Phase 2 began this week, and for garden lovers and walkers, it’s a chance to venture further afield to some of this island’s most beautiful gardens.
While it’s a pity that phase 2 lines up so neatly with the ‘June Gap’, there’s still plenty of inspirational public gardens to visit across Ireland, who are working within the Covid-19 restrictions.
So, whatever your taste, whether you’re an avid gardener looking for inspiration, a food-loving grower or have a lively family in tow, we’ve picked a selection of green spaces to match your mood.
Huntington Castle may be best known for its magnificent 500-year-old yew walk and stellar collection of champion trees, but if you’ve a gaggle of kids in tow, you’ll love the woodland adventure playground and farm, complete with gregarious pot-bellied pigs.
Meanwhile, the sweeping grounds will impress any and all. Mainly laid out in the 1680s by the Esmondes, they feature Italian style ‘Parterre’ gardens, as well the French lime avenue, planted in 1680, and a number of early water features such as stew ponds and an ornamental lake.
As they’re only eight minutes’ drive from the famous Altamont Gardens, why not visit both? The self-catering gate lodges at Huntington Castle are available to book for overnights. LGG
VISITOR INFORMATION Open 11am-5pm, tickets €6 per adult and €3 per child, no picnics, no dogs. While the tearooms are closed, the ticket office is selling garden tickets, plus takeaway teas and coffees.
While inside Blarney Castle and kissing the Blarney stone are firmly off the cards for now, there’s plenty in the gardens to tempt, with over 60 acres of spectacular grounds, including a number of compelling curiosities – including one of Ireland’s rare Poison Gardens. Here, you’ll find pernicious plants such as Wolf’s Bane, Mandrakes and Ricin, with the more dangerous species contained within large sculptural cages.
The Fern Garden and Ice House, Bog Garden and vast woodland walks are also key attractions along with the 21-acre lake – home to multiple otters and a beautiful bevy of swans. OK/AK
VISITOR INFORMATION Open 9am-5pm, with last admission at 4pm from June-August. Book online in advance where possible.
Downhill Demesne on the Causeway coast was built and owned by the eccentric 4th Earl of Bristol and Lord Bishop of Derry. Although the house is in ruins, the woods and gardens are beautiful as is the wonderful clifftop walk. It’s here you’ll find the much-photographed Mussenden Temple perched precariously on the edge of the cliff, which makes for a perfect picnic spot – just keep an eye on the kids. VC
VISITOR INFORMATION The grounds and toilets at Downhill Demesne reopen from Friday 5 June and you’ll need to book tickets before you visit. Members can book for free. They’ll be releasing tickets every Friday, and will be turning people away who arrive and haven’t booked.
The 18th-century neoclassical estate of Mount Stewart has the most lush and beautiful planting in its vast flower beds. The gardens were originally planned by plantswoman Marchioness Londonderry in the 20th century. Blessed with the mild climate of Strangford Lough, a huge variety of plants are grown here. VC
VISITOR INFORMATION Some areas of Mount Stewart reopened from June 03, including The Lake Walk and Formal Gardens and the Red, Blue and Green trails. Members can book for free. They’ll be releasing tickets every Friday, and will be turning people away who arrive and haven’t booked.
Pre-booking is required from June 10-June 28, for Dublin’s only urban working farm, Airfield in Dundrum. Secluded away from its busy surrounds, it is 38 acre wonderland of farmland and gardens, hidden in plain sight, and a GIYer’s dream.
Originally opened to the public by the Overend family in 1974 for educational and recreational purposes, the gardens received a considerable overhaul in 2014 with the help of plantsman Jimi Blake and designers Lady Arabella Lennox Boyd and Dermot Foley. Today, you can bimble around a number of gardens including a walled garden, greenhouse garden, organic food garden, bee garden, sunken garden and woodland pond. AK
VISITOR INFORMATION Open Wednesday – Sunday, with 3 daily pre-booked times slots: 10am-12pm, 12pm-2pm and 2pm-4pm.
Undoubtedly you’ll find yourself humming the Jurassic Park theme tune while rambling around the extensive grounds at Kells Bay Gardens on the Ring of Kerry. In particular, at the Primeval Forest, where carved wooden dinosaurs sit around an extensive collection of ferns, many of which were planted in the mid-19th century after being brought over from Australia.
Kids will also adore Ireland’s longest rope bridge, while there’s plenty more delights in the walled garden, bamboo glade, river walk, cliff walk and bog walk. AK
VISITOR INFORMATION Gardens are open daily from 9am until last entry at 7pm, with takeaway teas, coffees and cakes available. Takeaway is also from the onsite restaurant Sala Thai. From June 29, accommodation is also available.
