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The Green Theatre

Volume 6 Number 2 - October 2009

Sean O’Gaoithin, Carol O’Callaghan, Dawn Sanders

French: Le théâtre vert

Spanish: El teatro verde



Glenveagh Castle Gardens in Donegal, Ireland, is a foliage-filled oasis nestled in a treeless, bog-dominated landscape situated in the Derryveagh mountains. The gardeners at Glenveagh have incorporated the native flora into this garden rather than push it aside. Conscious of the need to fuse the concepts of ‘garden’ and ‘nature’, Glenveagh staff engaged local craftspeople to create ‘biodiversity bags’ for their visitors. These bags, and their contents, embody the ecological identity of the garden. This article discusses the motivations for the project and considers why it is important for ‘bringing the biosphere home’ (Thomashow, 2003) to visitors.

At Glenveagh the concepts of ‘garden’ and ‘nature’ are fused. One of the rarest vegetation types in Ireland is indigenous oak woodland. The upper half of the garden is such a woodland – the under-storey flora found within (woodrush, ferns, mosses) integrates with the introduced plants and adds to their beauty. The gardeners at Glenveagh have made the native flora part of this garden instead of pushing it aside.

In his book Bringing the Biosphere Home (2003), Mitchell Thomashow states that ‘the biosphere will forever be an esoteric concept unless it receives the scientific, spiritual and artistic attention it deserves.’ In developing the garden discovery bags we have considered how a sense of place can be embodied in the educational tools we use to engage visitors with Glenveagh Castle Gardens and the wider landscape. Two local artists have been commissioned to work on the discovery bags – Eddie Doherty to weave the Donegal tweed, and Clare O’ Presco to design and make them.

Natural dyes from organic materials such as lichen, peat, and seaweed produce wonderful earthy tones. The colour palette is sourced from the landscape; granite grey, garden greens and the various warm tones found in heather and bogland grasses provide the inspiration for these beautiful hand-woven fabrics.

Too often in heritage settings, the items that are used to engage with the site have a high environmental footprint, both in miles and materials. The materials in the garden discovery bags come from the garden whenever possible. Identification kits are made from recycled handmade paper, viewfinders from bamboo and rhododendron. In this way we have opted for materials with a low carbon footprint, high biodegradability and that represent local cultural traditions. Forty garden discovery bags are being made and these will be used with both visiting school groups and families.

Glenveagh Castle Gardens have unique value as an example of a long-term ecologically sustainable relationship between human culture and natural biodiversity.  From the poorest type of wet peaty soil, in one of the most inhospitable locations of the region, a garden of great beauty and fame has been established, supporting a team of skilled gardeners and drawing visitors from far and wide. The Nature and Outdoor Learning Centre was set up in 2004 and seeks to foster an understanding of the importance of conservation of our cultural and natural heritage; the Glenveagh garden discovery bags are part of this important conservation mission.


Thomashow, M., 2003. Bringing the Biosphere Home – Learning to Perceive Global Environmental Change.  MIT Press, Cambridge, MA


Les jardins du château de Glenveagh à Donegal, en Irlande, forment une oasis débordante de feuillages nichée dans un paysage où dominent les tourbières et dépourvu d’arbres, située dans les montagnes de Derryveagh. Les jardiniers de Glenveagh ont intégré la flore indigène à ce jardin plutôt que de l’en écarter. Ayant conscience du besoin de fusionner les concepts de ‘jardin’ et de ‘nature’, le personnel de Glenveagh a engagé des artisans locaux pour créer des ‘sacs de biodiversité’ pour le public. Ces sacs, ainsi que leur contenu, symbolisent l’identité écologique du jardin. Cet article présente les motivations du projet et s’intéresse aux raisons pour lesquelles cette démarche est importante en vue de ‘ramener la biosphère chez soi’ (Thomashow, 2003) pour notre public.


Los jardines Glenveagh Castle en Donegal, Irlanda, representan un oasis verde en una área denudada de árboles, la marisma es lo que domina el paisaje de la zona situada en las montañas de Derryveagh.
Estos jardines de Glenveagh han incorporado la flora nativa como tema central. Con la conciencia de la necesidad de fundir los conceptos ‘jardin’ y ‘naturaleza’, el personal del jardín y los habitantes locales han fabricado para los visitantes ‘bolsas de biodiversidad’ las que enmarcan la identidad ecológica del jardín. El articulo describe al publico los motivos del proyecto y señala el por qué es importante que integremos la biosfera a casa (Thomashow, 2003).

Sean O’Gaoithin and Carol O’Callaghan
Glenveagh Castle Gardens
Co. Donegal

Email: Sean O’Gaoithin:
Email: Carol O’Callaghan:

Dr Dawn Sanders
Gardens for Learning