AS a professional gardener, I joined the Professional Gardeners’ Guild (PGG.org.uk) and as a member it grants me access to privately owned gardens in both the UK and Ireland.
I recently visited five gardens in County Kerry. It was a very enjoyable two-day event organised by Séamus Galvin, head gardener of Garinish Island, County Kerry.
The weather was amazing, and these gardens basked in the sunshine. The first one we visited is privately owned by Stephen and Louise Austen and is by appointment only. What a spectacular garden!
The retired couple rebuilt the old cottage, adding a garage, and some outbuildings. Stephen and Louise are both very much hands on working on their three-acre garden. It boasts views of the McGillycuddy Reeks and two ponds - one for wildlife and the other contains a shoal of goldfish and koi that were offspring of fish that succumbed to the heron.
They had an impressive selection of conifers such as Fitzroya cuppressoides, and Abies procera. Also, Stephen proudly showed me his Aesculus wangii, a rare and endangered species from Vietnam.
It was given as a gift from their son who has won several gold medals in Bloom.
A board walk takes the visitor out to a bog garden of about five acres, which they recently acquired from a neighbouring farmer. This was very tastefully planted with native oaks, birch, rowan, Scots pines, and Prunus.
Conifers have their place here also, including a Chamaecyparis nootkatensis, which in my opinion will be stunning in years to come. It was beautiful and a great idea to plant it up, however, they will have to protect every tree with wire due to the deer visiting and eating the bark.
The second garden was just beyond Sneem village, where we got a boat from the pier to a private island. Head gardener Séamus, who worked in the island gardens for more than 20 years, was truly knowledgeable and entertaining. What a gorgeous, secluded oasis of calm and isolation.
We had our lunch on the lawn whilst chatting to fellow gardeners. The tour began and we spotted a Wollemi pine, which was planted amongst herbaceous plants facing the sea. It was just over a metre tall and was quite dwarfed. I don’t think it liked its position so close to the sea.
There was an abundance of Dickinsona antarctica, tree ferns galore.
It was heavenly to walk amongst them looking so natural.
The only mode of transport for the gardeners is a motorised wheelbarrow. The stone chippings on the paths were brought in tonne bags from the pier at Sneem, then across in a small boat.
We came across a beautiful waterfall and pond but it only lasted for a few minutes as there was a water shortage so it was only on for our visit. It was worth it as it looked so natural and Séamus said work was still in progress with the waterfall and pond. He advised if you are going to build a pond, build it as big as you can.
Our third garden of the day were at Derrynane house, Caherdaniel. After we had more delicious tea and cake, the head gardener James O’Shea showed us around.
The gardens are set in an informal beautiful, sheltered site within the grounds of Derrynane house. The gardens are subtropical with a selection of rare and exotic plants. South America features strongly, with a range of endangered species of conifers from Chile, including Fitzroya cupressoides, and Pilgerodendron univernum. The lay-out is quite vast with extensive hedging and a large selection of shrubs, herbaceous beds, and lawn. The lawns and paths were very well manicured, and the diligence was delightful.
We heard Ireland’s rarest amphibian, a natterjack toad, in the pond area, but unfortunately did not see him. We came across a ruined old stone house that could have held Daniel O’Connell’s horse but is now filled with tree ferns. It was a perfect enclosure for them.
On our second day, we had blue skies and were expecting scorching sunshine, but we were glad it was a bit cooler than forecast. Dawros gardens is just ten minutes from Kenmare. The owners Charlotte and Andre Verbeek greeted us on arrival.
They created this contemporary garden over 25 years, and they work it all themselves.
It is on just over four acres, and I was amazed as it was all beds and no lawn. It has a large rectangular pond or a reflective pond in the patio area, a large beautiful wildflower meadow, wildlife ponds set in a natural bog, an orchard, plus they make their own apple juice they served along with coffee and cake.
The vegetable garden would keep one busy all day, every day, and there is woodland garden with a fascinating array of sculptures and stone features, including a moon door which we walked through.
There are unusual trees here such as a Pinus montezumae ‘Sheffield Park’ Liriodendron, Acers, Magnolias, and Rhododendrons. The garden is certainly worth a visit between April and October.
Derreen was our final garden visit, in Lauragh, Co. Kerry, it means ‘little oak wood’ and is 60 acres of mature woodland. A coffee shop and picnic area were a welcome sight, with a large greenhouse where the kitchen staff went to pick greens for the various dishes - could not get any fresher than that!
Walking through the gardens, we came across many large Rhododendrons, some of which were planted in 1870, and a later Rhododendron falconeri in 1926. The Himalayan tree Rhododendron is a spectacular sight I would imagine in April. Tree ferns were very much at home and are thriving.
Persian ironwood planted in 1954 must be a mass of colour in autumn. I must go back to see that in the autumn.
Luckily, the gardens are open all year round. No appointment necessary.
A great weekend of garden visits with plenty of inspiration and ideas gained along the way!