Creating a garden with an emphasis on what could be described as romantic, the Irish National Stud’s Japanese Garden is the perfect example of a Strolling Zen Garden. Designed by master horticulturist Tassa Eida and his son Minoru, the garden symbolises ‘the life of man’ through winding paths, the bridge of life and tearooms. This is an inspiring Zen garden that blends water, vegetation and hard landscaping at a large scale. JM
VISITOR INFORMATION Opening hours are from 10am-6pm during this period, 7 days a week. All visits must be pre-booked by contacting their reservations team via email on [email protected] or via phone on +353 (0) 45 521617. Do allow at least 72 hours in advance to confirm booking.
Roses and rhododendron bloom and perfume the air at Gash Gardens, which is packed with interesting plants, flowing water, still ponds and meandering streams. Take the walkway through the fernery and follow a looped walk along the banks of the River Nore. Due to the water features and river, visitors must keep a keen eye on their kids and it may not be suitable for small children. AK
VISITOR INFORMATION Open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm each day. Closed on Sundays.
Photograph: Tina Claffey
Birr Castle has something for everyone to enjoy. The award-winning gardens are noted not only for having once been home to the largest telescope in the world, but are bursting with fabulous features such as the whimsical hornbeam cloister walk, the River Camcor, over 2,000 species of plants and five miles of walking trails.
Birr supports biodiversity and offers great opportunity for wildlife spotting; otters can be spotted slipping in and out of Little Brosna river, and kingfishers nest here too. JM
VISITOR INFORMATION Reopened from June 08 with hours from 10:30am -4pm each day, the 120 acre parklands are open, as are the great telescope, the quest trail, while the the cafe is open for takeaway only and the gift shop is open too. Tickets must be booked in advance.
Just 10 minutes from Waterford City lies Mount Congreve, a 70-acre woodland garden with seemingly endless pathways – in actual fact there are 16 kilometres of winding paths.
Inside the walled garden, the late Ambrose Congreve was inspired by Rothschild’s garden at Exbury in Hampshire and as such, plants like rhododendrons and camellias abound. Overall, there are more than 3,000 different trees and shrubs, 150 climbers and 1,5000 herbaceous plants, so there’s plenty to explore in your designated time slot.
While always a busy hub for events, this year is a little different. Still, there’ll be yoga and meditation mornings on July 5 and August 9, while July and August will see three twilight tours, and on August 15, a star gazing evening will be hosted during the annual Perseid meteor showers, or “natures’s greatest movie” as they dub it. All event visitors must pre-book their tickets online. AK
VISITOR INFORMATION Mount Congreve Gardens are limiting numbers to facilitate easy social distancing. For the moment there is no access from the Greenway. The garden will open six days per week from 10am-5.30pm with last entry at 4pm from Tuesday to Sunday. Thursdays is reserved for seniors and those accompanying them. Only pre-booking will guarantee admission.
After meeting while working in the gardens at Kew, Frances and Iain MacDonald bought this Wexford plot in 1989 and began lovingly developing a series of garden ‘rooms’, which make up The Bay Garden.
Enter through the tiny Cottage Garden, which decorates the couple’s farmhouse home with box hedging, blowsy blooms like peonies and hellebores, as climbing roses and wisteria creep up the old walls.
As you wander around this spectacular garden, you’ll stumble across the formal Rose Garden, The Pond Garden and the meandering Serpentine Garden. The Hot Bed of dazzling reds and golds is contrasted with a ‘funeral bed’ of almost-black, purple, and red crimson perennials and shrubs, including Frances’ favourite plant, the black grass Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’.
As a private garden that’s open to the public, you really get a sense of the love and affection that Frances and Iain tend to every individual plant and it is an example of a true gardener’s garden. LH
VISITOR INFORMATION The Bay Garden is open by appointment-only for small groups (1-4) who can book into the garden for an hour – sharing with only one other group.
Considered one of Ireland’s most prestigious gardens, Mount Usher was created over one hundred years from 1865. Its design was greatly inspired by famous Irish gardener William Robinson, who pioneered a structural layout of trees and shrubs interwoven with informal floral annuals, to create a natural garden that is reflective of its landscape.
Today, it remains an exquisite example of an organic public garden, with the River Vartry as a focal point. However, venture away from the flowing waters and you’ll discover the estate’s treasure trove of tree varieties, from Japanese acers to Tasmanian cedars. LH
VISITOR INFORMATION The gardens are open, seven days a week, from 10am. Last entry is at 4pm. Gates are locked at 5pm. The Bakery, The Walled Garden and Rhinestone Country Clothing are also open.
Featured image: Tina Claffey’s image of Birr Castle’s formal gardens
WORDS Vandra Costello, Lizzie Gore-Grimes, Lauren Heskin, Amanda Kavanagh, Oliva Keating, Jenna Meade
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