10 Gorgeous Gardens

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Restorative, calming and filled with tales of passionate designers and big-house drama, the gardens of Ireland’s Ancient East are often at their most beautiful in spring. Nursed back to life by the milder weather, these oases of horticultural mastery invite you to slow down, switch off and get lost amidst a rainbow of flowers, jade-green grass and scented woodland.


Explore vast estate gardens, amble through enchanting natural spaces and be wowed by the colourful blaze of spring in bloom.
 

And don’t be be surprised if you stay longer than you expect – many of these gorgeous gardens harbour pretty tea rooms that make perfect places for lunch. Opt for a garden trail and you can explore some of the greatest gardening hits of Ireland’s Ancient East, or why not time your visit to coincide with one of the annual garden events or festivals?

Here’s our top 10 picks to enjoy…

The Gardens at Powerscourt House
Killruddery House and Gardens, County Wicklow
A man on a bridge at Mount Usher Gardens
Left: The Gardens at Powerscourt House | Middle: Killruddery House and Gardens | Right: Enjoying the views at Mount Usher Gardens

It's fitting that our list should begin with three choices in Wicklow. After all, it is known as 'The Garden of Ireland'...


1. Powerscourt Estate

Stand on the upper stone terrace at the Powerscourt Estate, and a vista of epic proportions unfurls before you like an 19th century painting. Overlooked by the Great Sugar Loaf mountain and designed by the architect Daniel Robertson, exquisite green terraces cascade down to Triton Lake, dotted with lily pads and framed by a striking pair of winged horses. It’s a spectacular introduction to an estate that offers a dazzling array of experiences, from a Japanese garden to an intriguing pet cemetery. Climb Pepperpot Tower, walk the walled garden and enjoy the view with tea and cake in the Avoca Terrace Café. No wonder it’s been named by National Geographic as one of the top three gardens in the world – enjoy a glimpse of its delights here.
 

2. Killruddery House & Gardens

With its magnetic beauty, romantic atmosphere and graceful elegance, Killruddery House and Gardens has caught the eye of many location scouts – Camelot, Becoming Jane and The Tudors, to name a few. Its unique formal layout is the brainchild of 17th century French gardener, Bonet, who was a disciple of the visionary designer André le Nôtre (of Versailles fame). Home to the Brabazon family since 1618, the gardens were designed for entertaining large numbers of guests and the French aesthetic mixes wonderfully with the rugged Irish landscape. A hive of activity from late March onwards, Killruddery keeps the buzz going right through the summer with a Saturday Farm Market, tea room, festivals, classes and tours.


3. Mount Usher Gardens, Arboretum and Avoca Garden Café

Stroll through Mount Usher on a crisp spring day, and you’ll soon know why BBC gardener Monty Don called this Edenic beauty one of his favourite gardens in the world. Laid out over 22 acres on both sides of the gently flowing River Vartry, a delightful mix of natural and relaxed formal planting creates a peaceful refuge from the outside world. Influenced by the style of 19th century gardener William Robinson, champion of the “wild garden”, Mount Usher is dreamily garnished with native and tropical plants, shrubs and trees. Afterwards, contemplate nature in all its glory with an alfresco lunch at the Garden Café.

Walking through the blooms at Mount Congreve Gardens
A view of Johnstown Castle from the gardens
Left: Walking through the blooms at Mount Congreve Gardens | Right: A view of Johnstown Castle from the gardens

4. Mount Congreve Gardens

Some of the best gardens in the world reflect the single vision and unrelenting passion of those who created them. Mount Congreve Gardens is that kind of place. Inspired by Lional de Rothschild’s exquisite Exbury Gardens in Hampshire, England, Irish businessman Ambrose Congreve set out to create a space of exceptional beauty within the grounds of his Georgian family home in County Waterford. Today, walk the paths that weave through the 100-acre demesne in spring and you’ll be wowed by the bursts of colour from one of the largest collections of rhododendrons, by pretty Japanese pagodas and by breathtaking views over the river. It’s a delight.
 

