We asked green-fingered writer Fionnuala Fallon, author of The Urban Farmer for the Irish Times and proud horticulturalist, what the ‘must-see’ gardens on the island of Ireland were. Needless to say, it wasn’t an easy task. This is what she said:
“Could you write just a few hundred words on gardens in Ireland?, I was asked, to which I readily agreed. But I wasn’t prepared for the all-important qualifier that quickly followed. “Not just gardens in general, by the way, but Ireland’s ‘must-see’ gardens…”
It all depends, I reasoned, on what you want to see. I could start with some of the very grand gardens like Kilruddery in County Wicklow, still privately owned by the Earls of Meath, and also Ireland’s oldest surviving garden. Then there’s Mount Congreve in County Waterford, many of whose hundreds of rare rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias, were planted by its resident 102-year-old owner Mr Ambrose Congreve. I also couldn’t forget Emo Court in County Laois, with its views across to the Slieve Bloom mountains, or Benavarden Garden in County Antrim, which the Irish News awarded ‘Best Garden in Ireland’.
After that, you’d have to mention the romantic Robinsonian gardens, like Mount Usher in County Wicklow (voted Ireland’s best garden to visit by readers of BBC Gardener’s World this year) and Annes Grove in County Cork. It occurred to me that I also couldn’t possibly leave out Kilmacurragh in County Wicklow, where an organically-managed, botanic garden is divided into different phytogeographical zones.
Then there’s the formal gardens such as Powerscourt in County Wicklow, with its fountains, lakes and flights of stone steps, and the walled garden of Rowallane in County Down with its wildflower meadows. Of course then nearby, you’d find the beautiful and extensive Two Lions Nursery and Garden.
And then, you see, there are those gardens in Ireland that defy categorisation, majestic, whimsical gardens like Mount Stewart in County Down, with its eccentric Dodo Terrace that’s home to a strange menagerie of stone-carved dodos, gryphons and dinosaurs.
I also wanted to include a gardeners’ garden, like Lakemount in County Cork, which the Royal Horticultural Society calls ‘one of Ireland’s flagship gardens’.
What also, I quickly reproached myself, of the many wonderfully restored Victorian walled gardens, such as Ashtown Demesne in Dublin City (a personal favourite) and Lissadell in County Sligo that has the distinction of having not one but two very beautiful walled gardens. “Oh darn”, I thought glumly to myself, as I totted up the quickly growing list. “I’m up to 14 gardens already.”
But that wasn’t the half of it. Because no-one in their right mind could list must-see gardens of Ireland without June and Jimi Blake’s wonderful Gardens in Wicklow or Helen Dillon’s town-garden in Ranelagh, Dublin, described by Gardens Illustrated as ‘a horticultural tour-de-force’.
And I couldn’t forget Seamus O’ Donnell’s brilliantly individual garden and nursery, ‘Cluain na dTor’ just outside Falcarragh in northwest Donegal. It would be a shame, I thought to myself, to be up in that neck of the woods and not visit the nearby Glenveagh National Park, and the vast and beautiful gardens that surround the Victorian castle at its heart.
Enough already. My shortlist of ‘must-see’ gardens had now crept up to 18 and there were still too many other gardens that hadn’t been included. I decided then and there that I’d simply have to tell those nice people at Discover Ireland that I just couldn’t do the topic justice in a few hundred words. A shortlist of must-see gardens in Ireland was nigh-on impossible. They’d just have to get somebody else….
Fancy exclusive access to some of Ireland’s private gardens? The Dublin Garden Group give tours of those ‘secret gardens’ and are happy to provide itineraries for further exploring.
An overview of all of Ireland’s gardens with gorgeous images and horticultural gems might be of help should you find choosing where to go a little tricky…