Ilnacullin – Garinish Island
Ilnacullin is an island garden of diminutive size and rare beauty. Nestled in the sheltered coastal harbour at Glengarriff in Bantry Bay, the gardens display a wealth of unique horticultural and architectural gems. Bryce House is a fitting memorial to the visionary creators of this unique place.
The gardens of Ilnacullin owe their existence to the early twentieth-century creative partnership of Annan and Violet Bryce, the island’s owners, and Harold Peto, an architect and garden designer. The area enjoys a mild and humid micro-climate that makes for spectacular and flourishing plant life all year round.
Small ferry boats and 60-seater waterbuses take visitors to Ilnacullin regularly. The short crossing usually includes an extra treat – a visit to the nearby seal colony and an opportunity to glimpse majestic sea eagles.
Fota Arboretum and Gardens
The arboretum and gardens on Fota Island, just 16 kilometres from Cork city centre, are an essential destination for any one of a horticultural bent.
The arboretum extends over 11 hectares and contains one of the finest collections of rare, tender trees and shrubs grown outdoors in Europe. The unique conditions at Fota – its warm soil and sheltered location – enable many excellent examples of exotics from the southern hemisphere to flourish.
The gardens include such stunning features as the ornamental pond, formal pleasure gardens, orangery and sun temple. James Hugh Smith-Barry laid them out in the first half of the nineteenth century. Fota House, the Smith-Barrys’ ancestral home, still stands. The house, arboretum and gardens share the island with a hotel and golf resort and a wildlife park.
A large and beautiful estate covering 16 hectares in total, Altamont Gardens is laid out in the style of William Robinson, which strives for ‘honest simplicity’. The design situates an excellent plant collection perfectly within the natural landscape.
For example, there are lawns and sculpted yews that slope down to a lake ringed by rare trees and rhododendrons. A fascinating walk through the Arboretum, Bog Garden and Ice Age Glen, sheltered by ancient oaks and flanked by huge stone outcrops, leads to the banks of the River Slaney. Visit in summer to experience the glorious perfume of roses and herbaceous plants in the air.
With their sensitive balance of formal and informal, nature and artistry, Altamont Gardens have a unique – and wholly enchanting – character.
Phoenix Park – People’s Flower Gardens
A 9-hectare section of the massive Phoenix Park is given over to this enclosed and immaculately manicured Victorian flower garden.
The garden was laid out and opened in the mid-nineteenth century as the Promenade Grounds. It provides an opportunity to enjoy the horticulture of that era at its best. A large ornamental lake with various fowl, a children’s playground, picnic areas and Victorian bedding schemes are just some of the attractions you will come across here.
You will find the People’s Flower Gardens between the Parkgate Street entrance and the North Circular Road entrance to the Phoenix Park.
Whether you’re looking to relax in the sun, have a picnic or simply take a pleasant walk, don’t miss this enchanting portion of the capital’s largest green space.
National Botanic Gardens
The National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, just 3 kilometres from Dublin city centre, are renowned for the exquisite plant collections held there. They are home to over 15,000 plant species and cultivars from a variety of habitats from all around the world.
The jewel in the gardens’ crown is a set of exquisitely restored and planted historic glasshouses. Most notable among these are Richard Turner’s Curvilinear Range and the Great Palm House, both winners of an award for excellence in conservation architecture.
Conservation plays an important role in the life of the gardens and Glasnevin is home to over 300 endangered plant species, 6 of which are already extinct in the wild.
The gardens have been closely associated with their counterpart in Kilmacurragh, County Wicklow, since 1854. Unlike the Wicklow branch, though, they provide a calm and beautiful green space in the midst of the nation’s capital.
Garden of Remembrance
This beautiful garden in the centre of the city was designed by architect Dáithí Hanly and dedicated to the memory of ‘all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom’.
The garden was officially opened on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1916 Rising.
The focus point is a magnificent sculpture by Oisín Kelly, based on the legend of the Children of Lir, in which four children are transformed into swans and remain so for 900 years before becoming human again. A poem by Liam Mac Uistin is inscribed on the wall behind the sculpture. It concludes: ‘O generations of freedom remember us, the generations of the vision.’
The garden is intended as a place of quiet remembrance. It is a perfect place to enjoy some respite from the clamour of the city.
Irish National War Memorial Gardens
These gardens in Islandbridge, a Dublin suburb, are one of the most famous memorial gardens in Europe. They are dedicated to the memory of the 49,400 Irish soldiers who died in the First World War. The name of every single soldier is contained in the sumptuously illustrated Harry Clarke manuscripts in the granite bookrooms.
These gardens are not only a place of remembrance; they are also of great architectural interest and beauty. The great Sir Edwin Lutyens designed them. Lutyens was a prolific garden designer, especially of war memorials, but nonetheless lent his expertise to only four gardens in Ireland.
Sunken rose gardens, herbaceous borders and extensive tree-planting make for an enjoyable visit in any season. The solemn, serene atmosphere of this elegant garden makes it a perfect place in which to relax and reflect.
Tucked away behind the National Concert Hall, the Iveagh Gardens are among the finest, but least known, of Dublin’s parks and gardens.
They were designed by Ninian Niven in 1865 as the grounds for the Dublin Exhibition Palace – a space ‘where the citizens might meet for the purposes of rational amusement blended with instruction’.
The gardens contain a unique collection of features, which include rustic grottos, sunken formal panels of lawn with fountain centrepieces, woodlands, a maze, a rosarium, the American garden, rockeries and archery grounds.
This oasis of tranquillity and beauty, just a stone’s throw from the city centre, can justly claim to be the capital’s best-kept secret.
The John F. Kennedy Arboretum
Dedicated to the memory of John F. Kennedy, whose great-grandfather, Patrick, was born in the nearby village of Dunganstown, this arboretum near New Ross, County Wexford, contains a plant collection of presidential proportions.
It covers a massive 252 hectares on the summit and southern slopes of Slieve Coillte and contains 4,500 types of trees and shrubs from all temperate regions of the world. There are 200 forest plots grouped by continent. Of special note is an ericaceous garden with 500 different rhododendrons and many varieties of azalea and heather, dwarf conifers and climbing plants.
The lake is perhaps the most picturesque part of the arboretum and is a haven for waterfowl. There are amazing panoramic views from the summit of the hill, 271 metres above sea level. A visitor centre houses engaging exhibitions on JFK and on the Arboretum itself.
National Botanic Gardens Kilmacurragh
There was a monastery at Kilmacurragh, in this tranquil corner of County Wicklow, in the seventh century, and a religious foundation remained right up until the dissolution of the monasteries. After Cromwell invaded the land passed to the Acton family.
By the time the estate came to Thomas Acton in 1854, an unprecedented period of botanical and geographical exploration was afoot. In collaboration with the curators of the National Botanic Gardens, Acton built a new and pioneering garden.
In 1996, a 21-hectare portion of the old demesne officially became part of the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland. The following ten years were spent giving the estate’s rare and beautiful plants a new lease of life.
Kilmacurragh is now part of the National Botanic Gardens, providing a complementary collection of plants to its parent garden at Glasnevin. Arrive in spring to witness the transformation of the walks, as fallen rhododendron blossoms form a stunning magenta carpet.