The best gardens to visit in Ireland this summer
Get your fill of green, from tiny city gardens to lovely country spreads
Wake up and smell the flowers this summer. Photograph: Getty Images/Cultura RF
It’s summer, that magical time of year when many of Ireland’s best gardens are opened to the public. But which to visit over the coming months? We’ve rounded up a little taster of the best, some of which will already be known to more seasoned garden visitors, while others are secret gems just waiting to be discovered. For further information, get your hands on a copy of Shirley Lanigan’s excellent new book The Open Gardens of Ireland (published by The Butter Slip Press next week), which contains details of an impressive tally of 427 Irish gardens that happily welcome visitors.
Great small gardens
Head to 22 Weston Park, Churchtown, Dublin, to see an excellent, tropical-style small city garden (just 150m long and 10m wide) created by owner Olive Fitzpatrick. It’s open the public under the Hospice Garden Trail Scheme (visitors can also contact Fitzpatrick directly at 087-2853834). In Cork city, Bruno Nicolai’s tiny town garden is known in gardening circles for packing a mighty punch despite its diminutive size, as is nursery owner Hester Forde’s garden, Coosheen, near Glounthaune in Co Cork (holidaycork.com). In west Wicklow, Patthana, the country garden of TJ Maher and Simon Kirby, is another shining example of how small spaces can sing when gardened imaginatively, as is Adrian Walsh’s Belfast city garden (ulstergardensscheme.org.uk).
Charming country gardens
Created by husband-and-wife horticultural team Frances and Iain MacDonald, The Bay Garden (thebaygarden.com) near Camolin, Co Wexford, has it all: great planting and plenty of interesting garden features surrounding a handsome house in a lovely rural location. The very same is true of Bellefield, landscape architect Angela Jupe’s gorgeous garden surrounding her Georgian farmhouse near Birr, Co Offaly (angelajupe.ie). Two other charming Irish country gardens to put on your must-see list include garden designer and plantsman Arthur Shackleton’s Laois garden, Fruitlawn, in Abbeyleix (arthurshackleton.com) and Drimbawn near Tourmakeady, Co Mayo (clewbaygardentrail.ie), originally designed by Ninian Niven but recently restored and extended with the help of Irish garden designer Daphne Shackleton.
If you’re a seasoned garden visitor, you’ll already know of the Glebe Gardens near Baltimore, Co Cork (glebegardens.com), whose productive kitchen garden supplies its busy restaurant with a host of delicious organic produce, The same, of course, is true of the mightily impressive kitchen gardens of Ballymaloe Cookery School in east Cork (cookingisfun.ie), Ashtown Walled Garden in the Phoenix Park (heritageireland.ie), and the walled garden of Burtown House in Co Kildare (burtownhouse.ie), which provides organic produce for Burtown’s recently opened Green Barn restaurant . A more hidden gem is the kitchen garden of Castle Durrow in Co Laois (castledurrow.com).
If you’re a plantaholic who knows your tetrapanax from your pseudopanax, and your podophyllums from your pines, then a visit to Hunting Brook, the remarkable gardens of Jimi Blake situated near Blessington, Co Wicklow, is almost certainly already on your list (huntingbrook.com) as is Carmel Duignan’s well-known Dublin garden (dublingardens.com). Another guaranteed treat for plant enthusiasts is a visit to Blarney Castle, Co Cork (blarneycastle.ie), where head gardener and self-confessed plant geek Adam Whitbourn has been working his green-fingered magic on the castle’s extensive gardens over the last number of years. Up in Donegal, Seamus O’ Donnell’s garden and nursery Cluain na dTór is another shining example of boldly experimental, unusual planting (seasideplants.net).
Romantic old-world gardens
There’s something about the magical OPW-managed gardens of Altamont, near Ballon, Co Carlow (carlowtourism.com) that sneaks into your heart. Perhaps it’s the poetically crumbling decay of that lovely old country house, or its tranquil riverwalks, or its wonderful old walled garden, now home to an excellent plant nursery run by Robert Miller. Whatever the reason, it remains one of my all-time favourites. Less well-known but equally atmospheric and well worth a visit are the large gardens of Benvarden in Ballymoney, Co Antrim (benvardin.com). Both Mount Usher in Co Wicklow (mountushergardens.ie) and Ilnacullin (heritageireland.ie), the theatrically beautiful, century-old garden on Garinish Island, Co Cork – which can only be reached by a short boat journey – are also unmissable.
