By Jim Ferri
There are many gardens in Ireland, an island renowned for its natural beauty.
Across its beautiful countryside, on its rolling hills and on pastures that tumble down to the water’s edge, from the Irish Sea to the wild North Atlantic, Ireland beguiles us with her overabundance of natural beauty.
But there’s another side of Ireland that many of us too often miss, the tamer side of Ireland’s natural beauty, the Ireland hidden behind the walls of old estates and mansions. They are the spectacular gardens of Ireland that are open to the public.
There we oftentimes find incredible gardens created by artists who have taken fields and bogs and transformed them into near-magical places that change with the season, places that quietly share their incredible beauty with all that enter.
Here are four such places on the island of Ireland that will reward you from the very first moment you step through the gate.
Kylemore Abbey, Connemara, Co. Galway: a Victorian Walled Irish Garden
Kylemore Abbey, an incredible 19th century building set at the base of a near-vertical mountain, is a former Benedictine abbey that’s now a girl’s boarding school.
One of its claims to fame is its beautiful 6-acre Victorian walled garden developed at the time Kylemore Castle
was being built in 1867–1871. It was one of the last walled gardens to be built during the Victorian period in Ireland and it is the only walled garden constructed in a peat bog. In fact, the garden when constructed was so advanced for its time that it was compared in magnificence with Kew Gardens in London.
It’s divided by a small natural mountain stream with the eastern half being “the pleasure garden” filled with flowers and contains the greenhouses and the head gardener’s house. The other half of the garden is “the kitchen garden” that is predominantly given over to the growing of food.
Long ago the garden went into decline. In time became a wilderness and the greenhouses collapsed leaving only their brick bases. In 1996, the Benedictine community, who had always use the garden began restoration work to bring the garden back to its former glory. Restoration is still underway.
Mount Stewart House, Newtownards, A Beautiful Garden in Northern Ireland
The gardens surrounding the Mount Stewart House have been voted as one of the top ten gardens in the world. They encompass an incredible display of both plants and artistry, the latter the hallmark of Edith, Lady Londonderry, who created them.
The mild climate of nearby Strangford Lough allows astonishing levels of planting experimentation throughout the estate, which is owned by the UK’s National Trust. The Trust has recently acquired more of the adjacent land that was part of the original property.
The formal areas exude a strong Mediterranean feel and resemble an Italian villa landscape; the wooded areas support a range of plants from all corners of the world, ensuring something to see whatever the season.
Each of these formal gardens in Ireland exudes a distinct character and appeal and further afield visitors can enjoy the beautifully landscaped and informal grounds surrounding the picturesque lake walk.
Powerscourt, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow
Powerscourt in County Wicklow is an estate with possibly the finest formal gardens in Ireland. It has been voted as the #3 Garden in the World by National Geographic. In fact, the gardens at Powerscourt are so well maintained and spectacular it’s almost like being in a mini-Versailles. And it’s only about a half-hour drive from Dublin.
When you enter the estate it takes several minutes to drive up to the mansion and gardens, and you pass horses and sheep grazing along the way, all part of the panorama of the beautiful Wicklow countryside. It’s an incredibly scenic estate, which also contains a golf course and a Ritz-Carlton that, thankfully, has been tucked away out of sight.
Built in the 18th century on the site of an old castle, it was gutted by fire about 50 years ago but has been partially restored. The house isn’t open to visitors but you can visit a café and some shops selling quality Irish goods.
Muckross House, Killarney, Co Kerry: a Charming Garden in Ireland
The Muckross House and Gardens, a national treasure of Ireland, are at the heart of Killarney National Park. They were part of an 11,000-acre estate that was given to the nation of Ireland in 1832 and which formed the basis of the present-day National Park.
The house, a 19th century Victorian mansion built for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, was completed in 1843. In the 1850s the Herbert’s began an extensive gardens project in preparation for Queen Victoria’s visit in 1861. (The Queen gave six year’s notice of her visit – plenty of time for the house to be redecorated – and arrived with her own bed and a 100-strong entourage).
Through a succession of owners over the ensuing years these Irish gardens were extended and further developed, and today are world-renowned for their beauty, especially the collection of azaleas and rhododendrons. The sunken garden, the rock garden (hewn from natural limestone) and an extensive water garden were only developed in the early 20th century.
The house and gardens are close to the shore of Muckross Lake, one of Killarney’s three lakes, and are approximately 3 ½ miles outside Killarney.
If you go:
Connemara, Co. Galway, Ireland
Tel: +353 (0) 95 52001
Mount Stewart House
Portaferry Road, Newtownards, Northern Ireland
Tel: +44 28 4278 8387
Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
Tel: + 353 (0) 1 204 6000
Muckross House, Killarney
Killarney, Co Kerry. Ireland
Tel: +353 (0) 64 6670144