A remarkable place on a 37 acre island reachable only by boat from the nearby village of Glengarrif. The gardens were created in the 1920’s and are the joint work of Annan Bryce, then owner of the island and Harold Peto, architect and garden designer.
The proper name for the Island is Ilnacullin, which means “Island of the Holly”, but holly comprises just a tiny fraction of what you will find here.
The island enjoys a warm micro climate, thanks both to the gulf stream and its sheltered location in Glengarrif Bay, which has allowed the many non-native plants there to thrive and the plant collection is both huge and internationally renowned for its variety.
The signature area of the garden is undoubtedly the Italian Casita, overlooking a formal pool in an area lushly planted with fuchsias, camellias, myrtles and scented rhododendrons. Around the pool in containers are some interesting and very old bonsai including one which is over 300 years old.
Aside from its intrinsic beauty, this part of the garden is striking in the way its formality contrasts with the surrounding wild mountainous countryside, which not only provides a backdrop but is brought right to the centre of the garden though its reflection in the still water of the pond.
Even non-gardeners will enjoy the walk around the island, though the long grassy Happy Valley with its many specimen trees, up the flight of steps to the highest point of the Island and a Martello Tower with fabulous views over Bantry Bay, down the winding woodland paths which branch and rejoin in an almost maze like fashion.
The walled garden is a delight, with espaliered fruit trees and walkways bordered by beds overflowing with phlox, delphinium, campanula, dianthus and a myriad of other perennial flowering plants.
The gardens are rich in form and colour, changing continuously with the seasons so as always to provide something of interest.
In May and June the Rhododendrons and Azaleas are at their best, while climbing plants, herbaceous perennials and shrubs are to the fore during the summer months. The abundant trees make for a magnificent show of colour in the autumn.
Visitor Information & Location Map
The gardens are open from March to October, form Monday-Saturday 10am-6.30pm and Sunday from 1pm-6.30pm. Outside of peak months the garden closes an hour or two earlier, so check the closing time before you go.
Access is by boat from Glengarrif, where you will see plenty of signs advertising different ferry operators. Allow at least 2 hours for your visit. There is a small coffee shop on the Island near the harbour.
Please note, that entrance to the Island, which is managed by the government, is payable separately from the ferry fare.
Children absolutely love this garden, mixing as it does a chance to run wild, to climb through and explore old buildings and to ‘get lost’ in the woods – not to mention the fun of the boat ride over and back during which there is almost invariably some sightings of seals basking on the rocks.
We are headed to Bantry Bay any tips for us? We have some friends nearby.