Wild at Heart
Swathes of giant tree ferns, peat-stained tumbling rivers: a visit to Kells Bay near Caherciveen in Co Kerry (kellsbay.ie) is like stepping into the rainforests of Tasmania. Also in Kerry, the marvellous woodland gardens of Derreen are famous for their bamboo groves, towering tree ferns and collections of rare rhododendrons (derreengarden.com).
For panoramic views, Old World glamour and grandeur on a vast scale, it’s hard to beat Powerscourt, Co Wicklow (powerscourt.com), Kylemore Abbey in Co Galway (kylemoreabbey.com) or the wonderful Mount Stewart in Co Down (nationaltrust.org.uk). Less well-known but equally magnificent are the gardens of Lismore Castle, Co Waterford (lismorecastle.com), owned by the Devonshire family; its walled garden is one of the oldest in cultivation in Ireland.
If a traditional wildflower meadow sprinkled with rare orchids, oxeye daisies and wild vetchling is the sort of thing that makes your heart leap for joy, make a beeline for the gardens of Kilmacurragh, Co Wicklow (botanicgardens.ie). For a taste of what’s known as pictorial meadow (a modern, more painterly version of the above, using lots of non-native flowering species) pop along to Airfield estate in Dundrum. Both gardens also have restaurants/coffee shops, so there’s no need to bring a picnic. Unless you want to, of course.
June Blake’s country garden in west Wicklow (juneblake.ie) is on almost every must-see list and with good reason, as it combines beautiful, intricate planting with inventive, artful design. Less well-known but also vying for contemporary classic status is plantsman Carl Wright’s glorious country garden, Caher Bridge near Fanore in Co Clare (facebook.com/caherbridgegarden).
THIS WEEK IN THE GARDEN
Start sowing seed of hardy biennials including wallflowers, Sweet William, Canterbury bells, sweet rocket and foxgloves for transplanting into their final position in the garden or allotment in September to flower next year. Recommended seed suppliers include good Irish garden centres such as mrmiddleton.com and johnstowngardencentre.ie as well as as seedaholic.com and sarahraven.com.
Continue to plant out young leeks, cabbage, chard, calabrese, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, and spinach plants in the kitchen garden or allotment. There’s also still time to sow seed of maincrop carrots, beetroot, runner beans, spinach, lettuce, scallions, Florence fennel, kale, kohl-rabichard, radish, turnip, winter cabbage and peas. Recommended Irish vegetable seed suppliers include Cork-based organic seed producers Brown Envelope Seeds (brownenvelopeseeds.com) and Leitrim-based Green Vegetable Seeds (greenvegetableseeds.com).
Net soft fruit plants against birds to protect the developing fruit from being damaged or eaten. Drape nets over temporary frames constructed out of bamboo, timber or flexible piping and make sure to peg or weigh it down. But make a habit of checking the plants daily in case birds or hedgehogs accidentally become trapped in the netting.
DATES FOR YOUR DIARY . . .
Bloom and BloomFringe kick off next week (see P1 for details); Garden designer, author and broadcaster Diarmuid Gavin is taking his one-man stage show, “an exciting evening of fun and adventure”, on tour around Ireland. Upcoming dates include tomorrow (Sunday, May 28th) at Newbridge’s Riverbank Centre; Thursday, June 8th, at Tallaght’s Civic Theatre; Friday, June 9th at Galway’s Town Hall Theatre; Saturday, June 10th, at Dún Laoghaire’s Pavilion Theatre; and Sunday, June 11th, at Navan’s Solstice Arts Centre. See websites of individual venues for times and ticket prices. Continuing until Sunday, June 4th, Crux: A Dialogue in Metal, a group exhibition of sculpture at the Green Barn, Burtown House & Gardens, Athy, Co Kildare, burtownhouse.ie.
This article was edited on May 29th, 2017