Following the Wexford Garden Trail

By | Category: Travel destinations


Garden lovers visiting Wexford in Ireland’s sunny south-east have a horticultural treat in store for them. The Wexford Garden Trail features  18 gardens including nurseries offering unusual plants, a lavender farm, a Japanese garden, a castle garden and an arboretum dedicated to the memory of J.F Kennedy.

We managed to see three gardens on a sunny day in early summer last year. The first was Kilmokea where the gardens surround a country house hotel. There is a very pretty formal garden with a little temple and herbaceous beds planted with amongst other things, ligularia, poppies, roses and huge giant echiums. There are pools with angel’s fishing rods Dierama pulcherrimum, arching gracefully over them and a potager designed as a box maze within which organic vegetables and fruit are grown. Across a side-road there are also areas such as the Pirate’s Ship, the Norman Fort and the Fairy Village set out for the entertainment of children. We found Kilmokea very attractive in parts but a bit diffuse in concept.

Colclough walled garden

Next we came to Colclough (pronounced Coke-Lee) the walled garden of Tintern Abbey on the Hook Peninsular. The approach is via a long woodland walk and on reaching the walled garden we amazed by the sheer size of it, 2.5 acres – plus the fact that a stream with five bridges flows though its length. The walls have curved corners and the space is further divided into an ornamental section and a kitchen garden section separated by a brick wall. It is a huge undertaking, which in the past much have provided employment for a bevy of gardeners.

We met the present garden manager Alan Ryan, who explained that after years of neglect, the garden was a completely  overgrown jungle when a complete restoration was undertaken in 2010. Old maps were used to re-establish the exact layout of the garden as it was in 1830s.

The result is a considerable achievement.  Now wide herbaceous borders stuffed with an exuberance of colourful plants including roses, monada, geraniums and lilies, provide a perfect foil for the vast areas devoted to row after row of splendidly cultivated vegetables. It is truly an unusual and productive garden.

examples of topiary at Woodville

Our last, and favourite, garden was Woodville near New Ross. The house (which can also be visited ) an elegant building dating from 1800, sits surrounded by parkland atop a gentle slope above the river Barrow. We were warmly welcomed by the owner Gerald Roche, the fifth generation of Roches to live here. As he took us to his walled garden or potager, behind the house he explained that the property was acquired by his great- great grandfather in 1876 and that the gnarled apple trees we could see including a Pitmaston Duchess, were planted by his mother, a founder-member of the famous Wexford Flower & Garden Club who, aided by his father, had put the defining stamp on the garden.

“They arrived in 1952 and more or less created it – helped by two gardeners, now it is just me,” Gerald told us. The Victorian walled garden alone is half a hectare in size and there are several other areas to garden – a lot for one man. Gerald however clearly loves it and nurtures not only a varied collection of plants but the also the connections with the history of his family.

Lobelia tupa

In the walled garden a glorious profusion of flowers, shrubs and vegetables grow happily together. We were immediately struck by the atmosphere and felt as if we had wandered into the secret garden of a children’s book. Not over-manicured but full of splendid, happy plants, it is a delight.

We first noticed a large clump of the unusual blood-red flowered, Lobelia tupa with glaucous elliptical leaves. It is a hallucinogenic known as devil’s tobacco by the Indians of Chile for whom it is a sacred plant.  Beyond this, roses and Clematis armandii surround a sundial, and wide gravel paths edged by low box hedges which Gerald has clipped back hard in a seemingly successful effort to alleviate the dreaded  box blight, enclose different plantings of old fruit trees, roses and flowers in a tangle of  texture colour and scent. At one corner a slightly blurred topiary fox gazes longingly at a topiary chicken on the opposite side of the path.

the vegetable garden

Amongst the flowers we saw many old favourites including vivid blue monkshood, and a deliciously scented large-flowered philadelphus. There are also more unusual plants and grasses; beside an old lichen-covered stone urn, we are in time to catch the fleeting flowering of the blue pineapple-like flower of Facsicularia biolor peering out of the scarlet foliage and also Myositidium hortensia, the Chatham Island forget-me-knot, with large glossy leaves and small cerulean flowers, large clumps of which thrive beneath an ivy-clad wall.

In contrast with all this floriferous abundance, the vegetables grow in neat rows in big beds which are obviously enormously productive. Wexford certainly seems to provide the ideal conditions for vegetable growing.  Gerald listed the contents; three sorts of potatoes: Queens, Pinks and Roosters; then peas, broad beans, dwarf  French beans, carrots, parsnips, sweet corn, turnips, broccoli, romanesco, onions, shallots, garlic squashes, tomatoes, lettuce, rocket, cucumbers and …seakale. Our heads reeled.  I asked Gerald if they sell this produce as what we are seeing looks almost like commercial quantities of beautifully grown vegetables – but he said they are just for family use – although his wife being one of nine children it is quite an extended family.

It was a similar story with fruit; peaches, raspberries, mulberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants, whitecurrants, figs, pears – and of course many varieties cooking and eating apples. Then, in the elegant greenhouse designed by Gerald’s great grandfather Patrick J. Roche and built by Messengers in the 1880s there are peaches, nectarines and grapes.

Gerald Roche

In this sheltered corner too, just outside the greenhouse more tender flowers flourish including one of my favourites Melianthus major ( which I’ve never been able to keep) with its gorgeous silvery serrated leaves, also  nerines and the  showy pink-flowered Justicia carnea aka jacobinia or the Brazilian plume flower.

As we left the walled garden with Gerald he told us that the house is in the centre of a working farm with extensive parkland. At the front we could see an area of shrubbery through which we made our way down to the Water Garden which Gerald explained was created by his parents between  1962-70. To do so a spring was brought into service to create a series of pools (including a swimming pond)  under the embankment of an old railway line and with trees such as oaks and a dawn redwood providing dappled light, ferns hostas, astilbe,  trilliums and other shade-loving plants grow happily.

Woodville is obviously a much-loved garden tended with care by a skilled plantsman which left us with an impressive horticultural memory of The Wexford Garden Trail.

Story and images © Patricia and Dennis Cleveland-Peck






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