Summer has arrived and aside from my regular trips to the beach, I always love a stroll around the beautiful gardens of Mount Stewart. The sensational gardens of the estate are the perfect place to kick off my shoes and get at one with earth as I take in sights, sounds and scents of one of the most treasured gardens in Northern Ireland.
Of course if you want to enjoy the gardens year round, your best bet is to sign up to the National Trust membership and with that you can enjoy all their beautiful gardens and estates across NI.
I saw recently that they have teamed up with another of my favourites, M&S and are offering a £5 voucher for every new membership. Percy pigs for a NT picnic anyone?
7 NT gardens you should visit this summer
Mount Stewart is one of Northern Ireland’s most celebrated gardens. A place of the imagination, the Formal Garden around the house is themed using an exotic choice of plants from all round the world. While the Pleasure Ground surrounding the Lake is a semi natural woodland garden containing many rare plants which thrive in the mild climate of the Ards Peninsula.
In bloom: The rhododendrons are a must until mid-August and then the exotic displays of the Formal Gardens take centre stage.
Rowallane Garden is a true plantsman’s garden with one of Ireland’s premier plant collections. The Spring Garden is full of rhododendrons while the Walled Garden once the kitchen garden for the ‘big house’ is filled with mixed shrub borders, roses and perennials for summer colour.
In bloom: Azaleas, rhododendrons and magnolias in the Spring Garden succeeded by meconopsis, paeonies and penstemon in the Walled Garden.
Castle Ward has features such as the Temple Water, an early 18th century formal canal, the Sunken Garden with grass banks and Irish Yew trees and the Rock Garden created on a natural outcrop. The parkland grounds are ideal for those interested in garden history and those wishing to immerse themselves in ‘times gone by’.
In bloom: The newly renovated Rock Garden is always colourful and the herbaceous border in the Windsor Garden is a mid-summer treat.
The herb garden at the pretty 17th century ‘Plantation’ home of Springhill, is designed around a scented Camomile Lawn – a long tradition in ‘big houses’ to enjoy the sweet fragrance that fills the air as you walk on the soft, springy camomile. Situated on the edge of the picturesque Sperrin Mountains, this charming house is also home to a series of small walled gardens.
In bloom: A charming garden with successions of rhododendron and magnolia followed by the fine roses and herbaceous displays of the Dutch Garden.
The magnificent Florence Court gardens are overlooked by the dramatic outline of the Cuilcagh Mountain. Florence Court is well known as the home of the original Irish Yew and the forest park trails surrounding the garden are now accessible. The developing Kitchen Garden within the Walled Garden has colourful new herbaceous borders this year.
In bloom: Roses, paeonies, penstemon, dahlia and clematis in the herbaceous borders and seasonal vegetables in the open quarters.
In a wooded park above the River Blackwater, 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.
In bloom: The mixed borders carry a wealth of plants, many of them scented. Roses bloom brightly in the small rose garden with light floral scents filling the air.
The beautifully landscaped Downhill Demesne is set on the wild and rugged north coast. The best known features of this famous demesne are the exquisite Mussenden Temple and the ruined palace of the eccentric nobleman, Frederick Hervey, the famous Earl Bishop of Derry. But if you enter the estate via Bishop’s Gate you come upon an appealing ornamental garden.
In bloom: The Bog Garden is a riot of primulas and the shrub borders are alive with lilies during the summer.