Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700-1788) is one of the few women from the great age of British garden design whom we know to have designed an influential garden. Her work at Delville, the eleven-acre estate near Dublin to which she moved upon her marriage to Patrick Delany, a Dean of the Church of Ireland, in 1743, was documented by such prominent eighteenth-century gardenists as Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift (a close friend and fellow Dublin resident), Humphrey Repton and Lord Orrery. Delville had originally been designed by Patrick Delany and his friend Richard Helsham in the first decades of the eighteenth century as a Neoclassical garden. Mary Delany spent many years visiting, sketching, and writing descriptions of famous English and Irish gardens by the time she moved to Dublin, and she renovated Delville into one of the first picturesque gardens in the British Isles. She tore down walls to create open vistas, as she had seen Capability Brown do in many famous English gardens; she designed twisting paths through the woods to break the ordered parterres and allées Helsham and Delany had designed closer to the house; and she created spaces to share with women friends, such as a portico dedicated to the Duchess of Portland and a “Pearly Bower” (a sheltered arbor planted with flowers) created for her sister Anne Dewes.
Delville no longer exists; a hospital now stands on the site of the former Delany home in the suburbs of Dublin. Drawing on Mary Delany’s writings and drawings as well as descriptions of Delville by other eighteenth-century writers, a three-dimensional virtual version of Mary Delany’s garden has been created for this site. To view this virtual garden, click on “Delville 3d Garden Videos.”
Mary Delany was also famous for her highly accurate and beautiful botanical illustrations. Unlike most botanical illustrations, these are not paintings, but paper collages created from hundreds of tiny pieces of cut paper. To see a selection of these, click on “Botanical Illustrations.”
Mary Delany was a designer in other media as well: she drew and painted, created elaborate embroidery designs for court dresses and other heirloom fabrics, decorated her home and her garden with shell decoupage, and created paper silhouettes. (She is credited with having been able to use a pair of scissors with as much skill as other artists used a pencil.) To see some of these artworks, click on “Other Genres.”
More information about Mary Delany, including excerpts from her biography, can be found under “Secondary Sources.”