5-Day Itinerary: Gardens of Counties Down & Antrim
Best time to visit June, July and August
For the garden enthusiast a visit to Belfast will not be complete without a stop in the Botanic Gardens. Situated near Queen's University Belfast, the Botanic Gardens is an important part of Belfast’s Victorian heritage and a popular meeting place for residents, students and tourists with an extensive rose garden, long herbaceous borders and the tree enthusiast can seek out the rare oaks planted in the 1880s.
Two of the most notable early greenhouses in Europe are to be found here - the Tropical Ravine (currently closed) and the Palm House. Designed by Charles Lanyon, the Palm House is one of the earliest examples of a curvilinear cast iron glasshouse. Its construction was initiated by the Belfast Botanical and Horticultural Society in the 1830s. The two wings were completed in 1840, and were built by Richard Turner of Dublin, who later built the Great Palm House at Kew Gardens. Over the years, the Palm House has acquired a reputation for good plant collections. The cool wing houses all year round displays of colour and scent using plants such as geranium, fuchsia, begonia and built displays.
After a delightful morning you will find numerous places for lunch on Botanic Avenue and the nearby Lisburn Road.
In the afternoon a visit to the beautiful Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park in South Belfast will inspire. The City of Belfast International Rose Garden has made the park world famous, and contains over 30,000 blooms in the summer, divided into trial and display beds, a historical section, and a heritage garden that displays the best of the roses from local breeders.
Each year thousands of visitors enjoy the rose gardens and associated events during Rose Week in mid July. Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park also contains International Camellia Trials, a walled garden, a Japanese-style garden with water features for quiet contemplation.
Overnight stay in The Merchant Hotel.
A simply “must see” in on the list of gardens of the UK, if not the world, is Mount Stewart, County Down. Mount Stewart on the shores of Strangford Lough (AOB - Area of Outstanding Beauty) is Northern Ireland’s most celebrated garden. Almost every style of gardening over the last two centuries is represented at Mount Stewart. The great diversity of styles and plants from every continent were ingeniously combined by Lady Edith Londonderry (1879-1959) to produce a garden of outstanding quality & character. To explore the planting around the 5 acre lake of the Mount Stewart garden in summer will always be a botanical thrill. Enjoy the majesty of the high eucalypts and the clumps of Cordyline which are a favourite throughout Northern Ireland. Summer colour is provided by watsonias, agapanthus and Red Hot Pokers (kniphofia).
Lunch in the Bay Restaurant at Mount Stewart.
In the afternoon travel south along the Ards Pennisula to the nearby village of Greyabbey and visit the Greyabbey Physic Garden. In medieval Ireland, abbeys had their own gardens such as orchards, kitchen gardens and sometimes a physic garden. Filled with plants which were useful in one way or another in the treatment of illness, the physic garden was a valuable asset to a monastery infirmary. Because no visual records of these gardens remain, the new physic garden at the 12th century Cistercian monastery of Grey Abbey is a notional reconstruction based on much general research on gardens of its period. Small beds, enabling the precious medicinal plants to be cultivated and cropped from all sides, are assembled into a simple but elegant design.
Overnight stay at Barnwell Farm Cottages.
Take the ferry from Portaferry across Strangford Lough to Strangford town and make the short journey from Strangford to Castle Ward. Castle Ward Estate has 40 acres of park and contains many enchanting historical garden features such as the Temple Water, an early eighteenth-century formal canal created to reflect the picturesque ruins of Audley Castle at one end and Lady Anne's Temple along one side.
Grab some lunch at Castle Ward or back in Strangford.
After lunch travel west through County Down drumlin countryside known as the “Basket of Eggs” through the St Patrick town of Downpatrick to Castlewellan and Castlewellan Forest Park. Castlewellan Forest Park covers 460 hectares of natural beauty enhanced by diverse woodland and a variety of attractive man made features, all of which are accessible to the visitor on foot. At Castlewellan Forest Park you will also find the National Arboretum, historic Annesley Garden and the world’s largest and longest hedge maze (Guinness Book of Records) the ‘Peace Maze’.
Overnight stay in Tollymore Gate Lodge.
Start the day with a visit to Rowallane Gardens, Saintfield, County Down. Rowallane Garden is a true plantsman’s garden with trees, shrubs and plants from around the world. Wander through the estate and see the spectacular displays of shrubs, natural Rock Garden Wood with shade loving plants, walled garden and attractive wildflower meadows.
Lunch in the Old Post Office Tea Rooms, Lisbane, Comber.
After lunch a visit to Crawfordsburn Country Park, just outside Belfast for fabulous views across Belfast Lough and wonderful woodland walks. The park hosts a golden beach that attracts thousands of bathers and sun worshippers throughout the summer. Among the trees and shrubs bordering the path are Alaskan Salmonberry plants, exotic relations of the raspberry. Their profusion of juicy orange berries in June are not only edible, but delicious! Overnight stay at Lisnacurran Bed & Breakfast.
Belfast follow the Causeway Coastal Route north to the pretty seaside village of Glenarm and a visit to Glenarm Castle Garden. The Walled Garden situated in the grounds of Glenarm Castle 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. However visit during the annual Tulip Festival in May for an extra special display of 8,500 tulips in full bloom! Travel on to the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Giants Causeway.
Lunch in The Nook at the Giant’s Causeway.
the obligatory visit to The Giant’s Causeway call into the nearby Benvarden Garden. The historic private demesne garden of Benvarden on the banks of the River Bush is only minutes away. Incredibly the garden has been in continuous cultivation since the 1780’s. In his book, Gardens of Ireland, Terence Reeves-Smyth describes Benvarden as having one of the - "few fully-maintained walled gardens in Ireland and undoubtedly the best in private hands". The river Bush is used by the nearby Old Bushmills Distillery.
Return to Belfast.