When I lived in Ireland, decades ago, every few months I would ride south from my home north of Dublin Airport to the garden at Mount Usher in County Wicklow. Ride on a battered old motor bike, I should say, not cycle: it was 38 miles (61 Km).
One of the first articles I ever wrote was about Mount Usher, for The Irish Garden magazine, which is still going strong. I criticized the maintenance at the garden and was then myself severely criticized for doing so – most of the angry responses, I seem to recall, assumed that I was criticizing the garden itself when in fact it was the lack of care: I was dismayed to see wild brambles growing out of ornamental grasses.
So, naturally, the first chapter I looked up in this splendid new book, The Irish Garden by Jane Powers, was on Mount Usher and I was delighted to discover how well it still thrives – and it certainly seems to be well looked after (although a local spy tells me this may not be the case). I remember it especially for its quietly compelling atmosphere and the fact that, then, you could cross so close over the river and streams. I also remember it for its rare South American evergreen shrubs, including Crinodendron and Desfontainea, and for its impressive Eucryphia collection. It now contains, Jane tells us, over two dozen trees which are champions of all Britain and Ireland.
Having visited many of the gardens featured in the book, mostly long ago, I was very pleased to discover elements of familiar gardens that were new to me as well as to have remembered enthusiasms rekindled. It takes four hundred pages to cover almost sixty gardens from an island the size of South Carolina (America’s tenth smallest state) and this and the very large format allows the expansive photography by Jonathan Hession space to make a real impact and the essays space to be reflective as well as descriptive.
This is both a book for the far away voyeur and a before-you-visit book. If you never visit Ireland you’ll enjoy this book anyway. If you intend visiting Ireland, all the gardens are open to visitors and their websites listed.
The Irish Garden by Jane Powers, with photography by Jonathan Hession, is published by Frances Lincoln at £40/$60.