Seaforde Gardens will be known to Irish gardeners as an outstanding source of rhododendrons. Patrick Forde developed the nursery to a very high standard and enjoyed a national and international reputation for the quality and range of plants he supplied. Such a garden, featuring rhododendrons, should surely be at its best in the earlier part of the year but we visited in early September and were delighted.
Seaforde has that something which seems impossible to create but which is recognised ever so quickly by the visitor – it has an atmosphere! There is a calmness there, a gentleness, an ease in the place. It is established in its place; it fits; it is not one of those ever-changing in-one-year-out-the-next gardens where the gardener seems to struggle identifying what is good and what works in his garden, a never-ending flittering of flummery. Seaforde reassures the visitor with its own comfort and maturity where quality shows clearly with its framework of good walls, good layout and long-established mature planting; all, for me, far more pleasurable than the constant colour fluttering some gardens use to attract visitors.
I must be honest and say that I had to first slither quickly past the gift shop, butterfly house and café before I encountered this atmosphere for these areas do not appeal to me but, to maintain a garden these days one does need to attract the paying public and the children will love the butterflies, their little keepsakes from the shop and the adults could not go without their cuppa and had I our grandchildren with us we would have dallied here and enjoyed it also but our visit was for garden enjoyment only. Thankfully these facilities are together and the visitor can pass by and leave them behind quickly.
The walled garden dates to the early 1700s and, at the time of our visit, featured a wonderful display of Eucryphia cultivars – the gardens hold the UK National Collection of Eucryphia with over twenty species and cultivars including the popular Eucryphia x nymansensis and Eucryphia cordifolia x intermedia ‘Rostrevor’. Those two beautiful pink-flowered cultivars, Eucryphia ‘Pink Cloud’ and E. ‘Ballerina’ were collected by Patrick Forde in Tasmania and are wonderful additions to any garden.
The Mughal Tower and the Maze, the former giving a good view to the latter, are prominent features in the walled garden. A little coaxing got me into the maze and I reached the central gazebo in a matter of minutes – following the well-worn trail in the gravel paths while claiming that all mazes were a matter of formula and quite simple to navigate. The maze, of hornbeam, had been planted in 1975 to mark the 10th anniversary of Patrick and Lady Anthea Forde’s wedding.
“The Pheasantry”, another walled garden, is reached through a doorway and was an area for ornamental pheasants with large plantings of rhododendrons which would have given cover and are, I imagine, spectacular in spring to early summer. I’m sure the local wild population of pheasants make use of it nowadays.
As we opened the boot of the car a group of peacocks ran to us, obviously in hopes that we might be having a picnic and that they might partake. We will have to remember them when next we visit.
A slideshow of images from our visit: