Mount Usher

by Don Hyatt

The Gardens at Mount Usher

The gardens of Mount Usher are located near the town of Ashford in western Ireland, south of Dublin, in County Wicklow. The scenic Vartry river flows through this privately owned property of about twenty acres, creating many lovely vistas of the gently rushing waters framed by tall trees, rhododendrons, azaleas, and companion plants along the banks. The microclimate in the sheltered valley at Mount Usher provides a home for many rare plants that are not easily raised in the rest of the British Iles. This remarkable 140 year old garden includes a palm walk as well as a grove of mature eucalyptus trees.

When we arrived at Mount Usher, a full hour before opening time, the place seemed deserted and the gates were locked. Peering through the bars, we had only a brief hint of the beauty that was there. Even though the curator arrived well ahead of schedule to give our group a private tour, my impatience had almost reached critical levels. As we passed through another gate in an inner courtyard, we entered the gardens of Mount Usher, an informal landscape in the natural style of William Robinson. Standing in a grove of Japanese maples, mature specimens with red fern-like foliage mingling with some brilliant red Knaphill azaleas, I could see the tops of huge rhododendrons blooming along the river banks. Before us were meadows of wildflowers filled with English Bluebells in peak bloom. The charming fragrance of the yellow Pontic azalea, Rhododendron luteum, permeated the air.

For the first few minutes, I stayed with the group listening to our expert guide, a very knowledgeable horticulturist who managed the gardens, as he related interesting stories about Mount Usher while describing the richness of the plant materials on site. However, to appreciate beauty does not require a guide, so I started breaking from the group, walking into the meadow to photograph the magificence on my own. At first, I took brief asides and would rush back as our guide continued his talk. Eventually, though, I started taking longer jaunts, and would then try to catch up with the crowd as the group moved to the next location. I regretted not hearing the wisdom of our host since he knew the history of every plant in the garden as well as cultural requirements and Latin name. However, the chance to experience and photograph such exquisite beauty, the chance to be alone in paradise without a crowd of tourists, was too much for me. I was on my own.

I did experience one brief moment of anxiety. I knew that our group crossed the river Vartry and was exploring the gardens on the other side. However, I felt I had to explore the banks of this side of the river, appreciating the many vistas and taking numerous photographs before I could cross the river. When I finally did venture across the bridge, I discovered the proverbial fork in the road! Our tour had taken one of these paths, but which one? I ran to the right first, but the landscape was still pristine. There was no evidence of traffic in the glorious fields of flowers, so I concluded that they must have gone the other way. Rushing back to the left, I eventually noticed trampled grass under a large leaved rhododendron that was in full bloom. Here was incontovertible evidence of garden photographers; I was back on track. I finally caught up with everyone at the gift shop as our group was exiting the garden, ready to board the bus and head off to our next stop, Mount Congreve. I thought to myself, to be left at Mount Usher wouldn't have been a trajedy. However, at the time I had no idea how incredible Mount Congreve was going to be.

Vistas of the Garden

Banks of the Vartry River

Knaphill Azaleas

Wild Garden with Tree Fern
and Rhododendron Luteum

Meadow with Rhododendrons
and Eucalyptus Tree

The Vartry River as
Viewed from a Bridge

Wildflower Meadow with Azaleas and Rhododendrons

Loderi "King George" and R. Augustinii
Near the Palm Walk

Large Leaf Rhododendron