Derreen Gardens, County Kerry

The benign climate of West Cork and Kerry has favoured the development of some outstanding gardens. One of the most verdant of these is the woodland glade garden at Derreen-a subtropical jungle of luxuriant vegetation occupying the whole of a ninety-acre peninsula in a sheltered inlet amidst the splendid setting of the wild and majestic Caha Mountains.

The creation of the garden at Derreen began in 1870 after the fifth Marquis of Landsdowne inherited the house and demesne from his father. Realising the potential of the property with its high rainfall and rare frosts, the young Marquis set about transforming the bare rock and native scrub oak of the peninsula into the garden we see today. For nearly sixty years he devoted himself to the task, spending three months every year at Derreen- excluding the years between 1883 and 1894 when he was Governor General of Canada and Viceroy of India. Because of the excellent growing conditions here, the Marquis had the rare pleasure of witnessing his plantations grow to full maturity.

Derreen is designed around the house - a pleasant, unassuming, mid-nineteenth century building, rebuilt and enlarged in the 1920s after being burnt down in the Civil War. Plush, undulating lawns sweep down from the house to the woodland below. Here, wide grassy vistas give way to a labyrinth of narrow mossy paths which weave their way through groves of bamboo, towering eucalyptus, tree ferns and a wide variety of conifers, some planted as specimens, some in small groups. In their shade dense hedges of gaultheria and pernettya grow so freely they have to be regularly cut back. Kalmia and leptospermum plants thrive here, as do olearias, azaleas, drimys and, above all, the rhododendrons which are found everywhere in profusion-some of enormous size.

Visitors touring the garden begin their journey by passing a huge, dome-shaped rock used in ancient times as a tribal meeting place. The path downslope to the boathouse winds past a variety of myrtaceae including a fine example of Myrtus luma, a species from Chile which seeds itself prolifically all over the grounds. This produces white flowers in August as does a sweet-scented pepper bush (Clethra alnifolia) growing further down the path. In this area a number of fine rhododendrons from the Himalayas flourish, including a magnificent R. falconeri with huge creamy-white bell-shaped flowers and a large R. sinogrande, notable for its enormous dark green leaves with their silvery-grey underside.

> > > Read the concluding part of this article