Emo Court, County Laois

Some gardens deserve to be better known and those at Emo Court are a prime example. Covering fifty-five acres, they include spreading lawns, marvellous statuary, leafy shrubs, a wealth of fine trees, a lake and a series of attractive walks, each with a different theme to explore. The focus of the gardens is a monumental neo-classical country house by the celebrated Irish architect James Gandon, built in 1790 for John Dawson, the first Earl of Portarlington. Emo was sold in 1930 to the Jesuits who used it as a noviciate and later in 1969 and 1994 to private owners, who have not only carried out a remarkable restoration of the house but has restored the gardens admirably, planting a considerable number of new trees and shrubs.

The garden is divided into two main parts: the Clucker and the much larger Grapery. The Clucker, an area of light woodland, lies behind the yard and is seen first by visitors. It contains some of the garden's finest trees, including large examples of Cedrus deodara, Pinus radiata and Picea smithiana. Beneath the tree canopy there is a wide selection of azaleas and rhododendrons as well as a variety of other shrubs such as potentilla, some in strip beds alongside the paths. The area looks at its best in spring but there are plenty of lithe maples to give colour in autumn.

Avenues of dignified Florence Court yews planted in Victorian times criss-cross broad stretches of lawn around the house. The great formal parterres have long since gone but some fine statues remain, including four depicting the seasons. Beyond statues of Persephone and Flora, a path brings the visitor down to the lake passing through a large collection of camellias on the way. The late eighteenth-century lake, some twenty acres in extent, has been invaded with weeds in recent years but its perimeter is attractively planted with trees and shrubs which look particularly lovely in autumn when Parrotia persica, among other plants, display their amber and scarlet glow.

A collection of maples provides more glorious autumn colour along the route to the Grapery - a large and exceptionally beautiful arboretum. Crossed by a series of walks with such evocative names as the Everglade, the Apiary Walk and the Via Davidia, this great expanse is dotted with a large collection of specimen trees through which a vista runs aligned upon the distant mansion. Avenues of very old lime and beech closer to the house are residual elements of an early eighteenth-century formal layout that was associated with Dawson's Court - the house which pre-dated the present Emo Court. An impressive folly on a distant hill in the park, now hidden by trees, also belongs to this early period in the demesne's history.

The front of Emo Court is not seen by visitors to the gardens. Aligned upon this facade is a mile-long avenue of Wellingtonias (Sequoiadendron giganteum), all planted in the mid 1850s and undoubtedly the finest of their kind to be found anywhere in the British Isles. When King Edward VII came here in the early part of this century, the entire length of this avenue was lined with a jubilee carpet!

Located 6 miles south of Portlaoise. NGR: N 539066. Open daily. House open March - October, Mondays only. Tea, scones and cake available in the old pump house. Toilet facilities. Suitable for wheelchairs. No dogs. Admission charged. Combined ticket to house and gardens also available.