When a garden is voted the ‘Best Garden’ to visit in Ireland by BBC Gardener’s World magazine, you know it has to be something special. Created by four generations of the Walpole family over a period of 112 years, they were greatly influenced by the famous Irish gardener, William Robinson. He advocated for a much more natural style of gardening, working with nature rather than imposing upon it. Mount Usher is indeed a very beautiful and tranquil place. The river Vartry flows through the garden and the curved weirs and suspension bridges across it are wonderful features in their own right. There are about 4,500 varieties of trees, shrubs and plants, including the Tree Trail which has about 80 champion trees of UK and Ireland with detailed descriptions and marked for ease of identification. This is a garden for all seasons and the visitor will be reluctant to leave its charms behind.
Ballintubbert Gardens in Co. Laois are a Horticultural tour de force. It was the birthplace of poet laureate C. Day-Lewis and once the home of actor Sir John Hurt. It has connections with great Irish and English garden designers.
There are 14 acres of garden here, making up over 40 garden rooms. As with most great gardens, there are highlights which make for a memorable visit. One of those is the sunken garden, modelled as it is on the Lutyens equivalent at nearby Heywood gardens. Here there is a more relaxed feel with a high yew hedge surrounding it and giving enclosure. In fact, there is a double circle of yew, with arches cut to allow passage.
The 100 metre long canal to the front of the Georgian house is a dramatic feature, flanked by a double allee of lime trees.
Another ‘room’ was designed by eminent Irish designer Arthur Shackleton. It is a circular, intimate space, full of colour and texture.
There are rose gardens, potager gardens, woodland Robinsonian gardens and wildflower meadows. Head gardener, Jenifer Taggart, has an enviable job managing the gardens and acting as tour guide around this remarkable garden
Take an historic small town, add a grand stately house and then imagine the most interesting garden surrounding the house and you are getting close to Castle Durrow.
Castle Durrow is a most impressive mansion, now run as a luxurious hotel. The current owners, Shelly and Peter Stokes, took the garden in hand about 20 years ago and it is now showing the results of all the hard work.
The rose garden with its box hedging, topiary and glorious rose collection are found close to the house. From this area there is an elevated view point to the large walled garden sloping away from the house. The view invites further exploration of the walled garden which is divided into three sections. One has flowers and vegetables, another a gorgeous sunken Italian garden and the third an orchard complete with a wildflower meadow.
Continuing around the garden you find yourself at the Cherry Blossom walk. A short walk takes you to the Good South Terrace which is a beautifully designed area of potted plants, rose beds and vistas to the surrounding countryside. And many more delights await those visiting Durrow Castle.
Heywood Gardens are in Co. Laois, in the midlands of Ireland. The house at Heywood was destroyed by fire but luckily the garden remains. Its principal claim to fame is the garden designed by Edwin Lutyens in collaboration with Gertrude Jekyll, within an older, larger garden. This is one of a handful of gardens designed by the duo in Ireland.
There is an air of both mystery and surprise as you enter Heywood garden, ascending past ancient Beech and Oak trees, with the path leading ahead enticingly. Suddenly you find yourself at the top of a set of stone steps, from which there are lovely views of trees and water. Lutyens designed the garden as a series of terraces, set high above an earlier man-made lake with distant views of churchspires and grazing cattle.
A short pleached lime avenue leads to the magical sunken, circular garden. There are two tiers of planting, with the circular pond at its centre a lovely feature. Further exploration through a series of garden rooms nearby and around the lake further afield completes the Heywood experience.
Huntingbrook Garden is the creation of Jimi Blake, one of Ireland’s best known plantsmen, garden educator and writer, with a book about the garden due for release in 2019. Jimi can only be described as a plantaholic and he makes forays overseas collecting seeds to grow back at Huntingbrook. The garden is filled with colour, texture and volume and is jungle-like in parts. His love of plants is obvious and he constantly changes beds and arrangements of planting schemes for better effect. The planting around his timber home is exuberant, with whimsical additions like the oversized metal flower sculpture.
The Wood and Valley gardens evoke another atmosphere altogether as you descend the series of paths to the valley floor. With towering mature Beech trees overhead, the dappled shade created underneath is the perfect growing environment for plants such as large leafed rhododendron, ferns, corydalis and viburnums. Walking along the stream on the valley floor is a must to appreciate this quiet, magical place with the sound of the babbling water and immersed in the verdant coolness of all that greenery.
Kilfane Glen in Co. Kilkenny is a garden with a story, and one with a happy ending.
When owners Susan and Nicholas Mosse began investigating their property in the 1990’s, they discovered some old garden plans. These described a waterfall and a glen with a cottage orne ( a type of romantic thatched cottage) as part of the picture.
After much work clearing the heavily overgrown garden, they re-built the cottage and even managed to reinstate the original waterfall workings. Today the glen and waterfall, along with the cottage, are the central features in the garden. Ambling along through the woodland gardens and finding your way along stream-side walks, through the dappled shade with ancient beech and oaks towering overhead is a wonderful part of exploring Kilfane.
Closer to the house are more formal gardens including the Blue Orchard (so called as it is full of blue muscari and bluebells under the fruit trees in Spring), a Moon garden full of white-flowering and silver foliaged plants, and a garden containing a rectangular stone pond filled with water lilies.
Modern sculptures are dotted through the gardens, providing additional interest in this most fairytale - like garden.
Powerscourt must be regarded as one of the best known Irish gardens and is considered to be one of the best gardens in Europe. With its glorious setting in the midst of the Wicklow countryside, the garden is grand in scale and has much to offer those visiting it.
The 3rd Viscount Powerscourt, Sir Richard Wingfield, built the splendid house we see today. Alas, all but one wing was destroyed by fire in 1974 and it now houses a range of shops and the ever popular Avoca terrace café.
The grounds encompass some 42 acres of formal gardens, herbaceous borders, a Japanese garden created in 1908, a walled garden which includes the 240 year old Bamberg gate, Rhododendron walks, a folly known as the Pepperpot Tower and the most impressive Italian garden you are likely to see outside Italy! The Italian garden is set between Powerscourt House and sweeps down to the dramatic Triton Lake. The stunning lawn terraces, stone steps, wrought iron work and statuary were designed by Daniel Robertson in the 19th century. A lasting legacy for all to enjoy.
Mount Congreve House and Gardens are situated by the banks of the River Suir in Co. Waterford. The Gardens are the life-long creation of Ambrose Congreve (1907-2011) and Mount Congreve has been home to six generations of Congreves since 1760.
The Gardens boast one of the largest collections of plants on the Island of Ireland. It covers an area of about 70 acres of woodland, walkways, a four acre walled garden and a magnificent Georgian glasshouse. But the real scene stealers are the collections of Rhododendrons, Camellias, Acer cultivars, Magnolias, trees and shrubs.
Our visit will be timed to see the Rhododendrons in flower. One of Mr. Congreve’s planting philosophies was that plants should be ‘ planted together and not dotted here and there’. There is plenty of this philosophy in evidence throughout the year at Mount Congreve with great washes of colour from the mass plantings of azaleas, camellias and magnolias.
Kilmokea Country Manor & Gardens
Kilmokea is an 18th Century Georgian stone rectory set amid seven acres of gardens nestled on the shores of the River Barrow. The stone house has been lovingly restored and offers the ultimate in secluded luxury as well as the beauty and tranquillity of the gardens surrounding the house.
The gardens are a series of garden ‘rooms’ with those close to the house of great interest including a Rose Quarter, beautifully designed vegetable potager, an Italian loggia with moss encrusted pond and the herbaceous borders.
Further from the house there are more areas to explore. The woodland walks are delightful, especially in Spring where Rhododendrons, camellias and candelabra primulas are flowering along the streamside paths. A large pond and boat house is a gorgeous feature amongst all the greenery.
The combination of the formal gardens around a glorious old house and the slightly more wild and natural parts of Kilmokea are what make it such a special place to visit.