Depending on the season, the gardens can display a different character and charm. In late spring and early summer the island is a riot of colour from the azaleas and rhododendrons, while the climbing plants and herbaceous perennials dominate in the later summer months. In the more forested areas, giant New Zealand tree ferns flourish and offer a cool retreat from the formal gardens. A folly in the shape of a roofless Grecian temple provides spectacular views, no matter the season, across the water to the sandstone ridge of the Caha Mountains.
At the highest point of the island you can also see one of the first martello towers, constructed as part of the fortifications against Napoleon’s forces in c.1805. Peto and Bryce had originally planned for the structure to be incorporated into a grand new residence, with the tower serving as a music room. This magnificent mansion was never built, however, due to the arrival of the First World War and financial setbacks in the years that followed.
Violet and John’s son, Roland L’Estrange Bryce, bequeathed the island to the state in 1953, and today visitors can explore the gardens and the newly restored Bryce House with a guided tour. Access to the Island is by ferry, and please note there is a separate admission charge to the island. The ferry journey itself is a wonderful experience, if you are fortunate you may encounter some of the resident colony of harbour seals, or if you are even luckier you might catch a glimpse of the white-tailed sea eagles that nest on the island. After your trip to the island I recommend a walk in the lovely Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve, a 30-minute walk or 5-minute drive from the harbour. Also in the immediate vicinity is the Glengariff Blue Pool, a beautiful swimming spot, where swimmers are occasionally joined by curious seals!