Gardening: Angela Jupe’s legacy in excellent hands and the top gardens for viewing snowdrops

RHSI Bellefield, which opens for 2024 with its snowdrop weekend, will become a place of learning and gardening excellence

Anyone who knew Angela Jupe, the late landscape architect and garden maker, will remember her particular love of snowdrops, or Galanthus, as this genus of dainty bulbous perennials is properly known.

Before her sudden death in 2021 at the age of 77, the founder of the GLDA (Garden & Landscape Designers Association), former board member of the RHSI (Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland) and master plantsperson, had accumulated a collection of more than 300 distinct varieties. She grew these in the extensive gardens and woodlands surrounding her restored Georgian farmhouse, Bellefield House, in rural Offaly. Many were rarities sourced from specialist nurseries abroad, while others such as “Kildare”, “Hill Poë”, “Castlegar” and “Keith Lamb”, were heritage Irish varieties that she helped to popularise.

Among them were a handful, such as “Jupe’s Bell” and “Hugo Purdue”, which she and gardening friends had discovered growing in the grounds of the many old or ruined properties, that she regularly visited on the hunt for forgotten cultivars and distinct new varieties.

Jupe had also begun writing a book about Irish snowdrops, the unfinished manuscript found among her personal papers after her death, alongside her substantial research on the subject.


Famously driven, dynamic and full of ambitious plans to the end, her lifelong love of plants, discerning eye and enthusiasm for garden-making was legendary, nurtured from a very early age by her aunt Ruby. It was the latter who gave the very young Jupe handfuls of ripe peaches to eat that were freshly picked from her own walled garden in Tipperary, a formative experience that Jupe once told me first ignited her passion for gardening as a small child. Ruby also regularly brought her young niece along on her regular trips to Rowans, a favourite gardening shop in Dublin, where she was encouraged to choose choice flower bulbs and plants to grow herself at home.

As a young adult, Jupe’s love of gardening was allied to her interest in architecture, which she studied at UCD after winning a scholarship awarded by Dublin Corporation. She later went on to study garden design at the famous British gardener and writer John Brooke’s School of Garden Design in Denmans in West Sussex. A series of beautiful personal gardens followed, the first of them at her then home on Leinster Road in Rathmines, a garden that also served as a showcase for prospective clients. They weren’t the only ones who were inevitably impressed. As a young student living nearby, I remember being beguiled by this memorably beautiful Dublin front garden with its romantic drifts of choice shrubs, old roses and perennials.

In the late 1990s, in search of a larger canvas to further flex her garden design muscles and accommodate her ever-growing collection of plants, Jupe moved to Tipperary following a tip-off by an auctioneering friend that led her to Fancroft Mill near Roscrea. The majestic but neglected old corn mill building with its own extensive but badly overgrown gardens was the perfect project, calling on her considerable skills as both a garden designer and an architect specialising in historic restoration. It was here that Jupe’s love of snowdrops, especially the Irish varieties, began to truly flourish, nourished by the ideal growing conditions it offered.

Her final move came in 2004 when Jupe swapped Fancroft for nearby Bellefield House in Co Offaly. Once again drawing on her professional skills, Jupe spent the ensuing decades transforming the semi-derelict house and its handsome old stone outbuildings as well as its magical 0.8-hectare (2-acre) walled garden and woodlands. Bellefield House very quickly became the epicentre of many garden-related gatherings and events, including the Rare & Special Plant Fair (another annual fixture of the Irish gardening year popularised by Jupe) as well as the annual snowdrop days that she hosted there.

One of the people that Jupe employed to help her maintain the gardens at Bellefield was a young horticultural graduate of Waterford Institute of Technology, Paul Smyth, who first came there on work placement in 2013 and soon became a firm friend. Always someone to spot and nurture talent, Jupe subsequently played an important role in the young Carlow man’s career as a professional gardener, putting him in contact with Tom Mitchell of Evolution Plants and Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones of Crûg Farm Plants in the UK for whom he later worked. When Smyth returned to Ireland at the beginning of the pandemic, they continued to stay in regular contact, chatting weekly on the phone up until her death.

Although Jupe’s sudden demise came as a terrible shock to him, the announcement that she’d left Bellefield House and its 11.3 hectares (28 acres) of gardens, woodlands, parkland, pasture and bogland, to the RHSI to use as a training garden didn’t. “She’d talked to me about it and how much she wanted Bellefield to become this centre of excellence and education, a place where people could learn the craft and skills of gardening. It was such a generous act on her part.”

In 2023, just two years after her death, Bellefield – now properly known as RHSI Bellefield – reopened its gates to the public with Smyth as its new head gardener and Julia Doherty as its under-gardener, backed up by the society and a terrific team of volunteers.

RHSI chairperson Philip Hollwey, in particular, has played a vital role in ensuring that Jupe’s final wishes are being executed, which the society has formally recognised by recently awarding him its prestigious Hetherington Medal of Honour. Next weekend (February 8th-11th), marks the beginning of a new and exciting era for the gardens, which very appropriately open for the 2024 season with its snowdrop weekend, an event with which its former owner is so deeply associated.

Jupe’s remarkable collection of snowdrops, of which many varieties will be in full flower when visitors arrive next weekend, is also now in the process of being painstakingly catalogued and labelled by Smyth, with the help of various visiting expert galanthophiles. It’s by no means an easy task, one made more challenging by the fact that they’ve naturally hybridised over the years since they were first planted. Elsewhere in the garden, huge progress has been made in weeding, pruning and dividing the large, densely-planted mixed borders that Jupe was known for, and which had started to fall into gentle decline in the months following her death. There are also ambitious plans afoot to develop some of Bellefield’s outbuildings, as dedicated teaching spaces and offer residential learning opportunities, as well as to extend the woodlands and arboretum around the house.

All the signs are good that Jupe’s remarkable legacy is in excellent hands and that RHSI Bellefield will become known not just as an outstandingly good public Irish garden with an exceptional collection of plants, but also as a place of learning. Always a stickler for high standards, as well as a can-doer who never let obstacles get in her way, Jupe would be hugely proud.

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This week in the garden

  • If you own a glasshouse or polytunnel, then bear in mind that weed growth begins much earlier in the year in these protected growing structures. A combination of regular hand-weeding, hoeing and the use of organic weed-suppressant mulches will do a lot to prevent problems later in the growing season. Slugs and snails also start to become active in polytunnels and glasshouses at this time of year, so take appropriate precautions.
  • With the beginning of another growing season just around the corner, now is a good time to sharpen and clean tools and to get lawnmowers, strimmers and other garden machinery serviced before the spring rush.

Dates for your diary

  • Along with RHSI Bellefield (see main column), the following Irish gardens known for their outstanding collections of snowdrops are opening to the public in the coming weeks to celebrate the snowdrop season, with some offering guided tours. Please check individual websites/ social media for details: Altamont in Co Carlow ( and; Coosheen in Co Cork (; Blarney Castle in Co Cork (; Hunting Brook Gardens in west Wicklow ( Burtown House in Co Kildare (; Primrose Hill in Co Dublin (@primrosehillgarden_ireland ); Woodville Walled Garden in Go Galway (; Ballyrobert Gardens in Co Antrim (
  • Saturday February 24th, Crowne Plaza Dublin Airport Hotel Conference Centre, Northwood Park, Santry, Dublin D09 X9X2, ‘Space to Grow’, the Garden & Landscape Designer Association’s (GLDA) 2024 seminar with a host of international expert speakers. Tickets from €60-€140, see

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