This year Enniscoe Organic Garden near Crossmolina, one of the oldest in the country, will be celebrating 25 years as a certified organic garden. Certification is carried out annually by the Organic Trust in Ireland.
The Organic Trust motto is Quite simply - the Organic Trust upholds the integrity of organic food. Kate Milligan from The organic Trust said: "The Organic Trust has known and certified Enniscoe House Gardens for 25 years. It's such an inspirational place in one of the most wonderful settings in Ireland. The spirit of Enniscoe is both to care for the earth and people. The community at Enniscoe has the opportunity to learn, share, grow and buy nutritious organic food."
There has been a walled garden at Enniscoe since the 18th century. The early maps show a three acre garden, complete with orchard, propagating house and stone built orangery.
Fruit, vegetables, and flowers were all grown together. Around 1870 the garden was divided, with a curving cross wall and a monumental stone archway linking the two parts.
The northern part is the Ornamental Garden, restored in the 1990’s under the Great Gardens of Ireland Restoration Programme. The southern part is now the Enniscoe Organic Garden, certified in 1995, growing fruit and vegetables.
The owner of Enniscoe House and Estate, Susan Kellett, believed that organically grown produce would give the vegetable garden the best chance of success.
The garden became a community based project but struggled to achieve its full potential until it was taken over by the North Mayo Heritage Centre (NMHC ) in 2014.
The Heritage Centre is located in a restored, and partly rebuilt, farmyard at Enniscoe. It is a Community Development Company and Hugh Trayer, Manager of NMHC, has worked with his staff to produce high quality fruit and vegetables almost all the year round.
Interesting crops include heritage tomatoes, Swiss chard, purple potatoes, asparagus, sugar snap peas and many varieties of salads. There is also willow grown which is used in the willow weaving courses held throughout the year. The soil is fed naturally with green manures and compost material produced from within the walled garden.
The rich BioDiversity of Enniscoe ensures honeybees are on hand to assist with pollination. Recently two rescue hedgehogs were released by staff from The National Parks and Wildlife to help keep the slug population under control.
Vegetables and fruit are sold directly from the garden gate, they are also supplied to the café in the Heritage Centre, to Enniscoe House and to The Ice House, both members of Ireland’s Blue Book. In partnership with The Reel Deel brewery, a small hop garden has been established which will in time provide an organic hop crop which will be used to produce an interesting organic beer.
In 2016 the House and Gardens featured in the TV series Lords & Ladles with the well- known chef Derry Clarke of L'Ecrivain working in the garden, preparing the vegetables and fruit for the programme.
Clarke said: "Enniscoe House on the shores of Lough Conn was the location for one of the Lords & Ladles Programme. Their gardens are magnificent and well worth a visit. My greatest pleasure was being able to visit the 25 year old Organic Garden to source all I needed for the 17th Century menu on offer that evening, and it all growing practically on the door step of this magnificent property.”
Bernie Keogh of The Ice House in Ballina, said: "We have been working with Enniscoe House and Gardens for the last six years and on behalf of all the team at the Ice House we want to congratulate them on celebrating 25 years of organic certification, making it one of the oldest certified organic gardens in the country."
In 2019 MNHC intended to set up a QQI, level 4 course in organic horticulture offered by the Educational Training Board. Due to COVID 19 the starting date will now be late autumn or early 2021. Up to sixteen students will have hands-on experience in the organic garden in addition to skills learnt in a classroom setting.
This has always been a priority for the garden and will now see a new generation of gardeners working, learning and understanding the importance of organic gardening.
On September 26 and 27 the annual Enniscoe BioDiversity Blitz will take place where members of the public can have an opportunity to learn more about the environment we live in.
This year there will be a special focus on organic gardening and it will form part of the celebration of 25 years of the Organic Garden at The North Mayo Heritage Centre, Enniscoe.