The Emerald Gardens
With finely crafted lawns, exquisite flowers and impressive fountains and ponds, Ireland’s stately homes host the best in world-class horticulture
Perched on the western edge of Europe, it’s not hard to see why Ireland has become known as the Emerald Isle. But as well as a landscape bounteous in natural beauty, Ireland is also famed for its hauntingly beautiful cultivated gardens with exotic, verdurous plants, mystical greenery and intriguing character.
Ireland’s history will set your imagination on fire. And its corresponding castle strongholds, gothic revival houses, formal 17th-century gardens, landscaped parks, rustic wilderness gardens, cottage gardens, botanic gardens and arboreta offer a vibrant insight into Irish cultural life, past and present.
Tender tree ferns from Australia, exotic banana plants from Japan, primulas from the Alps and sunny daisies from South Africa all thrive in Ireland’s renowned soft climate.
- The wild, watery haven of Annes Grove in Castletownroche, County Cork, has been in the hands of the same family since the 17th century and is a beautifully diverse garden with winding waters, native plants, such as meadowsweet and marsh valerian, exotic bamboos and gigantic-leaved gunnera.
- Belvedere in County Westmeath. Lord Belfield came to live here in the 18th century after his wife, Mary, had an affair with his younger brother Arthur. Arthur fled, but Mary was not so lucky. Lord Belfield locked her up in the family seat, and decamped to his lakeside villa at Belvedere. Mary stayed incarcerated for 30 years, while Lord Belfield amused himself by fabricating a picturesque landscape on his 160-acre property.
- Botanic Gardens, Belfast, is home to two of the most notable early greenhouses in Europe. The Palm House is one of the remarkable Victorian cast-iron conservatories erected with the assistance of Dublin engineer Richard Turner. The Tropical Ravine is landscaped as a luxuriant tropical glen to be viewed from a high walkway all around.
- Butterstream in County Meath. With billowing herbaceous borders, neatly hedged enclosures, classical architecture, mossy urns and silvery canals, Butterstream has a wonderfully historic air, which is all the more surprising when you consider it’s only around three decades old!
- The Victorian walled garden at Kylemore Abbey in Connemara is beautifully manicured and delightfully traditional. This six-acre garden was first constructed in the latter half of the 19th century and is now cared for by Benedictine nuns.
- The National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin. Extremely popular with Dubliners, the National Botanic Gardens house plants from all over the world, among them a fine collection of vireyas, tender rhododendrons from Southeast Asia.
- Mount Stewart, Newtownards, County Down. Northern Ireland’s most celebrated garden where almost every style of gardening popular in the last two centuries is represented. This great diversity of style, and plants from every continent were ingeniously combined by Edith, Lady Londonderry, to produce a garden of outstanding quality and character.
- Florence Court, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. Overlooked by the dramatic outline of the Cuilcagh Mountains, Florence Court is well known to gardeners as the home of the Irish Yew, which is now a feature of gardens throughout the world. The original tree, discovered around 1760 can still be seen on the fringe of Cottage Wood.
There are lots of other gardens, tended to by their proud owners and open to the public in a more informal manner. They’re great places to share gardening tips, and many have tearooms with delicious home baking and local produce.
Exploring Ireland’s Gardens
Other great places to explore include Seaforde in County Down, which is home to a hornbeam maze at the center of an eighteenth century walled garden, and a Butterfly House; Westmeath's Tullynally Gardens with its two ornamental lakes complete and haughty swans, and The Hermitage in Tollymore Forest Park, County Down, which, for a student of garden follies is a rare treat