It’s crucial for our health and long term immunity to get outdoors at the moment. Not only for some vital vitamin D but also to enjoy the autumnal colours in all their glory. There’s nothing better than getting wrapped up in sweaters and wellies for a bracing walk for some forest bathing – said to help with focus and mindfulness. And as many amateur gardeners are currently planning and planting bulbs, why not take inspiration from the professionals? The gardens I mention here are worth a visit, either as part of a day trip or family lunch, or a more luxurious overnight stay. Combining nature and nurture – I am sure the visit will refresh mind, spirit and body.
Liss Ard Estate, Co Cork
The 150 acres of gardens, ponds and forest offer an experience that has been described as one of “space, perception and peacefulness”. Liss Ard was planned as a collection of garden rooms: the lakeside walk, the waterfall garden, the woodland garden, the water garden and arboretum and the wildflower meadow. Particularly impressive is The Sky Garden by James Turrell, which gives the viewer a totally unique opportunity to admire and enjoy the “celestial vault”. Turrell, considered the greatest American land art artist, has turned the Sky Garden into a massive naked eye observatory. Complementing the restful exterior space, the 25 bedrooms are minimal and unpretentious. From €50 per person on a room only basis; www.lissard.com.
Dromoland Castle Hotel, Co Clare
Ennis-born Dorothea Madden came to work in Dromoland Castle’s gardens in 1989, and other than a brief six-month interval spent in the USA, she has worked there ever since, becoming head gardener within a few years of her arrival. Madden has played an important role in transforming Dromoland Castle’s gardens over those 23 years, and says that her proudest achievement is the part she played in the restoration of two of Dromoland’s three walled gardens, especially the flower-filled walled garden next to Dromoland’s golf clubhouse. The fact that it’s narrow stone entrances were inaccessible to heavy machinery meant that the site had to be cleared by hand. “It was infested with briars but we hand-dug every inch of it,” Madden remembers. Currently the autumn offer at Dromoland is a luxurious stay of two nights with a third night complimentary. That gives guests enough time to explore the 450-acre estate and grounds while also enjoying the facilities of the hotel’s leisure centre and swimming pool; www.dromoland.ie.
Hunters Hotel, Co Wicklow
Hunter’s Hotel on the banks of the river Vartry in Co Wicklow is one of the best examples of a lovely mature garden – not too manicured to intimidate visitors, yet providing ample inspiration for amateur and professional horticulturalists. While this prize-winning two acre garden has a spectacular display of oriental poppies in May and June, many other interesting perennials are featured in box-edged borders. If the weather permits, sample Afternoon Tea on the lawn and enjoy the trees and shrubs, which include magnolias, rhododendron specimens, liriodendron, nothofagus, eucryphia, podocarpus, abutilon, fremontodendron, ginkgo and paulownia. The large kitchen garden will have you green with envy, and provides fruit and vegetables for the hotel, where the evening Table d’Hote menu never disappoints. From €75 bed and breakfast per person; www.hunters.ie.
Marlfield House, Co Wexford
It’s no wonder Marlfield House is a favourite backdrop for weddings and walks – surrounding a beautiful regency period house, the garden and grounds extend to 36 acres – there are plenty of Instagrammable spots. Woodlands form the backdrop to meandering paths through an extensive kitchen garden of herbs, vegetables and fruits. Visitors will find peacocks strutting on the long borders, while herbaceous perennials flank a yew hedge and lead to the lawns and formal gardens. The rose garden is particularly pretty in summer and a profusion of old and new roses. If staying over be prepared for breakfast and dinner a la russe in the Conservatory restaurant, luxurious suites, ample areas for lounging in and admiring the artwork. If you want a more relaxed vibe at dinner, The Duck Restaurant & Café fits the bill and is perfect for a day trip. From €112 bed and breakfast per person; www.marlfieldhouse.com.
Lyrath Estate, Co Kilkenny
Old world charm pervades at Lyrath Estate in keeping with the original Manor House, which is considered to be one of the most important surviving country houses designed by John McCurdy. It is set on 170 acres of mature parkland and not surprisingly autumn brings a riot of colour as great oaks, beech and silver birch trees cover the grounds. Guests can lose themselves in nature here (and forest bathe to their heart’s content) exploring the vast estate on foot or by (complimentary) bicycle. Lyrath also has a lovely walled garden and a very old rose garden called Lady Charlotte’s Garden which was planted Lady Charlotte Isabel Wheeler-Cuffe, a previous owner. Lady Charlotte was an amateur botanical artist, plant collector and avid gardener and spent many years collecting plants and flowers from all over the world. Her botanical collection still blooms at Lyrath today. The “Autumn Daze” package, midweek from €185 per person sharing, includes two nights bed and breakfast and a three course Table d’hote dinner on one evening in either the 2 AA Rosette accredited Yew Restaurant or in The Grill & Bar Restaurant. A cream tea is also offered on one afternoon of your choosing. Guests can also enjoy private dining on their balconies and terraces with other outdoor dining options including the barbecue Pavilion beside the walled Garden and the pretty picnic spots by the lakes; www.lyrath.com.
