Today I want to tell you about a gem of a garden that exists just a few miles from where I live.
MOUNT USHER GARDENS
Mount Usher Gardens are situated at the southern end of the small village of Ashford, Co. Wicklow. The gardens cover about 9 ha having grown from the initial 0.5 ha started by Edward Walpole in 1868. The gardens run down either side of the Vartry River which adds greatly to their attractiveness. The initial design of the gardens was undertaken by the most famous Irish landscape gardener William Robinson (1838-1935); his premise that gardeners should work with nature rather than against is continued to this day. The work and care of past and present owners has ensured that there now exists a collection of many rare and beautiful plants.
The gardens’ plant collection consists of over 5000 species and varieties ranging from a world famous tree collection to magnificent collections of azaleas and rhododendrons, shrubs, herbaceous plants and bulbs. The tree collection holds a number of outstanding and champion trees such as a Chinese coffin juniper (Juniperus recurve v. coxii), a New Zealand Red Beech (Nothofagus fusca), Chilean Myrtle (Luma apiculate) and a Chinese evergreen Magnolia (Magnolia delavayii). There is much to see all year round but the gardens are particularly attractive in the late spring/early summer when can be seen carpets of bluebells, daffodils and other bulbs, and glorious rhododendrons and azaleas. The autumn colours are also outstanding. Ferns are abundant along the river banks and sheltered woodland.
VARIETY AND SPLENDOUR
The founder, Edward Walpole, passed the gardens on to his three sons but it was the youngest, Thomas, who greatly increased their beauty by constructing the weirs along the river and the suspension bridges that cross it. Whilst its natural to be drawn to the river, the real delights are to be found away from it, along the numerous pathways that guide you through woodland trails, an Azalea walk, herbaceous borders and groves of Eucalyptus and Eucryphia. Such is the variety and splendour of plants that there is interest and beauty to be seen in every month.
The origins of the name ‘Mount Usher’ are obscure. It’s possibly a corruption of the Irish word for ‘The house in the meadow’ – Mointeach. Or derived from the Usher family – a famous name in Dublin during the 17th Century- and who owned property in this part of Wicklow. After the Walpoles, the gardens passed to a Swiss-American, Mrs Jay, who rescued them from decay and possible development and made them what they are today. The current owners, Avoca Handweavers (http://www.avoca.com), are committed to continuing her work and preserving and improving the gardens for future generations to admire. Mount Usher is indeed a jewel in the crown – it has been voted by BBC ‘Gardener’s World Magazine’ as the best gardens to visit in Ireland. It is also rated as a top garden in ‘The Good Gardens Guide’.
The micro-climate of the gardens, nestling as they do in the valley of the Vartry, is mild and humid. The soil is generally gravelly or sandy with a few patches of heavy clay. There is a complete absence of lime. These factors combine to make a location very favourable to semi-exotic trees and shrubs that like an acid or neutral soil. Many of the best plants are from Chile and New Zealand.
In addition to the gardens, Mount Usher has a small shopping courtyard. Around the sides of the courtyard are a country furnishings shop, several upmarket clothes shops, a renowned cafe/restaurant and a small garden centre. The centre of the courtyard has grassed areas with tables and chairs and a number of mature trees and shrubs.
As someone once said: Just go and see it!
I hope you enjoyed this brief tour of one of Ireland’s many garden gems.