One of my favorite things to do is visit gardens. I’m just as happy in a humble, self-made garden as a grand professionally landscaped one. Every garden has its charm. Visiting gardens in different parts of the world is exciting because regional gardening styles and types of plants vary.
When we travel, it’s my responsibility to choose the gardens we’ll visit; my friends are good sports and go along for the ride. On a recent tour of Ireland, these were two of my favorites:
Brigit’s Garden in Rosscahill is a thirty minute drive from Galway in northwestern Ireland. It is rated number two of the top ten gardens in Ireland. It’s not your traditional garden, and not like any I’ve ever visited before. A walk through the four interconnected gardens takes you on a journey through the Celtic festivals of Samhain (winter), Imbolc (spring), Bealtaine (summer) and Lughnasa (autumn). These seasonal cycles mirror the cycle of life from conception to old age and death.
The festival of Samhain begins on October 31st and is the beginning of the yearly cycle for Celtic people. This is a time of death and the promise of rebirth; a time of reflection. In this garden, a 328 feet long earth woman slumbers, representing the earth resting for the winter. The festival of Imbolic is celebrated on February 1st, now called St. Brigit’s Day. At this time, shoots are beginning to push out of the ground and the birth of baby animals is a sign that the earth is re-awakening and life begins anew. A charming thatched roundhouse sits in this garden surrounded by wildflowers. In the sunken garden, a carved triple spiral tells the stories of Brigit, Celtic Christian Saint and pre-Christian goddess of the land. The festival of Bealtaine on May 1st celebrates the coming of summer’s warmth. We took turns sitting on the massive stone throne in the center of this garden and aping for the camera. The festival of Lughnasa in August celebrates the joy of harvest time and the promise that there will be plenty until the end of a cold winter. Circular stone walls and interlinked spirals provide space for feasting and dancing. Yews planted at the exit to the garden indicate death and the beginning of a new cycle.
Brigit’s Garden was conceived by Jenny Beale and designed by Mary Reynolds. It took two years to translate the design into actual gardens, and seeing the amount of stonework it’s understandable. This is a delightful garden, and in spite of the cold and blustery day, young parents with small children scampered about full of laughter and cheer. I hope that you will one day have an opportunity to visit and experience the joy and energy of this magical place.
The visit to Mount Usher Gardens wasn’t on the agenda, but the garden we were intending to visit was closed for an unknown reason. Mount Usher Gardens is located in Ashford, a thirty minute drive from Dublin in the charming County of Wicklow in southeastern Ireland. It is one of the finest examples of an authentic Robinsonian style garden; William Robinson 1838-1935 developed the wild garden style which led to the popularity of the English cottage garden style. It is one of only three gardens in Ireland with a top rating from the UK’s Good Gardens Guide, and it was voted the number four garden to visit in Ireland by BBC Viewers.
Edward Walpole, whose family made their fortune in the linen industry, fell in love with a two acre tract of land that included a mill in 1880. Inspired by the work of William Robinson, he started designing and planting the land. Over the next four generations, the Walpole descendants purchased more land (the garden is now 23 acres) and continued to plant, design and enhance Edward’s original work. 100 years later, the Walpole family association with Mount Usher ended with the sale of the property to Madelaine Jay. She was not a gardener, but appreciated the beauty of the gardens and hired talented gardeners who helped her continue the evolution of the gardens.
There are over 5,000 specimens of rare trees and other plants on display. While the azaleas and rhododendrons were not in bloom, all of the roses and many other perennials were. Everywhere we turned there was color with the backdrop of evergreens. This garden was designed with such a light hand, that had I not recognized many of these varieties don’t co-exist naturally, I would have thought it was an untouched glade.
This is a longer than wide property, so it appears larger than it is. The design is relaxed and informal and several garden paths and trails meander through the space. We met many locals and discovered that they acquire season passes so they can visit many times during the year and watch the changing colors of flowers and foliage.
The weather was perfect the day we visited and we enjoying ambling along the main promenade. On several occasions, elegant bridges cross the babbling River Vartry, providing stunning views and photo opportunities. There are plenty of benches available to rest and enjoy particularly beautiful vignettes. Here are there we would catch a glimpse of the Mount Usher home and remark of how wonderful it must be to live in this beautiful place (it is still occupied as a private residence).
We visited many other gardens in Ireland, and more as we continued on to Edinburgh and The Cotswolds, but we all agreed this was the most beautiful garden we saw on the trip. I hope that when you visit the Emerald Isle that you will seek out these two beautiful gardens.