Answer: Perhaps the best suggestion is to think of it as a well-loved collection of plants gathered over the years from friends and neighbors with perhaps a few "fancy" plants garnered through the gardeners who had access to the gardens at "the big house" nearby. The plants will be set informally but according to their preferred growing conditions so that they will thrive with little care. Keep in mind, too, that the soil would be well enriched with organic matter, probably including well-rotted manure, so it would be quite rich with an excellent structure.
Here are some ideas to consider: use a cobblestone path along with rustic fencing and seating. Add perhaps a stone trough for an accent piece and either plant it or fill it with water as a reflecting device. Next, consider early spring bloomers such as hellebores, windflowers, chionodoxa, wood hyacinths, Spanish bluebells, and squill. In the sunniest spot you might be able to encourage a small patch narcissus.
Next look at violas and sweet violets, auricula primroses, bleeding heart, sweet woodruff, pulmonaria, woodland phlox, and lady's mantle. Next come the most shade tolerant rose you can find (perhaps a Gallica) along with a clematis or two. If there is any sun at all, foxgloves and columbines would be worth a try, too. For mid summer, although perhaps not strictly "Irish" you might consider hosta, heuchera and astilbe for blooms. More authentic, you will definitely need many ferns of assorted types and should encourage moss to grow.
For a wonderful finale, try hardy cyclamen for a carpet of fall blooms.
If shrubs or small trees are called for, you might try rhododendrons (the larger types can be trained as trees), camellias and hydrangeas as they have been in gardens for centuries and, or if there is some sun, a small fruit tree would be most appropriate.
Many of these plants are available through Burpee. You may order a catalog at the website http://burpee.com/ or call 1-800-888-1447 Mon.- Fri. 9 am - 8 pm ET, Sat. & Sun. 9 am - 5 pm ET. For others you may wish to check with your local nurseries or contact a shade plant or perennials specialist such as Shady Oaks Nursery, 112-10th Avenue, S.E., Waseca MN 56093-3122 (800-504-8006); Bluestone Perennials, 7211 Middle Ridge Rd., Madison Ohio 44057 (800-852-5243); Carroll Gardens, 444 East Main Street, Westminster MD 21157 (800-638-6334); White Flower Farm, PO Box 50, Litchfield CT 06759 (800-503-9624) or Wayside Gardens, 1 Garden Lane, Hodges SC 29695 (800-845-1124).
Good luck with your project!
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