, and spend the day alone. I love being out with my camera and it's always a joy to discover new places to visit. Heywood Gardens in Laois had been on my radar for a while but I just hadn't managed to get there, however last Tuesday I finally got to visit and it was such a beautiful place, it made my day just perfect.

I drove cross country, avoiding motorways because a) I hate them and b) I really enjoy discovering little places en route to my destination, seeing the views and noting interesting place names - one of which on the day was 'The Swan', a village in county Laois. What a fabulous name for a place, imagine being able to say 'I'm from the Swan'? :)

Heywood gardens is just off the road and has a large stone wall by the carpark and is well signposted so easy enough to find.  There is plenty of parking and toilets by the carpark.

Lutyens gardens Heywood
Sunken Garden at Heywood
Heywood Gardens, named after the house, which is now sadly gone, were created by Frederick Trench in the late 1700s (source: Laois Heritage). There is a park and the formal gardens which were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in the early 1900s. Lutyens frequently worked with Gertrude Jekyll, who was a horticulurist and garden designer and his other notable work in Ireland is the Irish War Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge in Dublin. 

I was a bit pressed for time and also was so impatient to start my journey that I didn't bring any food, so my stay wasn't as long as it could have been, but I still had a good look around and loved the formal gardens as well as the beautiful vista and trees.  I do recommend that you bring a picnic as there is no cafĂ© on site. There is a farmshop nearby which had a sign for scones and coffee but I didn't check it out. Abbeyleix is also not too far away so that's another alternative for food, but the gardens are a lovely picnic spot and I only wish I had brought one with me!

Walkway Heywood Gardens
Walkway towards the gardens
The gardens also have follies which are really interesting - there is a sham castle, as well as a gothic ruin and it's thought that the window of this structure was taken from the ruins of nearby Aghaboe Abbey. Follies are architectural features which are just placed for whimsy and interest and the follies at Heywood were built as ruins and never intended to be completed.

Sham Castle at Heywood Gardens
Sham Castle 
Gothic Ruin at Heywood Gardens
The Gothic Ruin
I went onwards and passed the Orangery which had a functional purpose similar to greenhouses. Orangeries were a feature of grand houses and were popular in the 17th century.  Unlike the follies, this was properly constructed and used and the style is really eye-catching.  I think this was my favourite building in the gardens.

Orangery Heywood Gardens
Orangery at Heywood
The Orangery at Heywood Gardens Laois
Another View of the Orangery
There are lakes and woodland but I headed straight for the more formal gardens designed by Lutyens.  There is a terrace overlooking the lake and you can also see wide into the distance, to neighbouring counties.  The sunken garden is wonderfully symmetrical which was pleasing to the eye, and full of vibrant colour. I was also struck by the little turtles surrounding the pool and the insciption on a plaque within the loggia, which is an extract from the writings of Alexander Pope.

Sunken Garden Heywood
Sunken Garden
Loggia in the sunken garden Heywood
Inscription on Plaque Heywood Gardens
Inscription on Plaque in Loggia

Turtle by the pool at Heywood
Turtle by the Pool
After my little look at the sunken garden, I headed back towards the car park, passing the lake and a gentle swan, and also the bathing house. I should also mention that there were lots and lots of butterflies and bees in the gardens which was fantastic to see.

Brown Butterfly
Butterfly with closed wings

Colourful Butterfly Heywood Gardens
Colourful Butterfly
Swan on the Lake Heywood Gardens
Swan on the Lake

Bathing House Sign Heywood Gardens
Bathing House Sign
I quite like the idea of 'an invigorating bath for medicinal purposes':)
All in all, the gardens appealed to me so much. It's such a wide open space, yet with the delicate features of formal gardens that are bright with colour at this time of year. It was also really nice to see that nature was just allowed to be free in certain spaces.
Another spot to visit that isn't too far away is Leap Castle in Offaly and you can read all about it in a recent blog post here -
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