Spring in Ireland is beautiful. Yellow blooms are everywhere – daffodils and forsythia blossom in front of homes, while yellow flag iris wave in the breeze along the canal tow paths. Sweet little lambs frolic in vivid green fields. It is the ideal time to visit formal gardens around the country. From Powerscourt in County Wicklow (aka the garden county) to the Victorian walled garden at Kylemore Abbey in County Galway, locals and tourists alike flock to these magnificent displays of Mother Nature’s artwork. But it isn’t necessary to go far from Dublin or pay an admission fee to be treated to some gorgeous greenery and fabulous flowers. The fair city is home to the National Botanic Gardens, an ideal break when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the bustle of the city or the intensity of visiting so many historic places. The gardens are very near Dublin’s historic Glasnevin Cemetery, another spot well worth a visit to see the resting places of many of Ireland’s patriotic heroes. A day spent seeing both can be a perfect break between days touring other sites.
The Botanic Gardens were founded in 1795 for the purpose of agricultural study. The gardens focused primarily on the practical use of plants, but over the next few decades they developed an impressive collection of plants that were simply beautiful or interesting. Just five years later, the first glasshouse was built for the gardens. As the collection grew to include more and more tropical plants, it outgrew the one glasshouse, and in 1849 the beautiful curvilinear glasshouse was opened. Queen Victoria visited that same year, so it is entirely accurate to say it is a garden fit for a queen. The glass houses increased as the botanic gardens’ collections did, and there is now a whole range of delightful curvilinear glass houses to tour. The dome of Ireland’s most famous glasshouse has featured on stamps, and really the architecture alone makes them worth visiting.
While picnicking in the gardens is forbidden, visitors can now prevail of the café in the visitors’ center, which opened in 2000 and also includes educational exhibits about the gardens. While the Botanic Gardens are completely delightful and a popular spot for wedding photos, they are still first and foremost for research and botany studies. (And no, they don’t allow weddings there, just photo sessions.) Much, but not all, of the gardens is wheelchair accessible. The sensory garden, which was opened in 2003 to mark the European Year of People with Disabilities, has plants and features to delight all five senses.
Dublin’s beautiful botanic gardens are home to plant collections that range from the Alpine Yard to the Chinese Shrubbery exhibit to the Cactus and Succulent House. The plants range from water lilies to oak trees, and of course there are displays of native Irish plants complete with a dry stone wall. It’s like a botanical world tour right in Dublin, with a large helping of Irish flora. Admission is free.