Summer gardens to visit . . . quick

The cold winter and warm summer has sent some plants into ecstasy and they are showing off like mad at the moment

The cold winter and warm summer has sent some plants into ecstasy and they are showing off like mad at the moment. Here’s where to see the best of them

FINALLY, AFTER three years of wishy-washy excuses for summer, we have the real thing. And coming after the coldest, hardest winter that many of us can remember, the sun and heat are very welcome. And the flowers, the flowers! It’s a marvellous year for them.

All the show-off plants – the peonies, the roses, the delphiniums – have been exceptional these past couple of months. The wild ancestors of these ostentatious species were accustomed to frozen winters such as this in their native lands, so this year the frost, snow and ice spurred their Irish descendants into glorious feats of flower.

The summer garden is an entirely different thing from the sophisticated and minimal spring garden and the golden autumnal patch. It is a place of abundance, of unfettered flamboyance, of swoon-making fragrance, of theatrical grandiloquence; it is as overblown as this sentence.


It’s also fleeting, which is why we should visit a few gardens in the coming weeks, to gather memories (and photos) of this exceptional season. I’ve collected some of my favourites here. Some are open only by appointment, while others have limited opening hours, so do check the websites when you are planning a visit.

If you have your own favourite gardens, drop me a line and let me know what makes them special.

First, I want to consider a few walled gardens: for these are the places where summer is at its most intense. The smells are stronger, the hum of the bees is louder, the outside world seems more distant.

Just next to Donegal Bay, Elizabeth Temple’s garden at Salthill House is an intensively worked but seductively relaxed acre, with vegetables growing in traditional Donegal ridges, and with a profusion of summer flowers, many grown from seed and cuttings (Mountcharles, Co Donegal,, 074-9735387).

Further north is Glenveagh Castle Gardens, a subtropical oasis in the middle of a rugged national park. The entire 11-hectare garden is magical but in summer the walled garden – a feast of flowers, fruit and vegetables – is especially so.

The many historic plants include the elephantine ‘Gortahork’ cabbage and the red ‘Matt Armour’ dahlia. (Churchill, Co Donegal,, 074-9137090).

In the southeast of the island, the walled garden at Altamont in Co Carlow has a spectacular double herbaceous border, designed by Robert Miller and Assumpta Broomfield. It commemorates the late owner of Altamont, Corona North. The rest of the demesne, with its collection of roses and interesting trees kept under the watchful eye of head gardener Paul Cutler, offers many enjoyable rambles (Tullow, Co Carlow,, 059-9159444).

A final walled garden with a special atmosphere, and copious summer frills and spills, is that at Farmleigh in the Phoenix Park. The whole estate is delightful – with topiary, lawns and fountains – but the space within the high-walled enclosure has an enchanting and intimate character that is not found in many state-owned properties (Castleknock, Dublin 15,, 01-815 5900).

The Dillon Garden, in Ranelagh, Dublin 6, is one of the top town gardens in the world: theatrical, painterly and planty, and it is at its best now. The summer borders – blue on one side and red on the other – are managed with the rigour of a drill sergeant but the result is a floaty and dreamy performance.

Helen Dillon’s collection of magnificently opinionated and expert gardening columns from a Sunday newspaper, On Gardening, has just been reissued by A A Farmar

(45 Sandford Road, Dublin 6,, 01-4971308).

Two more summer gardens within an easy drive of Dublin are those of siblings June Blake and Jimi Blake, near Blessington, in

Co Wicklow.

The gardens could not be more different: the first is highly structured, while the second is a free-form space on the edge of a woody dell. But both are full of unusual perennials and woody plants, and are getting into their showy and swaggering summer stride now. (Tinode, Blessington, Co Wicklow, June Blake:, 087 2770399 and Jimi Blake:, 01-458 3972).

Another summer special is the MacDonalds’ Bay Garden in Camolin. My favourite part in late summer and autumn is Iain MacDonald’s barn garden where tall perennials are planted in naturalistic swathes, and where bees and butterflies buzz and flit between the nectar-rich blooms. (Camolin, Co Wexford,, 053-9383349).

If you are going up north, allow an hour or two to visit the extraordinary Mount Stewart, where the extensive gardens were largely created in the last century by the influential and talented Edith, Lady Londonderry. Besides Italian and Spanish gardens, her whimsies include the Dodo Terrace, where some of the major political and social figures of the day were immortalised as exquisitely made cement animal sculptures.

Nearby Strangford Lough has conferred a mild climate which favours hard-to-grow, exotic species (Portaferry Road, Newtownards, Co Down,, 048-4278 8387).