Fota Gardens are in the grounds of Fota House. They are highly acclaimed, consisting of a structured arboretum, walled garden and terraces. Many rare and exotic shrubs and trees exist, along with an extensive rose garden.
Fota's arboretum and gardens are what they are today thanks to the Smith-Barry family who recognised the significance of Fota's sheltered location and warm soil — "Fota" is derived from the Irish "Fód te" meaning warm soil – appropriate for the growing and cultivation of rare trees and exotic plants.
The development of the arboretum and gardens coincided with the great plant hunting expeditions around the world bringing back specimens from places such as Asia, South America and the Pacific coast of northwest America. Many of these rare plants found their way to Fota within a few years of their discovery.
In the 1840s, John Smith-Barry showed foresight by spacing the trees, enabling them to thrive with displays of seasonal colour. The family also recorded the plant collections throughout the 19th and most of the 20th century and this work of cataloguing, conservation and development continues today.
Many of these plant collections are arranged in association with the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin, and other botanic institutions such as the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, Scotland.
In 1996 the State was given control of the arboreum and gardens. They are now administered by the Office of Public Works in conjunction with the Irish Heritage Trust.