Monday 21 May 2018

Gardening... Diarmuid Gavin: Picture Perfect

Ireland's finest gardens are showcased in stuning new book

Bantry House, its gardens and Bantry Bay, from The irish Garden (pub. Frances Lincoln, 2015) by Jane Powers, with photographs by Jonathan Hession
Bantry House, its gardens and Bantry Bay, from The irish Garden (pub. Frances Lincoln, 2015) by Jane Powers, with photographs by Jonathan Hession
The Kitchen Garden at Clenveagh Castle, from The Irish Garden (pub. Frances Lincoln, 2015) by Jane Powers, with photographs by Jonathan Hession
Cover for The irish Garden (pub. Frances Lincoln, 2015) by Jane Powers, with photographs by Jonathan Hession

Diarmuid Gavin

Jane Power is a gardener, writer and journalist who has become a great supporter of all things horticultural on this temperate isle. Together with her photographer husband Jonathan, she has brought her vast knowledge and experience to a wonderful new project, a book called The Irish Garden.

It's a heavy tome - a four-year project, spent examining a selection of the nation's glorious gardens. From grand estates to suburban havens, the prerequisite for inclusion was that the gardens are open to the public. The result is a must-have for all who are interested in the evolution of the Irish garden.

The chapters are divided into inviting titles such as 'Romantic Interludes', 'Follies and Fancies' and 'Fields of Dreams'.

It's hard to pick favourites - but I will! Alfred Cochrane's Corke Lodge in Wicklow (below), with its layers of drama; Bantry House in Cork (main), with its wonderful Wisteria display and magical "stairway to the sky"; the Dillon Garden in Ranelagh, Dublin, with its central reflective canal; and the glorious Mount Stewart in Co. Down, where a dour-looking house was transformed by being bathed in international plants and exotic styles.

After all her travelling through Ireland, what does Jane think defines an Irish Garden - do we have a particular national trait?

"Many of our historic gardens were, of course, created by English or Anglo-Irish people, but our gardens have ended up looking entirely different," she says.

"The rampant growth here is an urgent, unstoppable factor: Irish gardens seem as if they are on a very brief loan from nature. You feel that if the gardener were to turn their back for a season that feral hordes of plants would rush back in.

"Aside from a few well-known ones, Irish gardens have comparatively few visitors, which means that often you will have an entire garden to yourself. At those times you can feel the magic in a very intense way, especially in an old garden. All the history seems tangible, and the tumult of nature is palpable. So many Irish gardens are incredibly romantic. They make us all into poets for an hour or two." Does Jane prefer the grand gardens or the more intimate ones?

"I don't really have a preference. I just like a garden that is happy in its skin and that is the best garden it can be. Bantry House, for instance, is magnificently grand. When you climb up the "stairway to the sky" and look down on the view of Bantry Bay and its islands, you could be flying. It is one of the best garden views in the world.

"But, I also love going into a smaller garden which has been made by one person. Carmel Duignan's garden in Shankill, for example, is attached to a 1930s county council cottage. She is a knowledgeable and clever plantswoman, and she grows an enormous range of plants - hundreds or even thousands of different varieties - but she also has a keen, artistic eye. So the garden is calm and beautiful while being endlessly interesting. I'd rather be in an Irish garden than anywhere else. It is balm for the troubled or weary soul."

'The Irish Garden' by Jane Powers, with photography by Jonathan Hession, is published by Frances Lincoln at £40.

Find it

The Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland's annual plant sale will be held in Laurelmere Cottage in Marlay Park, in Dublin's Rathfarnham, on Saturday, May 9. Plant donations accepted from 9.30am, and the sale runs from 12pm to 3pm.


Wonderful Wicklow

Mount Usher gardens in Ashford, Wicklow are looking wonderful right now! Laid out across 22 acres along the banks of the River, they’re a lovely example of a Robinsonian-style of garden, with free-flowing informality and natural design.

The gardens were created by four generations of the Walpole family beginning in 1868. From 1980 they were preserved by Mrs Madeleine Jay, before being taken over by Avoca, who run a café on site, in 2007. You’ll find over 5,000 species of plant — many of them rare and exotic, all grown organically — painting a canvas of colour throughout the season. Mount Usher is situated in Ashford Co. Wicklow, off the main Dublin to Rosslare road. Select Bus Eireann services stop in Ashford village. The gardens open daily from 10am to 6pm. For information, call 0404 40205 or see

Grá for growing

GroMór is a new movement that aims to make growing the new cooking — accessible to all and on trend. This nationwide campaign aims to encourage people who may have previously found gardening intimidating to look at what they can grow on their window sill, on their balcony or in their garden. In particular, it aims to engage young families and those who have recently purchased their first house.

The GroMór website provides easy-to-follow guides on what to plant and how to cultivate them. The initiative is being supported by Bord Bia along with over 65 Retail Excellence Ireland garden centres throughout Ireland.

Each of these will have a dedicated GroMór area where you can find exactly what you need to get started. When green shoots start to appear, you’re encouraged to share your pictures, successes and your growing tales on social media. For information about GroMór or any of the garden centres involved, see

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