This revamped Waterford wonder is back open to the public, with a new cafe, visitor centre and a superb selection of plants to enjoy
Last week, the gates to Mount Congreve Gardens in Kilmeaden, Co Waterford, were reopened to the public after a significant upgrade and redevelopment. These beautiful gardens are situated on the banks of the River Suir. After a considerable investment by the Rural Regeneration Development Fund, Waterford City and County Council and Fáilte Ireland, there are plenty of new facilities and 70 acres of woodland and a large walled garden for visitors to enjoy.
The house and gardens were bequeathed to the State by their owner, the late Ambrose Congreve, who was an enthusiastic plantsman. Along with his head gardener, Herman Dool, he planted an extensive collection of magnolias, camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons, all of which thrive in the moist, acidic, riverside soil and sheltered situation.
Today this national treasure is managed by the expert hands of estate manager Ray Sinnott; resident curator Michael White, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of every plant in the place; and a committed and enthusiastic staff. It’s the combination of their passion and the extensive and diverse collection of beautiful and interesting shrubs and trees that make this place so special.
An exciting development is the School of Horticulture, which is opening next month, where the invaluable knowledge of these skilled plantspeople will be handed on to the next generation of horticulturists.
March is magnolia month, and a visit here should feature on any gardening bucket list (much easier after all than a visit to Japan to celebrate the cherry blossom season). The sight of these in full flower in spring is a spectacle, in particular the avenue of towering Magnolia campbelliis with their large, pink, goblet-shaped flowers on bare stems. Last week, these were just starting to emerge and will peak around St Patrick’s Day — in full bloom, they are visible from about 10km away across the river. They are too large for most gardens but you will also see different varieties of Magnolia soulangeana, the saucer magnolia which has a spreading habit but doesn’t grow too tall and makes a beautiful specimen tree.
Over the next few months, the rhododendrons and azaleas will be spectacular and, last week, plenty of them were already in full bloom. It’s a garden that will have something to offer every month. Visit in early summer to see the columns of wisterias dripping with flowers and enjoy the walled garden which is planted with fruit and veg as well as floral favourites such as roses, delphiniums, paeonias and asters. Late summer will see more than 90 different varieties of hydrangeas in bloom. Winter visitors can enjoy the camellias and the heady perfume of daphnes, mahonias and edgeworthias.
The Waterford Greenway passes by the garden, and there is visitor access for the cyclist, making it a good pit stop to relax and, after a stroll around the gardens, have some lunch in the new café and visitor centre. Visitor facilities have been enhanced with good signage, information and trails marked throughout the garden.
If you’re keen to learn more about the gardens, visit any Thursday at 2pm from March to September and, weather-permitting, you will be guided around the gardens by one of the expert gardeners and hear the secrets and techniques to managing this extensive collection of plants (duration 2 hours, cost €14 per person).
So get on your bike and explore this Waterford wonder. For more information, see mountcongreve.com.
Omphalodes cappadocica (Navelwort)
This is one of the best spring-flowering perennials — it’s an easy-care plant and does well in partial shade so long as the soil doesn’t dry out too much. Lots of small, bright-blue flowers, which are quite similar to forget-me-nots, emerge above fresh, spring-green leaves. It’s a good ground cover as its dense foliage suppresses most weeds. ‘Starry Eyes’ is also a popular cultivar, each blue flower having a white edge.
My laurel hedges have gone brown at the edge of the leaves. Does this mean they are dying?
The cherry laurel, Prunus laurocerasus, is generally a robust evergreen hedging plant that won’t give you too much trouble. However, it sounds like yours has had a bit of stress. It could be responding to a variety of environmental factors. Brown edges can indicate too much water or even that it suffered drought. It could also be windburn. It doesn’t sound like a bacterial problem as you don’t mention leaf-curling, holes in the leaves or black spots. See how new foliage develops — if that is healthy, your laurel should get back to normal this year.
Submit your gardening questions to Diarmuid via his Instagram @diarmuidgavin using the hashtag #weekendgarden