5. Johnstown Castle

Anchored by an impressive 19th century Gothic-revival castle overlooking a shimmering lake, the gardens at Johnstown Castle in County Wexford mix the natural landscape and formal planting in splendid harmony. If they strike you as reminiscent of Powerscourt Estate in County Wicklow, you’ve got the connection – both were designed by architect Daniel Robertson in the 19th century. Stroll the sculptured walks, lakeside trails and beautiful Victorian walled garden, and keep watch for the resident peacocks. Replenish hungry bellies at the aptly named Peacock Tea Room, before discovering what life was really like in rural 18th century Ireland at the captivating Irish Agricultural Museum.

The Japanese Gardens at the National Stud in Kildare
The flower gardens at Burtown House
Left: The Japanese Gardens at the National Stud in Kildare | Right: The flower gardens at Burtown House

6. The National Stud & Japanese Gardens

Located within County Kildare in the heart of Ireland’s equestrian country, the Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens is home to outdoor spaces that whisk you away to an ethereal otherworld. Devised by the Stud's eccentric founder Colonel William Walker and laid out by horticulturalist Tassa Eida, the unique Japanese gardens use bridges, a teahouse, rocks, water, stone lanterns and bonsai to provide comfort for the soul – and are renowned as being some of the finest of their kind in Europe. Within the Irish National Stud itself, St Fiachra’s Garden offers contemplation of a different kind, with a rush of natural beauty set around replica monastic cells.


7. Burtown House

Art and nature are entwined in the gardens of Burtown House, a 1710 villa that has been tended to by four generations of the creative Fennell family. Set in Kildare close to the village of Athy, the family's personal touch is reflected in the sumptuous shrubberies, herbaceous borders, rock garden, sundial garden and old orchard. Particularly enchanting is the large woodland garden, which is surrounded on all sides with water and filled with candelabra primulas, ferns and iris. After exploring, head into the Scandi-style Green Barn for a tasty brunch or lunch with a glass of homemade elderflower prosecco. And make a date for the Rare and Special Plants Fair in May!

A couple strolling in the Altamont Gardens
The gardens at Fota House
Emo Court in County Laois
Left: A couple strolling in the Altamont Gardens | Middle: The gardens at Fota House | Right: Emo Court in Co. Laois

8. Altamont Gardens

In County Carlow, you'll find blooming rhododendrons, emerald-green meadows and a rose garden of rare beauty – the wonderfully atmospheric country gardens of Altamont richly deserve their description as one of “the most romantic gardens in Ireland”. Nature unfolds from every corner here, particularly in early spring, when a blanket of rare snowdrops can stop you in your stride. Sometimes orderly, sometimes wild, the gardens perfectly reflect the Robinsonian style beloved of the Victorians, and behind the blooms, history lurks, too. Just after the Great Famine, it took 100 men with horses and carts over two years to dig out the space for what is now a serene, waterlily-strewn lake.
 

9. Fota House, Arboretum & Gardens

In the 19th century, walled gardens were the engines driving the kitchens of big houses, with dedicated gardeners cultivating fruit, vegetables and herbs that would grace lavish dining tables. Travel back in time in County Cork, where Fota House’s award-winning Victorian Working Garden has been brought back to life for 21st century enjoyment, and now buzzes with hard-working volunteers tending to the orchard, pit houses and glasshouses. Step beyond this intriguing space, and you’ll find an estate that boasts a palm walk, orangery and arboretum with a stunning collection of rare, tender and exotic trees. Don’t miss a guided house tour of the 19th century mansion too – the preserved service wing is the perfect place to appreciate the workings of a big-house kitchen.

 

10. Emo Court

Designed by acclaimed architect James Gandon in 1790, the vast neoclassical Emo Court in County Laois is filled with fascinating history, from its lengthy build to its purchase by the Jesuits in the 1920s. But much of the house and garden’s current appearance is down to Major Cholmeley Harrison, who saw the property advertised in a newspaper in 1969 and impulsively bought it. Surrounded by gardens that were first laid out in the 18th century, the estate is a joy to explore – with formal lawns, a lake, majestic sequoias and rare flora framed by woodland walks. And in the distance, the handsome peaks of the Slieve Blooms rise to the occasion.

Other Outdoor Experiences To Enjoy


And that’s just some of the ways to get closer to nature in Ireland’s Ancient East!
 

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