NORTHERN IRELAND GARDENS
Northern Ireland has a rich garden heritage with some of the most magnificent gardens in Europe. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board is encouraging people to make the most of this time of year by visiting some of these stunning outdoor spaces.
From grand ornamental gardens to charming walled gardens, award-winning rose gardens, and woodland meadows with wild flowers and lakes, there is a wide range of magical green spaces to be discovered, many bursting with history and interesting local stories.
Here are some of the garden attractions which can be found throughout Northern Ireland.
The Peace Maze at Castlewellan Forest Park, County Down, is the largest and longest hedge maze in the world. It is planted with 6,000 yew trees. The maze is open to the public and is a must-see for adults and children alike. Over at Carnfunnock Country Park along the Causeway Coastal Route there is also a maze in the shape of Northern Ireland with seven central spaces, one for each county in Northern Ireland and one for Lough Neagh. At the Tropical Butterfly House at Seaforde Gardens, County Down, you will find the oldest maze in Ireland in the centre of the walled garden.
Crom Estate in County Fermanagh is one of Ireland’s most important nature conservation areas and is home to an ancient yew tree, designated one of the 50 Greatest British Trees. This huge tree is actually two yews situated a few steps apart (one male, one female) thought to have been planted close together in the 17th century. They have grown to give the appearance of a single remarkable tree.
The handkerchief tree
Each year in May there is a pilgrimage to Rowallane Garden to see the magnificent spreading branches of the handkerchief tree, Davidia involucrata. It has massive wide spreading branches laden with fluttering white tissue-like flowers. The handkerchief tree was once considered the Holy Grail of exotic flora. The species was discovered in China and this particular tree was purchased in 1904 for seven shillings and sixpence (approx 75p) and planted in Rowallane by then owner Hugh Armytage Moore.
Meanwhile the largest rhododendron bush in Europe, as verified by the Guinness Book of Records, can be found in the magnificent gardens inside the walls of Hillsborough Castle. Hillsborough Castle and Gardens are open to the public for tours each Saturday in May and June.
Mount Stewart, Newtownards, Co Down, is one of the most inspiring and unusual gardens in Northern Ireland. The gardens, planted in the 1920s, reflect great planting artistry that was the hallmark of Edith, Lady Londonderry, and the mild climate of Strangford Lough allows many rare plants to thrive. Visitors can enjoy formal gardens of clipped topiary, statuary and magnificent colour schemes and a picturesque lake surrounded by beautiful swathes of woodland. The formal areas exude a strong Mediterranean feel and resemble an Italian villa landscape and the wooded areas support a range of plants from all corners of the world, ensuring something to see whatever the season.
Florence Court, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, enjoys a peaceful setting with a dramatic backdrop of mountains and forests. Visitors are invited to discover many serene and beautiful corners by exploring the pleasure grounds and the walled garden within this magnificent demesne where garden lovers will find the famous Florence Court yew, reputedly the ‘parent’ of all Irish yew trees. Other interesting features include a sawmill, original ice house, and charming summerhouse.
Glenarm Castle Gardens, Ballymena, Co Antrim, is one of Ireland’s oldest walled gardens, dating from the 18th century. Beautiful in all seasons, the walled garden and tea room are open from May until the end of September, when the garden is still rich with displays of herbaceous plants.
The Argory, Co Armagh/ Tyrone is located in a wooded park above the River Blackwater. The early Victorian house of The Argory is surrounded by sweeping lawns with two formal gardens. The first, a charming rose garden with dwarf rose bushes in box-edged beds, is planted around a sundial. The second, much larger and called the Pleasure Ground, has a terrace overlooking the river, the view framed by a pair of striking, stone-built houses with Chinese-style windows. The surrounding borders reflect the taste for exotic trees and shrubs with a special feature being made of the many famous shrubs raised at the Slieve Donard nursery in County Down.
Rowallane Garden, Saintfield, Co Down, is an enchanting garden enclosed within a demesne landscape. It was laid out from the mid-1860s by the Reverend John Moore and afterwards by his nephew, the plantsman and selector Hugh Armytage Moore, who established and developed connections with seedsmen and botanic gardens throughout the world. The garden reflects the beautiful natural landscape of the surrounding area with spectacular displays of shrubs and several areas managed as wildflower meadows.
Castle Ward, Strangford, Co Down, has 40 acres of parkland and contains many enchanting historical garden features such as the Temple Water, an early 18th century formal canal created to reflect the picturesque ruins of Audley Castle and Lady Anne’s Temple. Other features include the sunken garden with grass banks and Irish yew trees, and the rock garden created on a natural outcrop. The parkland grounds at Castle Ward are ideal for those interested in garden history and visitors can enjoy walking trails, an exotic garden, stunning vistas and a picturesque farmyard as well as woodland, lakeside and parkland walks with stunning viewpoints.
Gardening events this summer
Go on the Bangor Castle Walled Garden Tour on June 12 and get an insight into the garden and its history as well as enjoying a question and answer session. The walled garden was never open to the public when it was built in the 1840s and has recently been restored by North Down Borough Council. Shakespeare’s tragic tale of star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately reconcile their feuding families has become one of the most enduring love stories with Romeo and Juliet becoming symbolic of young lovers. Make sure you don’t miss this famous love story in the surroundings of the beautiful walled gardens on July 24 and 25.
Belfast’s Rose Week, a celebration of Northern Ireland’s rose heritage, is back from July 15 to 21 in the stunning grounds of Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park. The flower spectacular is the perfect opportunity for visitors to experience one of the world’s leading rose gardens, while enjoying flower related competitions, workshops, demonstrations, children’s entertainment, and the judging of the international trial roses by a panel of experts. The City of Belfast International Rose Garden has made the park world famous. The park contains more than 30,000 blooms in the summer, divided into trial and display beds, an historical section, and a heritage garden that displays the best roses from local breeders.
The Antrim Garden Trail is now in its second season. The trail includes the most distinguished public and private open gardens in Country Antrim, offering garden lovers the chance to discover ancient plots, glorious flower beds, scented walkways, and charming garden walks. The self-guided trail lists a series of nine must-see gardens throughout Antrim including the Belfast Botanic Gardens, Benvarden Garden in Dervock, close to the north coast, and large public gardens such as Antrim Castle Gardens and Clotworthy House in Antrim.
The trail offers garden enthusiasts, groups, families, and couples great variety as well as a unique insight into County Antrim. Each of these nine stunning spaces is a haven for garden lovers and some of the features waiting to be discovered include 17th century and Victorian ornamental gardens, sundials, a cobbled stable yard, two of Europe’s finest early greenhouses, and a hornbeam maze in the shape of Northern Ireland.
To learn more about Northern Ireland’s gardens, events, and seasonal highlights, or for further information on places to stay or things to see and do in Northern Ireland, contact the Northern Ireland Tourist Board on CallSave 1850 230 230 or click on www.discovernorthernireland.com
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