Complaining about the weather is a national pastime, here in Ireland, and one I have turned into a fine art since moving here over ten years ago. Our average of 150+ days of rain per year, however, has a silver lining: it makes for the emerald, romantic landscapes Ireland is famous for. Some of these are wild and windswept, while others are the result of the joint work of powerful nature and the caring hands of expert Irish gardeners. One of the loveliest examples of such manicured beauty is Mount Usher Gardens Wicklow, an award-winning, internationally renowned garden and a stop you should include in your Irish itinerary.
[box] Mount Usher gardens at a glance: practical info
- Location: Ashford, Co. Wicklow, Ireland, about 45 km South of Dublin.
- Opening time (2016): open all year round, from 10.am to 6 pm (last admission at 5.20 pm
- Type of attraction: garden in Robinsonian style (more about that further down)
- Facilities: ‘Avoca’ cafe and restaurants, gourmet shop, local furniture, and clothes shop
- Parking: on site, extremely busy at weekends and holidays
- No dogs allowed
- Official website: www.mountushergardens.ie
- Hotels nearby: Hunters Lodge and, a bit further, Tinnakilly Country house Hotel and Restaurant
- Nearby attractions: the monastic site of Glendalough
- Recommended for: garden lovers, families, beautiful family friendly day trip from Dublin [/box]
I first discovered Mount Usher Gardens for a personal reason: my husband if from Ashford, the little village the gardens are in, and when he was a student he used to work in a second-hand bookshop on the Mount Usher grounds. One day he brought me to visit his old workplace, a charming shop with piles of books filling the room with that very special smell of the older paper and ink, and he mentioned the gardens nearby: not a fan of gardening, I agreed to visit as part of his trip down memory lane but I soon discovered a jewel and went back many times since then, drawn back by the gardens’ beauty.
Visiting Mount Usher Gardens Wicklow
Mount Usher gardens, a bit of history
The land now hosting these serene, beautiful gardens was originally occupied by an old mill, propelled by the waters of the river Vartry, still running across the gardens. The plot belonged to the Walpoles and in 1875 was inherited by the three younger members of the family, the Walpole brothers, who laid down the foundations of the gardens as we see them today. Inspired but the sunny aspect of the land and by the pristine beauty of the river, the brothers started working on the river banks and slowly crafted a garden that kept the family busy for the next 100 years: the gardens we know were over 112 years in the making and were preserved thanks to the work of the Walpole family and the great care of Mrs. Madelaine Jay, who restored the in recent years until they got acquired by the Avoca group
What is the Robinsonian style of gardens?
The word used to define the style of Mount Usher gardens is ‘Robinsonian‘, an adjective derived from the name of one of Ireland’s most famous garden designers William Robinson (born 1838). In Robinson’s times, the dominating style of gardens in the Kingdom was Victorian and followed a very strict canon of rules: gardens were a way for the wealthy to showcase their social position and both the plants and their displays were designed to project at every moment the ‘worth’ of their owner. Plants and shrubs were manicured and constantly maintained by numerous members of staff, their presence a badge of honour for the land owners who could afford them.
Robinson refused this straight-laced approach and was the proponent of a radical idea: he thought gardens should be ‘a reflex of Nature in her fairest mood’ and that they should organically come together following the shape of the land and her natural features. The result of this ideas are gardens that strike an incredible balance between manicured and natural, where nature comes first but casual visitors feel welcome and serene.
Visiting Mount Usher gardens with kids
Our last trip to the gardens was only a few weeks ago, during a gloriously sunny Irish summer day. Our children are only 4 and 5 and we weren’t sure a garden without a playground would be of much interest to them, but Mount Usher proved to be a hit.
The first thing we did was to give the children a map each: you receive a detailed, easy to read garden map when buying your tickets and we put the children in charge of deciphering where to go. The garden is designed around the banks of the Vartry so you are naturally drawn towards a certain direction (it has a flow not dissimilar to those of Japanese gardens) but the kids loved the idea of being in charge and we let them lead the way.
The garden is 22 acres long so some walking is required, but there is plenty of things to keep kids interested: my daughter’s favourite sentence is ‘I don’t want to walk!’ and she only started muttering it at the end of the trail, so this should reassure you about the feasibility of it! The gardens host over 5000 species of plants, from flowers to shrubs and trees and this variety makes for an incredible mix of colours and shapes.
As well as plants, the garden has some interesting structures, built by engineer Thomas Walpole and they also grabbed the attention of the kids. One of them, in particular, is built to be quite wobbly when crossed: loads of fun, but do not jump!
Many things have changed in Mount Usher Gardens since I first visited. The Avoca group took over the management of the gardens and while they kept the ground intact, they worked on their immediate outside to build a welcoming and well-serviced area. On arrival, before you enter Mount Ushers garden proper, now you have a car park, a gorgeous restaurant and cafe with garden view, a gourmet shop, local furniture and clothes shops and a well-stocked plant nursery.
The whole place seems out of a shabby chic photoshoot, with high-end products and great care to details. It is beautiful, and a well-oiled machine, catering four tourists and day trippers aside looking for a high-end country experience. Personally, I miss the old style charm of the overflowing second-hand bookshop, but I do love the stunning gardens and the restaurants serve delicious food, so despite a touch of sadness for the ghost of books past I go there often and recommend the experience to locals and visitors alike
Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate hotel links, which means if you make a booking through them I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This small amount will help me cover the expenses linked with running this blog. This review is unsolicited and unbiased and i received no compensation nor preferential treatment. All opinions are my own.