May is finally here. Even after an unusually cold start into the year we are now truly ready to get out and explore. At this time of the year there is no better place to admire the beauty of gardens than Powerscourt House and Gardens in County Wicklow. It is hard to believe that this 1,000 acre oasis of woodland, spectacular mountain views and ancient parkland is on Dublin’s doorstep. The amazing views of the Sugarloaf Mountain are breathtaking and the whole area has an incredible feeling of tranquillity and calm. From the stunning Italian Garden to the exotic sunken Japanese Garden and the extensive herbaceous border, it is easy to lose oneself in the magical feel of the estate.
The gardens are host to many exciting garden events and tours such as the annual tulip festival, which sees 12,000 tulips decorate the gardens in April as well as guided walks and grow your own courses. In May the perennial borders in the walled garden really start to come into their own with flashes of colour and well chosen plants sitting very naturally in the space. Every year for RTE Supergarden we film and photograph at this stunning location and every time I visit I am equally impressed by the beauty of the place.
Exploring the grounds is like an adventure reminiscent of Alice discovering Wonderland. From the sloping terraces leading down to the fantastic pond with its spumes of water to the many intricate topiary features the garden is ever evolving yet so strong in its design foundation.
One of the most spectacular parts of the garden, which by the way was voted No 3 in in the world by National Geographic, is the famous Rhododendron walk. This area, as well as the Pet Cemetery, is also one of the favourites of Powerscourt head Gardener Michael Byrne. From tall, clouded shapes in purple that seem to soar towards the horizon to more delicate pink azalea varieties, this wonderful rounded walk is maintained to perfection.
Most Rhododendrons originate from the Himalayan regions of India, China, Burma and Tibet but many Azaleas, which are also part of the Rhododendron group, come from Japan. Sizes of this shrub vary massively from tiny dwarf varieties to huge 18 meter high trees.
As beautiful as this plant is, the Rhododendron is a tricky plant to grow successfully in the garden. It is not a grow anywhere plant, and though it may do reasonably well in neutral soil, it really needs an acidic soil to be at its best. Interestingly the Rhododendron plant was only introduced in Victorian times and became popular on many country estates for its ornamental appeal as well as a cover for game birds.
Something vital to be aware of when choosing plants for your own space is that this plant is an invasive one and that it’s spread from the garden into the wild is a serious threat to our own native forests. Maybe consider planting a smaller variety of this shrub, the chosen specimen here, Rhododendron ‘Ahrends favorit’ is a lovely neat variety that is slow growing and will be no more than 60cm on height and spread. There are also some very pretty Azalea Rhododendrons that do very well in containers and have the same floriferous effect that is so beautifully displayed in the stunning Rhododrenron walk in Powerscourt.
Powerscourt House & Gardens is open-year round. For more information visit powerscourt.com
Three more plants inspired by Powerscourt Gardens
Powerscourt gardens have a fascinating mix of formality and informality so what about bringing a little bit of the Powerscourt magic into your own garden? Here are some ideas for more plants that will bring the feel of the garden of ireland to your own space.
Planning ahead now for next years border may seem premature but it’s always good to know what to plant. Tulip bulbs will go in in Autumn so make a plan now for a dazzling display. What about planting an elegant box hedge now to surround a bed that will become your border and then add the Tulips in Autumn. I love masses of one type of tulip interspersed with a few others. Maybe plant some large areas of pinks and purples inside the structured box hedge for an instant April wow effect.
The Japanese Maples in the sunken Japanese garden are stunning at most times of the year. The shapes of the trees is beautiful even in the Winter months and in summer they have lovely movement and lightness. It is in Autumn however that these trees really shine, when most specimens start turning stunning shades of gold, burnt oranges and crimson. Plant one of these in your own garden and every Autumn you’ll be delighted by the display.
Himalaya / Kashmir Birch (Betula jacquemontii)
This tree is one of Powerscourt head gardener Michael Byrne’s favourites and no wonder with its stunning peeling creamy-white bark and beautiful multi-stem form. It has a great Autumn colour and is not only hardy but also suffers from little to no diseases. I think every garden should have at least one birch and if you have the space, fully grown it will reach 18 metres in height and 10 metres in spread) this tree will be a stunning addition.
Explore the Garden of Ireland in style
The gardens of Powerscourt have so much to explore and at this time of the year it is truly exploding with colour. One of my favourite parts of the gardens are the incredible Japanese gardens. These gardens slope into a small rock filled valley with a Japanese Gazebo at the bottom the design. Elegant, understated and beautifully structured and maintained. This space is lovely to walk through, appealing to all senses from the scent of cool mosses at the water feature to the rustling of the breeze in the Acer leaves. If you feel like getting away and exploring the gardens in style then the luxury 5 star Powerscourt Hotel Resort & Spa which is located adjacent to Powerscourt House & Gardens is a great spot to set up camp. The hotel has stunning views of the Sugarloaf and plenty of very cool outdoor spaces including an oversized chess board which is great fun to play. It is also conveniently located right beside the gardens which means you can wander over whenever you feel like it. For more info visit www.powerscourthotel.com
Clamber up the steep slopes of the Sugarloaf
While you’re in Wicklow you simply can’t ignore one landmark. One of the most recognizable images of Wicklow is the mountain that is named the Sugar Loaf. Resting elegantly above the Bray coastline, this mountain is a popular destination for walkers and explorers. In the grand scale of things, the Sugarloaf isn’t a very tall mountain-it is only 501 metres high and yet is has a very majestic air about it. It is set in a stunning part of the country, surrounded by beautiful nature and many historical and natural highlights. I finally got to visit this mountain last year and the steep climb was worth it for the 360 degree views alone! It took us a while to find the actual approach to the mountain, the snaking road seemingly doubling back on itself. This search brought us around to a parallel road which overlooked the mountain from a distance. There were sheep and wild horses and an incredible vista which opened up right to look at the mountain and beyond. What is fascinating about this mountain is that though it looks almost like a volcano, according to Wikipedia, it is in fact an erosion-resistant metamorphosed sedimentary deposit from the deep sea and is are from Cambrian qaurtzite. It’s a steep climb but well worth it! For more visit visitwicklow.ie0