Great gardens of Ireland
Get inspired by visiting Ireland's historic estates, says Vandra Costello
Here are some of the best gardens throughout the country, from the grandeur of Palladian landscapes of the 18th century to prairie-style gardens and arboreta.
This is the most complete 17th-century garden to be found in Ireland or Britain. Wander around the wild paths in the Wilderness and the formal Angles -- a maze of yew and beech hedges -- or relax beside the twin canals. Other attractions include a substantial collection of statuary and a fine example of a 19th-century orangery. Killruddery, Bray, Co Wicklow. Tel: 01-286 3405; www.killruddery.com.
These magnificent gardens are a paradise for children. The river Vartry flows through the 22-acre garden, and visitors can meander among the groves of trees and open glens. The garden is famous for its spring and autumn colour, but is worth a summer visit. Mount Usher, Ashford, Co Wicklow.
Tel: 0404 40116;
Jimi Blake has created a compelling contemporary garden in the Wicklow mountains. He combines tropical and prairie-style plantings, along with a woodland walk, rhododendron beds and herbaceous borders. June, Jimi's sister, owns the adjacent nursery, where many of the rare and unusual plants and grasses found in the garden are on sale. Hunting Brook, Lamb Hill, Blessington, Co Wicklow. Tel: 087 285 6601; www.huntingbrook.com.
Rowallane is most famous for its 52-acre rhododendron garden, but also offers a rock garden and national collection of penstemons, plus wildflower meadows full of rare wild orchids. Rowallane Garden, Saintfield, Ballynahinch, Co Down. Tel: 028 9751 0131; www.nationaltrust.org.uk.
Castle Ward is a 820-acre park stretching alongside Strangford Lough. The house itself is a curiosity: its owners couldn't decide which style to follow when building the 18th-century house, so a compromise was struck -- one façade is magical gothic, the other formal, classic Palladian. The gardens contain canal and yew walks from the early 18th century, and 19th-century style sub-tropical borders. Castle Ward, Strangford, Downpatrick, Co Down. Tel: 028 4488 1204; www.nationaltrust. org.uk.
Mount Stewart contains one of the foremost botanical collections in Europe. In front of the house there is a collection of amusing statues, while elsewhere there are formal plantings, wild woodland walks, a lake and an 18th-century banqueting hall. Mount Stewart, Portaferry Road, Newtonards, Co Down. Tel: 028 4278 8387; www.national trust.org.uk.
Annesley is an historic demesne with an outstanding collection of mature trees and shrubs planted in the 19th century by the Earl of Annesley. There are also glorious herbaceous borders, fountains and topiary. The 85-acre arboretum is perfect for family days out, with the longest yew-hedge maze in the world. Annesley Garden and National Arboretum, Castlewellan, Co Down. Tel: 028 4377 8664; www.forestserviceni.gov.uk.
The Dillon Gardens
Helen Dillon's half-acre town garden is home to an array of rare and choice plants. This garden is a beautifully laid out city garden; a lesson in design. The garden reveals a series of secret 'rooms' with raised beds for delicate rarities, and dedicated areas for special foliage and other plants. The Dillon Garden, 45 Sandford Road, Dublin 6; www.dillongarden.com.
Bantry House garden was inspired by those of the Italian renaissance. Laid out on a series of steep terraces, the gardens are filled with Italianate features. The warm, humid climate of West Cork allows wisteria, magnolia and myrtle to thrive. Bantry House, Bantry, Co Cork. Tel: 027 50047; www.bantry house.com.
Belvedere's owner, the 'Wicked Earl' Robert Rochfort, became so jealous of his young wife's suspected affair that he imprisoned her in neighbouring Gaulstown House and built a gothic folly, The Jealous Wall, to block the view between the two properties. The wall still stands, along with several other beguiling follies. There are fine views of Lough Ennell from the garden and three kilometres of trails and children's play areas. Belvedere, Mullingar, Co Westmeath. Tel: 044 934 060; www.belvedere-house.ie.
Birr Castle is the ancestral home of the Earls of Rosse. The third Earl, astronomer William Parsons, built a huge observational telescope there in the 1840s. It is now preserved in the gardens of Birr. The landscape is crammed with rare trees and shrubs collected from around the world. Check out also the Victorian 'hidden glen' and fernery. Birr Castle Demesne, Birr, Co Offaly. Tel: 057 912036; www.birrcastle.com.
The gardens were conceived by late owner Corona North, who loved trees, old-fashioned roses and unusual plants. There is a lily-filled lake, a long river walk through an ice-age glen of ancient oak, and a walled garden with a double herbaceous walk. Plant hunters will love the nursery. Altamont, Tullow, Co Carlow. Tel: 059 9159444; www.heritageireland.ie.
The woodlands of Tullynally offer an assortment of exotic species that were collected from all around the world by Thomas Pakenham, Ireland's leading arboriculturalist. The grounds encompass two artificial lakes, as well as follies and garden buildings, including a children's playhouse, a pagoda and a gothic summerhouse.
St Anne's Park
Once the home of the Guinness family, St Anne's demesne is now an immaculately maintained park. A 16-acre Millennium Arboretum was planted in 1998, features more than 1,000 trees and is a walker's paradise. The jewel is its 14-acre rose garden, home to a display of every kind of rose imaginable.
St Anne's Park, Raheny, Dublin 3. Tel: 01-833 8898; www.dublincorp.ie.