Ballintubbert Gardens in Co. Laois are a complete revelation to the first time visitor. On entering through what must be one of the humblest and unassuming garden entrances, a short distance further along the drive reveals the fine Georgian Manor House around which the 14 acres of gardens are found. The house was first built in 1725 and has the distinction of being the birth place of Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis (father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis). There are further associations with the artistic fraternity as the actor Sir John Hurt and his family lived here in the 1990s. It is now firmly on my list of must-see gardens in Co. Laois.
The drive to Ballintubbert is a joy, taking you as it does through the pretty town of Stradbally, and on up through what is locally called the ‘mountain gap’ with lovely views of the surrounding countryside.
Ballintubbert House and garden has had many stages in its development. Previous owner Sir John Hurt initiated the restoration of the earlier gardens. When Orna and Fergus Hoban took ownership in 1999, they had great aspirations for the garden and went on to create 40 garden rooms which we see today. Their inspired vision and commitment to the garden is now being enjoyed by the public, one of their fervent wishes. It is now owned and run by an events management company.
I started my tour in the intimate garden to the side of the house designed by eminent Irish garden designer Arthur Shackleton. This has a circular lawn surrounded by billowing plants including grasses and perennials. There are some lovely plant combinations found here, especially the striking deep blue Agapanthus paired with fiery red Crocosmia.
From here I strolled through a delightful rose garden, enclosed by high yew hedges. Beyond this I found one of the most celebrated features of the garden, the Lutyens-inspired sunken garden, a nod to the original one at nearby Heywood garden. This one differs in that it is surrounded by a double circular hedge of yew with arches cut into for passage. It also features the two tiers of planting as in Heywood but has a more relaxed feeling. The large clumps of the gigantic-flowered Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ are simply drop-dead gorgeous!
The biggest surprise of all is when I found myself in front of the house with a 100m long canal laid out before it! A tiered water cascade is at its head, creating a sense of movement in the otherwise calm-as-a-millpond expanse of water. A double allee of Lime trees runs parallel to the canal and is just breathtaking.
Further exploration led to a William Robinson-inspired wildflower meadow, a ‘secret’ garden consisting of a small pond with box hedging and an enchanting woodland garden. There is so much to discover in this cornucopia of a garden that visitors would be advised to allow plenty of time to wander and be thoroughly entranced by this beautiful place.
LOCATION: Co. Laois is in the midlands of Ireland. From Stradbally take the N80 south, travel uphill through mountain gap for 4km. Turn left at the Ballintubbert sign. Travel 1.2km along, with garden entrance on the left.
ADDRESS: Ballintubbert, Stradbally, Co. Laois.
OPEN: Thursdays ONLY. Entrance fee €5; Guided tours available.