Life

The Casual Gardener: Gardens of distinction

It's not often John Manley can draw himself away from his own garden but over the past 12 months he's managed check out three of the best gardens these islands have to offer

Powerscourt in Co Wicklow, third in National Geographic's 'World's Top Gardens' list for 2015, with Sugar Loaf mountain in the background

MY favourite garden in the whole world is my own.

Not because I think it’s outstanding in any particular aspect but simply it’s where I’m happiest and most a home.

I do enjoy experiencing other gardens, though, whether it’s to be inspired and enthused or, as sometimes is the case, appalled.

For me holidays and short breaks are a great opportunity to cross another garden off the bucket list and this year I managed to take in three notable visits – with little or no protest from my travelling companions.

Eleven months ago, on a chilly but bright and crisp January morning my wife joined me in a pleasurable visit to Powersourt gardens in Co Wicklow.

Some say it’s the finest in Ireland, and certainly any garden that can look that impressive in mid-winter must be a contender.

Set in a natural amphitheatre with a south-facing aspect in the shadow of Sugar Loaf’s distinctive peak, it is the centrepiece of the magnificent 1,000-acre Powerscourt estate.

Last year Powerscourt was named third in National Geographic's 'World's Top Gardens' list.

The sole Irish garden listed, it came third behind the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, England with the Chateau de Versailles in France in first place.

The Italian-style terrace that looks out on Sugar Loaf and falls away from the house is the classic Powerscourt vista, but there is much more to explore in this garden beyond the Versailles-inspired statues and fountains.

The other elements of the 47-acre garden, such as the arboretum and Japanese garden, are equally impressive in their own way.

The only day Powerscourt Garden closes is Christmas Day but any other time it’s well worth checking out.

In early July, a family holiday in Cornwall brought the opportunity for a ‘double header’ featuring a couple of outstanding gardens that also happen to be two of the county’s biggest tourist attractions.

Both were a lot busier than Powerscourt in January, believe me.

The Eden Project isn’t strictly speaking a garden but it’s definitely of interest to gardeners.

Conceived just before the turn of the millennium by Tim Smit and sited in a crater-like disused clay pit, this now world renowned, multi-award-winning venture is much more than simply a tropical rain forest inside a space-age greenhouse.

Opened on St Patrick’s Day 2001, it draws visitors with a combination of wow factor and educational engagement.

Exploring the relationships between plants and people, amid a sci-fi landscape, the Eden Project promises and delivers plenty of family fun.

This botanical Alton Towers offers various seasonal themed events, workshops for adults and children, activity days, music concerts and much more besides.

Highlights for me included the tropical heat and lushness of the Rainforest Biome, with its canopy walkway and waterfall, and the colourful veg beds.

Little over 45 minutes drive from the Eden Project on the southern Cornish coast are the Lost Gardens of Heligan, a treasure that until 25 years ago went undiscovered.

The seat of the Tremayne family for more than 400 years, the gardens were lost under a tangle of weeds for decades before a chance discovery led to their restoration.

Today, the Lost Gardens are a massive draw, offering everything from wildlife look-outs to wildflower meadows.

Beyond the splendid jungle-themed gardens there are rare breeds, a farm shop and restaurant selling the obligatory Cornish pasties.

This is a garden with a history that is as intriguing and intricate as the many pathways that dissect this enthralling coastal garden.

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