Gardens of earthly pleasure

Take a stroll through Ireland’s majestic gardens with Donal Hickey.

Gardens of earthly pleasure

We’re fortunate to have so many splendid gardens in this country, which will shortly be coming into full bloom to be visited by countless thousands. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, the south-west has many exotic and native plants growing in profusion for much of the year. The West Cork Gardens Trail alone embraces more than 20 attractions.

Foreign influences are to be seen in some gardens, including those around Bantry House, with the 100 steps fringed by azaleas and rhododendron, and the magical Garinish Island, Glengarriff.

Kylemore Abbey, set on a 1,000-acre, lakeside estate in Connemara, is another stand-out gem. Its Victorian walled garden, boasting flowers, shrubs and vegetables from the period, as well as the restored gardener’s cottages are all redolent of the 19th century when gardens were kept on a grand scale.

On a warm, sunny day recently, St Stephen’s Green, an oasis in the centre of the Dublin, had a carnival air. Families and playing children had the place taken over amid trees and flower beds which had a distinct look of early summer about them.

New developments continue, meanwhile, with what is claimed to be Ireland’s longest rope bridge, 34m in length and 11m in height, being opened at Billy Alexander’s Kells Bay Gardens, on the Ring of Kerry. Called the Skywalk, it offers bird’s eye views of the gardens.

Planted 160 years ago, the Kells Bay estate includes a profusion of rare, southern hemisphere plants, a breathtaking waterfall, tree sculptures and bamboo gardens and is home to Ireland’s largest palm tree, an 11 tonne specimen with a 7.5 metre trunk.

In Killarney, Muckross House and Gardens, which draw an estimated one million visitors annually, now have a complementary attraction, Killarney House and Gardens, formerly the home of the Lord Kenmares and, more recently, of Irish-American builder and multi-millionaire, John McShain.

Three years ago, the gardens of Killarney House, were the centre of controversy after the National Parks and Wildlife Service cut down parallel lines of cherry trees.

Environmentalists condemned the cutting down of the trees, which the service said were reaching the end of their lifespan. New trees were planted and cherry blossoms are again in bloom along the 500m cherry walk.

Killarney House has not yet been opened to the public, but the restored gardens were opened a year ago making what is effectively a town park, a few minute’s stroll from the heart of the busy tourist town.

A network of pathways and other fancy garden features, laid down in the 18th century, were uncovered during the work while thousands of flowers and shrubs have been planted recently.

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