Ballynahinch Castle Hotel & Estate, Co Galway
The “Gardener’s Delight” offer at Ballynahinch Castle includes two nights bed and breakfast, with dinner on one evening in the inspiring setting of the hotel’s Owenmore restaurant with its spectacular river views. Dinner features somes of the hotel’s garden produce – from beets and other fresh vegetables, to fruit, salad leaves and herbs. Also included is a private tour of the garden, by Cian Cunniffe, who has been head gardener at Ballynahinch since 2017. He has been responsible for overseeing all aspects of the planting, design and maintenance of the impressive gardens and grounds, including the on-going redevelopment and redesign of the magnificent walled gardens. The complete rebuilding of the original warm stone garden walls by south Connemara stone wall builders mean that a wide variety of fruits, herbs and vegetables can be grown on site throughout the year, used in the Owenmore, the Fisherman’s Pub and Ranji Room at Ballynahinch. As for the rest of the grounds – 700 stunning acres of woodlands and walks – there are new and mature trees from maples to lime trees, magnolias to weeping willows. For the more engaged gardeners there are more unusual varieties to spot too, including the wedding cake tree (cornus controversa ‘variegata’), beehive hornbeam and liquidambar trees. There are flowers and plants added to the planting displays adding height and texture, colour and scent, including phlox, lavender, catmint, dahlias, lilies, astilbes, verbenas, geraniums, salvias and a selection of roses. The two-night Gardener’s Delight at Ballynahinch Castle also includes the gift of a plant from the garden and is available from €265 per person sharing. Don’t leave without getting the Ballynahinch candle – which evokes the scent of the surrounding forest; www.ballynahinchcastle.com.
Mount Juliet Estate, Co Kilkenny
The magnificent gardens at Mount Juliet Estate comprise three main elements to the gardens. First, there’s an informal stream and rockery area near the drive, past the Jack Nicklaus Championship golf course, on the approach to Mount Juliet Manor House. Then there’s an old, walled rose garden, which has been replanted with a mixture of modern and old-fashioned roses. The highlight of the grounds is a walled, ornamental garden, with many charming features. In particular, the stunning double herbaceous borders, which are famous for their ever-changing colours, from early summer to late autumn are well worth a visit. After a late afternoon stroll book dinner at Lady Helen Restaurant, as a special treat which has stunning views and the menus for which are created by produce made on the estate. If staying over, rooms are from €235 per room per night; www.mountjuliet.ie.
Castle Durrow, Co.Laois
Another lovely, mature garden, designed 300 years ago by the aptly-named Flower family, to stroll in, enjoy the flowers and as a place for picnics, it is planted with specimen trees that are now in their full glory. The garden fell into a period of neglect until the Castle was opened as a hotel and restaurant in 2000 by the Stokes family. The gardens are still a work in progress and include 50 acres of lush lawns, colourful borders, green parkland, wild forest, meandering river and plentiful orchards. Book in for Afternoon Tea or Sunday lunch in the restaurant from where you can savour the views as well as the produce from the hotel’s own working garden. Guests can take garden tours with Head Gardener Bart Howard while staying at the castle. I love the décor in the Oriental rooms, from €200 bed and breakfast per room; www.castledurrow.com.
Ballyfin Demesne, Co Laois
Surely one of the ultimate experiences for amateur gardeners is to stay in The Gardener’s Cottage at Ballyfin. Exploring the demesne is a delight from its walled gardens, fernery and the restored Edwardian rock-garden. Guests can stroll around where they can discover special areas of conservation, forage for mushrooms and autumn berries, or simply marvel at century-old trees. One of the best overviews of the grounds is achieved by climbing the path to the tower, which is located at the highest point of the estate. Around the Demesne guests will meet the gardeners who are always delighted to chat and guided Garden tours are also available. From: €600 bed and breakfast per person; www.ballyfin.com.
Dunmore House, Clonakilty, Co Cork
The Gardens at Dunmore House (part of the West Cork Garden Trail) sit on the edge of the Atlantic ocean directly on the Wild Atlantic Way with panoramic views over Clonakilty Bay. There are two main areas: the Cliff Garden which incorporates gravel walkways, a hammock area, outdoor sculpture by artist Moss Gaynor, and seating areas hidden amid rolling dune grasses with coastal planting. The Organic Kitchen Garden, a short stroll from the Cliff garden, has polytunnels, extensive raised bed areas with herbs, seasonal salads and edible flowers. Dunmore’s horticulturist, Louise, uses permaculture principles with a dedicated organic and active composting area using seaweed and other natural manures. Companion planting is used to increase fertility and to assist with biodiversity in this exciting and innovative garden.Visitors can also enjoy the Sea Terrace, spectacular hydrangeas and planted areas around Dunmore House.An overnight stay with breakfast at Dunmore starts from €189 per room; www.dunmorehousehotel.ie.
Glenlo Abbey Hotel & Estate, Co Galway
During an autumn escape at this five-star gem, guests are free to roam the 138-acre estate on foot or by (complimentary) bicycle, boasting incredible vistas of the rolling countryside and Lough Corrib. There are several three- or four- night “Golden Escape” experiences. Not only is perusing the gardens on offer but so too is a special cream tea on arrival, a fine dining experience in the Restaurant on an evening of choice, and a relaxed dinner in the Oak Cellar Lounge on another evening. There is also a private cinema experience each night in the Abbey Theatre. For those booking the Presidential Suite, guests will have a superb view of the manicured lawns, golf course and lough. An overnight stay in the suite includes champagne on arrival and dinner in the iconic Pullman Restaurant, with breakfast in the River Room the following morning. From €1,500 per night; www.glenloabbeyhotel.ie.
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