The gardens at Ashley Park are set in nearly eighty acres of mature beech woodland. The estate is maintained as a bird sanctuary for indigenous and migratory species of wildfowl. The island on the lake, Louch Ourna, with its ruined castle, provides a safe haven for breeding. The central piece to the gardens is a walled garden set with gazeboes, greenhouses and a gardener’s cottage set into the wall of the garden.
Apart from the Gardens and 77 acres of beech woodland, there are, fairy forts, tree-lined drives, lakeside paths, lodges and even a castle to explore!
One of the features of the gardens is the number of smaller self-contained natural gardens that give the guests a choice of secluded locations to enjoy the varied flora and fauna of the property. These gardens are set around the property and vary considerably. Some are not easy to find, but are much enjoyed by the birds, including the many peacocks as they follow the sun around the house.
The Fairytale of Lough Ourna
Ashley Park House sits on the shores of Lough Ourna. The name, according to local legend, came about after the local priest saw two farm hands toiling in the fields on the Sabbath. He scolded them and sent them off to Mass with the words, “You’ll never harvest barley in this field again” ringing in their ears. When the farm hands returned from Mass, the field was covered by a lake – Lough Ourna – Gaelic for Lake of the Barley.
There is probably an element of truth in this delightful story as the lake is artesian, fed by constant inflow of clean, fresh water. In the middle of Lough Ourna is a small island. On the island is the ruin of an old stone tower, a corner of a larger structure dating back to some time in the middle ages. You can take the boat out and row around the island to get a closer look.
The stables and surrounding yards provide a fascinating record of the history of Ashleypark and reflect the changing usage of the property over the years. The entrance, shown above, is accessible to the west of the house, down the lane past the front of the house.
The stables have been refurbished recently and have been used in the past as a horse stud and a training centre. Presently they are used to stable guests’ horses.
There are a number of other outhouses and sheds that store a variety of older carts and bric-a-brac from bygone eras. The shed behind the horse training yard is particularly rich in items from a less rushed era!
The walled garden is the centrepiece to the gardens at Ashleypark. There are many features to the gardens, too many to list, but let’s start with the basic layout.
The garden faces south with a gentle fall down towards the lake. The garden is walled on all four sides by eight foot walls, with a lower wall on the south face affording views to the lake. The garden is divided into quadrants; the north east quadrant is grassed and ringed with a collection of old and rare breed apple trees. At the top is Katherine’s gazebo, built by David jnr and David snr, the former a structural engineer more used to suspension bridges, the latter a 75 year old retired naval officer. Yes, all lines are very straight. The roof is a octagonal, cubic parabolic pyramid. David Snr is doing a PhD in mathematics!
The other quadrants are given over to a spring meadow, a natural woodland and a vegetable garden and orchard.
Apart from the walled gardens, there are several other gardens around the property. The most prominent of these is the driveway garden, on show as you approach the house. Here there are a wide variety of trees and flowering shrubs, including several prized rhodedendra bushes. An are in full bloom in summer.
There used to be three greenhouses sited favourably along the north wall of the walled garden. During the period of decline of the gardens, these fell into disrepair and the two smaller frames on the eastern end of the garden collapsed completely. The largest greenhouse to the west of the garden was saved and rebuilt around the 100 year old vines which still provide sweet grapes each summer.
There are plans to renovate the other greenhouses; the bases are still intact and some of the wood framework remains. They will be complete rebuilds and involve considerable effort, but their original siting on the north wall makes them ideal places for growing new seedlings for the gardens!
There are Japanese cherry trees, monkey puzzle trees and a variety of birch, beech and cedar trees. The lawn is awash with daffodils in spring and flowering hydranga in summer. The centre piece is the tennis lawn, now a recreational space in front of the house, providing guests with a tranquil spot to take tea in summer, whilst watching over the lake. And the tennis…a hard court is in the overgrown kitchen garden to the rear of the house!
These gardens make Ashley Park an ideal location for nature lovers looking for accommodation in Nenagh.