Usher in spring with a visit to some lovely gardens

In her weekly garden column Olive Ryan recalls a recent visit to a stunning Irish garden
Usher in spring with a visit to some lovely gardens

One of the many weirs along the river at Mount Usher.

EARLIER this month, a visit to Mount Usher gardens in Co. Wicklow revealed a garden full of the most beautiful specimen trees growing at either side to the river Vartry, in a peaceful, sheltered valley.

My first visit to this garden was well over 20 years ago and it must have been about May as a vivid memory is my first encounter with Cornus ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’, which was in full flower and breathtaking. Set among the shade of mature trees with fritillaries naturalizing all around, it was magical.

My visit in February was no less magical, with the garden stripped back to the bare bones, and conifers, evergreen trees and shrubs were to the fore during the winter months.

It was surprisingly green and lush for the time of year, mainly due to our very mild winter thus far, enabling grass growth to continue.

A Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postil’ in full flower, releasing the most wonderful perfume, was the first greeting on entering the garden. Spring bulbs were starting to emerge but the huge specimen trees were taking centre stage. There is a tree trail brochure at the entrance which details 88 trees and shrubs of note, with an accompanying map locating all the specimens.

Trees and shrubs are numbered, making it easy to refer back to the map, and a very useful reference while strolling around the gardens and taking in all the unusual plants and amazing specimens along the way.

Many of the plants here may not be grown anywhere else in Ireland - northern and southern hemisphere natives making themselves at home in Wicklow! 

There are collections of Nothofagus, Eucryphia and Eucalyptus as well as rare and unusual varieties of Rhododendron, Azalea and Camellia. Ferns abound in this well established garden, which provides plenty of shade and moisture for them to thrive.

There is a great selection of Acers throughout, also making this a very special place in the autumn months, with spectacular leaf colour reflected in the water running down the middle of the gardens.

The weirs, designed and constructed by Thomas, son of the garden founder, Edward Walpole, are still doing their job today and are a beautiful feature of the garden in Mount Usher.
The weirs, designed and constructed by Thomas, son of the garden founder, Edward Walpole, are still doing their job today and are a beautiful feature of the garden in Mount Usher.

The setting adjacent to the river, with four suspension bridges linking the two sides of the garden, makes for a wonderful ramble through the 22 acres of mature woodland gardens.

This garden was created by four generations of the Walpole family, they purchased the property in 1865 and worked to create a ‘Robinsonian style’ garden for many years, planting trees and shrubs that enjoyed the growing conditions adjacent to the river, naturalizing bulbs and herbaceous planting throughout; generally gardening in harmony with nature rather than trying to conquer it.

The suspension bridges and weirs along the Vartry were created by Thomas Walpole and help to slow down the flow of the river, which used to almost dry out in the summer months. 

In 1980, the property was purchased by Madeline Jay, who continued to develop the gardens in the same style, introducing organic gardening practices, which continues today, with no herbicides or pesticides used.

The river provides a natural focal point within this garden, with several crossing points across the bridges. The house is private, with no access allowed across the bridge linking it to the other side.

The garden is home to a staggering 32 of the Champion Trees of Ireland.

In 2007, Madeline Jay leased the gardens to Avoca Handweavers, who are the current tenants and run a coffee shop on site. There are a number of retail outlets operating from the courtyard at the main entrance such as Strawbridge, Oska, Rhinestone Country Clothing, The Art Box, AB Soap Studio and the very delicious Bakery Food Market.

A great day out in Wicklow, admission to the gardens is €9 for adults, €8 for senior citizens and €5 for children over four. Season passes can also be purchased for yearly admission, for more details check out www.mountushergardens.ie.

There is something to see all year round in this garden, and plenty of planting inspiration if you are considering trees or shrubs for your own garden this spring. It is always useful to visit a garden that has specimens labelled so heights and spreads can be observed at maturity.

Happy garden visiting this spring!

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