Gardening journalist and author Fionnuala Fallon picks three of the more creative. And even if you can't get to these, you can always see Ireland's creative side at Bloom...
Mount Stewart Gardens, County Down
Those who visit Mount Stewart in County Down will never forget the extraordinary mixture of grandeur, whimsy and eccentricity that distinguishes its historic gardens. Superbly situated at the top of the Ards Peninsula in County Down, with views across Strangford Lough, the gardens enjoy a particularly protected, near subtropical micro-climate.
Their designer, the late Edith, Lady Londonderry, who first laid out the gardens in the early half of the 20th century, took skilful advantage of this by experimenting with many half-hardy shrubs. Hard landscaping elements echo this exotic feel. The Dodo Terrace is one example: it’s home to an extraordinary collection of elaborately carved statues, including gryphons, dinosaurs and, hence the name, dodos.
Nearby, the Shamrock Garden houses a huge topiary Irish harp, which stands above the Red Hand of Ulster (picked out in scarlet bedding plants). Meanwhile, the formal yew hedge is embellished by a series of plant sculptures representing a family hunting party. Managed by the National Trust, the gardens are now in the extremely capable hands of head gardener Neil Porteous, who is overseeing their ongoing renovation and preservation.
The Dillon Garden, Dublin
No tour of Ireland’s gardens would be complete without a visit to 45 Sandford Road in Dublin city. Home of the distinguished horticulturist, broadcaster and author Helen Dillon, this is a remarkable one-acre town garden that has been over 40 years in the making. The subject of innumerable glossy magazine features and gardening books, the Dillon Garden is the result of Helen’s consummate plantsmanship and rare flair for design, combined with an exceptional eye for colour.
Add to that an ever-enquiring mind and an innate spirit of adventure and you’ll begin to understand why the Dillon Garden is considered one of the island’s brightest gardening jewels.
At its heart is a boldly modern limestone canal, flanked by giant, theatrically colourful borders filled with exquisite plant combinations. But this being a garden that steers well clear of clichés, there are countless other wonderful surprises in store for visitors.
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The Blake Gardens, County Wicklow
Located within a stone’s throw of each other on the sloping southern flanks of the Lamb Hill in west Wicklow are two remarkable Irish gardens owned by sibling horticulturists June and Jimi Blake. The first wraps itself around June’s home, a picturesque, 19th-century farm steward’s cut-stone house and its adjoining courtyard of rugged granite outbuildings next to deciduous woodland.
Boldly contemporary and expertly planted with an intricate mix of ornamental perennials, grasses, bamboos and shrubs, this is a garden in the process of constant change, transforming itself (sometimes radically) season after season.
Her younger brother Jimi’s garden, known as Hunting Brook, is equally exciting. Exuberantly colourful and charmingly idiosyncratic, Hunting Brook is filled with rare or unusual plants collected during Jimi’s plant-hunting trips to China, as well as his regular forays to specialist nurseries both at home and abroad.
The contemporary, prairie-style planting around his modern timber house is at its very best from midsummer onwards, while the woodland planting leading to the nearby forest glen is lushly beautiful in spring.