Mount Usher Gardens in Co. Wicklow

by Ciaran Burke

Sean Heffernan the head gardener at Mount Usher is aware of the responsibility he shoulders, he realises the importance of the plant collection both as a cultural heritage and as a tool of plant conversation. As he leads us through the gardens it is evident that he loves his job.

Situated on the river Vartry, the 23 acres of this wonderful garden is home to about 5000 plant species. Included in this are two National Plant collections, Nothofagus (southern beech) and Eucryphia, and numerous Irish champion (biggest) trees.

One of the first champion trees we encounter is the evergreen Nothofagus fusca. This species is from New Zealand and has an attractive bark, the Mount Usher specimen is ninety years old and very impressive. There is a wealth of unusual and attractive specimens in the gardens. The real charm and magnificance of the gardens is as much the wild style of planting and romantic atmosphere.

The gardens are managed without the use of chemicals, wild flowers are encouraged and wildlife thrives. Mount Usher is one of the finest examples of a Robinsonian garden, a style named after the garden writer William Robinson. He was a writer from the Victorian era who championed the wild style of garden design where plants are grown in a natural way that mimicks their natural habitat.

Where as borders are not a feature of the garden there are a couple of fine herbaceous borders close to the fine restaurant. As we followed Sean throughout the garden accompanied by his dog “Minnow”, we ducked under branches, sniffed blooms such as Magnolia x weisneri and admired the multiple stemmed Luma apiculata, planted in 1860, the first to be planted in the gardens. We eventually arrived to the path lined by the herbaceous borders and the sun came out, illuminating the flowers and warming the air. A perfect finale to an extazaganza of exotic plant species.

We have been really lucky with the weather, no need for wellies but I have applied the sun block. Let’s hope that this good weather continues tomorrow as we leave Dublin to visit Jimi Blake’s Huntingbrook Gardens and June Blake’s Garden near Blessington in Co. Wicklow. Then after lunch in Russborough House we drive to Kilkenny.

Photos below- from top:
Magnolia x weisneri; Luma apiculata; candlabra primulas; our group walks along the path lined with Trachycarpus fortunei palms; herbaceous borders in sun shine; Minnow gets a pet.

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