GO IRELAND:Go off the beaten track to discover some of the country’s tucked away treasures. SANDRA O'CONNELLunearths some of the best
Wild and free, or sculpted and structured - how do you like your garden? For inspiration, there are scores of gardens quietly open to the public all summer long. If you’re heading to the capital, the best starting point is the Dublin Garden Group ( dublingardens.com) which represents 16 of the best private gardens in the county and its surrounds, many of which can be viewed by appointment only.
Member gardens include Corke Lodge ( corkelodge.com) near Bray which was planted in the early 19th century and is home to evergreen oaks, American cedars and sequoias designed to evoke a Mediterranean olive grove, in keeping with the Italianate trend of the time.
Just up the road at The Scalp in Kilternan is Knockrose ( knockrose.com) a cottage garden backing on to a forest – the border is the original Pale ditch – with lots of seating from which to soak up the scents.
Also part of that group, as well as being among the 33-strong Wicklow Gardens ( wicklowgardens.com) initiative, is Jimi Blake’s Hunting Brook Garden and his sister June Blake’s Garden and Nursery near Blessington, in west Wicklow, both of which have created a huge buzz among gardeners and garden clubs.
As well as well-known members, such as Powerscourt and Mount Usher, Wicklow Gardens highlights less well-known floral havens such as the Festina Lente Gardens in Bray, a restored walled garden in use as it would have been in the late Victorian era.
Walled gardens are always a joy and Lodge Park Walled Garden ( steam-museum.ie), in Straffan, Kildare, is an 18th-century one whose walls are covered in climbers, fruit trees and roses. The interior has box hedges, topiary and beech hedges dividing various spaces such as a white garden.
Vandeleur ( vandeleurwalledgarden.ie) in Kilrush is a 2.1 acre walled garden set amid 420 acres of native woodland. The garden has been restored and has a maze, unusual water features and a free-standing Victorian-style glasshouse.
In Carlow, check out Duckett’s Grove ( duckettsgrove.eu), the ruin of a 19th-century gothic revival house (razed in 1933) which has interconnecting walled gardens whose paths have been restored with beds and borders reinstated too.
Its upper walled garden, hedged with boxwood, is planted with historical varieties of shrub roses, a collection of Chinese and Japanese peonies, a great range and variety of hardy and tender perennials. The lower walled garden, the site of an old orchard, once again contains a variety of fruits including figs.
Coastal gardens are notoriously tricky, with plants subject to stiff winds and salty air. Yet some of the prettiest gardens in the country are by the sea.
Achill Secret Garden ( achillsecretgarden.com) on Achill Island has eight chambered gardens with 100-year-old Monterey cypresses to shelter them from the winds.
In west Cork, the microclimate so beloved of holiday makers means an abundance of gardens known for their exotic plants.
Glebe Gardens ( glebegardens.com) in Baltimore comprises a formal garden and a potager – more decorative veg – while Drishane House ( drishane.com) near Castletownshend has paths through 18 acres of woodlands and gardens with rare plants, many cultivated by Edith Somerville of The Irish RM fame, whose home this was.
Lisselan in Clonakilty ( lisselan.com) has 30 acres that take full advantage of the natural features and contours of the land, laid out in Robinsonian style in the early 1850s.
Further inland, Aultaghreagh Cottage Garden ( aultaghreaghcottagegarden.com) in Dunmanway has sections laid out in hot and cold colours plus what must be the most bijou walled garden in the country – a 10sq m “secret garden” with 2m-high walls.
Near Killarney in Co Kerry, Dhu Varren Garden ( dhuvarrengarden.com) has one of the most diverse plant collections of any private garden in the county, which is why it bills itself as Kerry’s botanical gardens.
In Waterford, Fairbrook House ( fairbrook-house.com) in Kilmeaden has formal gardens and lavender fields, a lily pond, a “hidden garden” with an terracotta floor and water channel, a fire garden, fernery, maze, mixed borders and woodland walks.
Still in this beautiful part of the country, Tourin House Gardens ( tourin-house.ie) in Cappoquin is a five-acre site on the banks of the stately Blackwater with a fine collection of camellias, rhododendrons, magnolias and other shrubs.
Finally, for something unique – other than the Bambouseraie in the south of France on which it is modelled – don’t miss Bamboo Park ( bamboo-park.com) in Glengariff, a 13-acre site featuring 30 different species of bamboo, as well as other tropical plants. It’s out of this world, well, country.