Ask anyone which county in Ireland is known as "the garden county", and they'll say "Wicklow". Ask them to actually name a garden in Wicklow, and the chances are they'll come up with Powerscourt or Mount Usher – both of which are much visited and rightly celebrated. If you're prepared to go off the beaten track, however, you'll find a garland of hidden gardens all around the county.
Whether you aspire to beautifully manicured borders or enjoy a wander through wild woodland; whether you like to know the name of every exotic shrub or are content to gaze wordlessly at a native wild-flower meadow, there’s a Wicklow garden which will inform and inspire you. These oases of tranquillity are situated amid gorgeous unspoilt countryside, so don’t just rush in and out.
Give yourself a proper blooming treat: stay overnight and take the time to smell the roses. Trust me; spend two days in the secret gardens of Wicklow, and you’ll be in garden heaven.
June Blake’s garden
They planted more than 7,000 tulips this year – but whatever the season, the jaw-droppingly beautiful herbaceous borders of this three-acre paradise near Blessington will keep plant-lovers happily occupied for hours. The tulips were just finishing when we visited, but dazzling dahlias were promising swathes of jewel-like colour all the way through to autumn. Blake gives a free tour every Sunday at 2.30pm, there’s a tea room for a home-made scone, and if you can’t tear yourself away, don’t worry – two former farm outbuildings on the site have been converted to award-winning accommodation.
Open: April until the end of October, 11am to 5.30pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Adults €6, children free. juneblake.ie
Hunting Brook Gardens
This is the 20-acre domain of June Blake’s brother Jimi – and the atmosphere couldn’t be more different. Rambling woodland paths, specimens from all over the world which you won’t see anywhere else in Ireland; there’s even a Bronze Age standing stone. Jimi runs “special events Sundays”, when he gives a free walking tour and talks about his 25 favourite plants for the month, and a year-long plantpersons course.
Open until October 14th, Wednesday to Sunday, 11am to 5.30pm. Adults €5, children free. huntingbrook.com
Botanic Gardens Kilmacurragh
Not so much a garden as an entire world in itself, this 52-acre garden in leafy Kilbride has been transformed by the folks at the National Botanic Gardens from a sadly neglected estate to a smart ecological hot spot. They’re taking part in a global project to save endangered conifers, reinstating huge swathes of native meadow, planting miles of native hedgerow and restoring the superb Victorian double borders – which, by the way, will be at their brilliant best in late summer. Take a tour with a knowledgable guide (Monday to Saturday 11.30am and 3pm, €5 per person, Sundays 12pm and 2.30pm, free), have lunch in Acton’s tea rooms or bring your own picnic.
Open every day except Christmas Day. Summer hours – mid-February to mid-October – are Monday to Sunday, 12pm to 3pm. Free entry, small charge for car park. botanicgardens.ie/kilmacurragh
Russborough House Parkland
Some of Russborough’s parkland trees date from the 18th century, but its crowning glory are the venerable rhododendrons which blaze above the bluebells in late spring. Wander at your leisure, imagining that you live in a Jane Austen novel, or combine a visit with a longer walk on the nearby 6.5km Blessington Greenway. You could easily spend a whole day at the former home of Sir Alfred and Lady Beit: the house tour is first-rate, and the National Birds of Prey Centre will delight kids of all ages. We all fell in love with a tawny owl called Albert.
Open seven days a week, year round, 10am to 6pm. Adults €5. Separate tickets required for house tours and bird of prey centre. russborough.ie
“This is my red border,” says TJ Maher, indicating a bed glowing with purple alliums and lilac aquilegias. TJ is a painter, so it’s not that he’s colourblind – it’s just that the reds will come to the fore later in the season – and his tiny garden in Kiltegan village is picture-perfect. I’m not even going to try to describe the creative planting, the serene seating, the clever use of space; TJ gives a talk on the first Sunday of every month at 2pm, so check it out for yourself. And his partner sells antique and vintage tableware, so if you get a group together and book in advance, you’ll be treated to tea, coffee and homemade desserts in the elegant, airy diningroom.
Open May 1st until the first Sunday in October, 12pm to 6pm, and by appointment at other times. Adults €5. gardensofireland.org/directory/63/
Shekina sculpture garden
The focus at Shekina is on contemplation rather than propagation. Integrated organically around this sheltered corner of Glenmalure are 19 sculptures, and numerous quiet corners where you can sit and admire them. Or just sit, get an introductory talk from the garden’s creator, Catherine McCann, to put you in the mood for meditation, and you’ll have an experience here like no other.
Open all year, but you must book in advance on 0404-46128 or 086-8569106
For further info and directions, go to visitwicklow.ie/wicklows-hidden-gardens-two-day-tour
BrookLodge Hotel, Macreddin Summer offers from €110 per person sharing. Dine at Ireland's only organic restaurant, the Strawberry Tree, and finish with some of its "beech booze", a fragrant potion made from beech sap, honey and poitín.
Hunters Hotel, Rathnew B&B from €65 per person sharing. Don't miss the extensive walled garden where many of the vegetables and fruits on the menu are grown.
Grangecon Cafe, Blessington Everything on the menu is home cooked and as much as possible is locally sourced, organic and seasonal. Mains cost about €10: try the spinach and feta filo pie. Tuesday to Saturday, 9am to 4pm.
Arminta Wallace travelled as a guest of Wicklow Tourism