Mount Usher, in Ashford, Co. Wicklow is one of my favourite gardens and, indeed, it has regularly polled as one of Ireland’s top visitor attractions and has often been described as Ireland’s most romantic garden.
It is very much an Irish garden, a garden of softness and naturalness, a garden which lies at ease in its surroundings, a garden which adds ornament to nature rather than suppressing it. It has long been regarded as the greatest example of a Robinsonian garden – “Robinson proposed that gardens should be laid out in harmony with nature and the immediate landscape, maintained naturally and be reflective of nature rather than an attempt to conquer it.” – I quote from the guide leaflet available at the garden and the gardens certainly are of this style.
The river, The Vartry River, is central to the garden and, in a most informal manner, gives structure and unity to the garden. It provides focus, interest and a heart to the garden, unifying the various areas and, in autumn especially, reflects the beauty of the riverside plantings.
The gardens are presently in the care of Avoca Handweavers and the delicious fare in the restaurant makes a visit a very enjoyable day out. Avoca Handweavers leased the gardens from Mrs. Madelaine Jay in 2007. She had purchased the property in 1980 from the Walpole family in whose hands it had been since 1865, four generations spanning 115 years.
The beauty of the gardens alone make them attractive to the casual visitor but the enthusiastic gardener will find much more of interest there for there is a collection of trees here which is quite exceptional, a collection of 4,500 different varieties with 32 champion trees among them. At this time of the year it is the blazing colour of Nyssa sylvatica and the richness of Liquidambar styraciflua, both perfectly placed on the river bank, which inevitably catch the eye and the delicious burnt toffee fragrance of Cercidiphyllum japonicum which intrigues the nose but there are many many more. There is an excellent collection of Magnolias and rhododendrons in spring and early summer and unparalleled collections of Eucalyptus and Eucryphias – I have mentioned just a few but the guide leaflet lists 88 especially interesting specimens which are clearly numbered throughout the garden.
The gardens are beautiful at any time of the year but I especially love to visit in spring when there are carpets of spring flowers – Scilla biflora, Anemone nemerosa, Erythroniums, Crocus etc and in autumn for the wonderful colours of the trees, reflected in the river. A garden for all seasons!