Work up an appetite by strolling around some of Ireland’s most magical gardens. Jillian Bolger selects some favourites to explore this summer.
Altamont Gardens, Carlow
Carlow’s Altamont Gardens are as romantic as they are impressive. A charming blend of formal and informal, you’ll find 40 acres of manicured lawns, rare trees, vibrant rhododendrons, elegant yews and exotic shrubs enveloping the creeper-clad old house. Sitting on the banks of the River Slaney, you’ll enjoy views of the Blackstairs Mountains, Wicklow Mountains and nearby Mount Leinster. Stroll through the Arboretum, Bog Garden, Ice Age Glen and Walled Garden and you’ll experience different moods, scents and vistas. Designed by celebrated Irish gardener, William Robinson, look out for the diverse wildlife, including peacocks, squirrels and birdlife who all call this haven home.
Birr Castle Demesne, Offaly
Fabled as much for its scientific significance as its planting, Birr Castle is a wonderland of fun and beauty where superlatives loom large. The award-winning formal gardens are home to an impressive collection of rare plant species while a dramatic hornbeam cloister walk shows off the tallest box hedges in the world. Within the 120 acres, you’ll find the Great Telescope, once the world’s largest, created in the 1840s, by the 3rd Earl of Rosse, and Ireland’s tallest treehouse in the Treehouse Adventure Playground. Current home to the 7th Earl of Rosse, the Parsons family have resided at this magical place since it was first built 400 years ago.
Burtown House & Gardens, Kildare
We love everything about Burtown House, an early Georgian villa surrounded by beautiful gardens, parkland walks and farmland. A happy marriage of large herbaceous borders, shrubberies, a rock garden, a yew walk and a sundial garden, there’s also a fabulous walled kitchen garden, an old orchard, a stable yard garden and a large woodland surrounded by water. Summer visitors will discover impressive shows of irises, roses, peonies and clematis across the 12 acres of gardens, park and woodland. The kitchen garden has been supplying the house with food for over 150 years and is the source of the seasonal delights served in the lovely, light-filled Green Barn restaurant.
Ilnacullin, Garnish Island, Cork
Imagine an island garden, high above the waves, tucked into a shady inlet in West Cork and you’re close to understanding the sheer marvel of Ilnacullin. Created on Garnish Island, a private island nestled in the sheltered coastal harbour at Glengarriff in Bantry Bay, the 20th-century Italian gardens are filled with whimsy and wonder. Dreamed up by the island’s owners, the visionary Bryces, with architect and garden designer, Harold Peto, they feature a Martello Tower, a Grecian temple, clock tower, walled gardens, and an Italian Temple and Italian Tea House. The warm and humid microclimate ensures plants thrive year-round, with heady delights including azaleas and rhododendrons, ferns and fruit trees. It’s a short crossing by boat, which travel regularly in season.
Kilmokea Country Manor, Wexford
Originally a Georgian rectory, Mark and Emma Hewlett’s bought their peaceful country house in 1997, falling for its enviable location overlooking the rivers Barrow and Nore. Set on seven acres, the gardens are a riot of colour, tranquillity and good taste, and home to over 130 species of rare trees and shrubs. The walled garden bursts with all manner of organic vegetables, salads and fruit, which are served to manor guests and in the garden cafe, which welcomes day visitors. Kilmokea now offers Japanese Forest Therapy known as Shinrin-Yoku, and lunch alfresco in the beautiful surroundings of the gardens.
A neoclassical house surrounded by astonishing gardens, Mount Stewart is a feast for the senses. Celebrated internationally for the ‘extraordinary scope of its plant collections and the originality of its features, which give it world-class status’, it was the passion of Lady Edith Londonderry, who would go on to leave Mount Stewart to the people of Northern Ireland. No expense was spared in turning it into one of the most remarkable gardens of the era, with its series of themed formal gardens including a sunken garden, Spanish and Italian Gardens, Dodo Terrace and collection of follies, statues and exceptional flowers. The planting is dazzling as are the lake walks, and Temple of the Winds.
The National Botanic Gardens of Ireland, Dublin
With spectacular flowers, exotic plants, historic greenhouses and cheeky squirrels, The National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin are a joy. Established in 1795, the pristine gardens are noted for their fine plant collections of over 15,000 species and cultivars from all around the world. The showpiece is undeniably the restored glasshouses, the Turner Curvilinear Range and the Great Palm House, housing tropical crops like coffee, banana and a vast collection of succulents. Alongside the rose garden, herbaceous borders, rock garden, alpine yard, pond and arboretum you’ll spy hundreds of endangered plants and there’s plenty of beauty spots to sit and soak up the beauty.
Powerscourt House & Gardens, Co Wicklow
The most visited garden in Ireland, it’s not difficult to see the allure of this spectacular Wicklow estate. Set against a sweeping backdrop of the Great Sugar Loaf mountain, parts date back to the 1740s when eminent architect Richard Cassels designed the impressive terraced gardens to enhance Viscount Powerscourt’s considerable Palladian manor. Redesigned in the 19th century by gardener Daniel Robinson, some 20-hectares of landscaped gardens are accessed through the house, which was gutted by fire in 1974. Expect over 200 trees and shrubs, across a glorious blend of landscaped gardens, sweeping terraces, walkways, statues, lakes and the Japanese Gardens, Pepperpot Tower and the family’s animal cemetery.
Tullynally Castle & Gardens, Co Westmeath
The gardens at Tullynally are the perfect backdrop to the charming Gothic-revival Tullynally Castle, the seat of the Pakenham family for over 350 years. Three generations still live here, so while the house is closed to visitors, you’ll find 12 fabulous hectares of gardens, parkland and a tearoom to explore. The layout of the gardens and parkland dates mainly from the early 1800s, but the present owners, Thomas and Valerie Pakenham have added many new features. Surprises include llamas, stone Nandi (sacred Indian bulls), a walled flower garden and a grotto with fantastic carvings by a local artist. Our favourite is the Forest Walk to the Chinese garden that leads onto the ornamental Lower Lake. Tranquil and spacious, there’s a special Tree Trail to follow and a Treasure Trail for children.
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