Ireland's great gardens
Bantry House Garden (Bantry, Co. Cork, www.bantryhouse.com) - This garden in SW Ireland surrounds Bantry House, one of Ireland’s grandest houses built in 1740 for the Earls of Bantry. The gardens are spread on a hillside overlooking Bantry Bay. Walk among the rare flowers, subtropical plants, sculpted shrubs, original statuary and waterfront paths. Climb the steps behind the house for a panoramic view of the house, gardens, and Bantry Bay.
Garinish Island (off Glengarriff, Co. Cork, www.heritageireland.ie) - A small garden paradise on a 37-acre island off the West Cork coast. Accessible by local ferry boats from the pier at Glengarriff, it is home to an Italian Garden of rare and tender tropical plants, not usually seen in Ireland or northern Europe. It was here that George Bernard Shaw is reputed to have written part of St. Joan. The paths around the gardens, ideal for strolling, include ponds and pedimented gateways, a Martello tower, and a Grecian temple overlooking the sea. You can easily spend a morning or afternoon here.
Killarney House Gardens (Muckross Rd., Killarney, Co. Kerry) – An oasis on the edge of a busy tourist town, these gardens originally surrounded a French-chateau-style house (no longer standing), where Queen Victoria stayed in 1861. The main features are an arched cherry tree drive and views of the Lower Lake and mountains. The five-acre gardens also include a variety of ancient trees (beech, lime, chestnut, walnut), herbaceous borders, rhododendrons, roses, camellias, azaleas and spring and summer flower beds.
Muckross House Gardens (Muckross Rd., Killarney, www.muckross-house.ie) – This 18th century garden surrounds Muckross House, the focal point on the shoreline on Killarney’s Middle Lake. Often called “the jewel of Killarney,” the splendid 20-room Victorian mansion, built in 1843, provides a glimpse of the lifestyle of the landed gentry of Killarney in the 19th century. The well-manicured gardens outside are renowned worldwide for their collections of azalea, roses and rhododendron, as well as a sunken garden, rock garden, stream garden and walled garden.
Birr Castle Gardens (Rosse Row, Birr, Co. Offaly, www.birrcastle.com) – A 100-acre horticultural wonderland in the center of Ireland. The layout contains more than 1,000 species of trees and shrubs, including box hedges featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the tallest in the world. Other facilities include a giant 6-foot reflecting telescope, built in 1845 and the largest in the world for over 70 years.
Kylemore Abbey Gardens (Kylemore, Co. Galway, www.kylemoreabbey.com) – A six-acre walled Victorian garden. Singled out as a winner of a Europa Nosta Award in 2002, this serene lakeside sanctuary was originally laid out in 1867, and took three years to complete, transforming a wilderness of rock and bog into a feast of flowers and plants set in geometrically designed borders and beds, along with hundreds of thousands of trees. Unfortunately, the garden fell into disuse for over 100 years until its recent restoration. The garden is divided into two sections, a formal flower garden for leisurely strolls and the kitchen garden containing fruit, vegetables and herbs. In addition, the former Head Gardener’s House has been turned into a mini-museum as has the Garden Bothy (workman’s house). The Tool Shed is also on view and shows examples of tools used in the Victorian era and small treasures uncovered during the garden renovations. A shuttle bus connects the gardens to Kylemore Abbey.