Great Garden Days Out
Northern Ireland has a garden for every season and every mood. So there’s no better time to get out and about and visit some of the gardens, parks and forest parks that Northern Ireland has to offer.
No visit to Belfast would be complete without a visit to the Botanic Gardens First established in 1828, the Botanic Gardens have been enjoyed as a public park by the people of Belfast since 1895. It's a joy to see this public space being used by the local population. Two of the most notable early greenhouses in Europe are to be found here - the Tropical Ravine and the Palm House. 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, London. In the mini jungle of the stove wing you will find the striking bird of paradise and colourful bromeliads, to name a few exciting species.
The beautiful Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park in South Belfast is home to the City of Belfast International Rose Garden, where a magnificent display of over 30,000 rose bushes can be enjoyed in summer months. The Rose Garden is famous for its Annual International Rose Trials and Rose Week event held every July. There is also a Victorian garden where you will find exotic trees and tree rhododendrons. Near the walled garden are over 100 different camellia varieties which are grown as part of the International Camellia Trials. A Japanese Garden has been created in a dell below the house and possesses some of the six qualities of the perfect Japanese garden: antiquity, seclusion, spaciousness, artifice, abundant water and broad views.
The daffodil garden at Barnett Demesne illustrates Northern Ireland's contribution over many generations to daffodil breeding. The daffodils are planted in large masses under the parkland trees. Visitors can also enjoy the elegant open parkland with views of Belfast Hills and the Lagan Valley Regional Park.
For a look at Belfast Lough from a more panoramic angle, head to Cave Hill Country Park. There are many walking options on Cave Hill, ranging from easy strolls to strenuous climbs. There are five caves on the hill to be explored plus MacArt's Fort and a number of sites of archaeological interest dating back to the Stone Age.
Driving along the impressive Causeway Coastal Route, you will find a hidden gem at Glenarm Castle Garden. An amazing walled garden, crisp and colourful in a wonderful undulating landscape. Beautiful in all seasons, the Walled Garden and Tea Room are open from May, when you can see the fabulous display of spring bulbs, apple and pear blossom, until the end of September Look out for the unusal mound in the garden designed by renowned Irish designer Catherine Fitzgerald.
At Carnfunnock Country Park also along the Causeway Coastal Route there is a unique walled garden with panoramic views and meandering paths. There are a variety of garden environments, including a flower garden, butterfly garden, scented walkway, time garden, heather garden, rock garden and water garden. A wide collection of plants from all over the world can be found throughout the garden. Of particular interest is the unique collection of sundials. The park also has an amphitheatre and a hornbeam maze in the shape of Northern Ireland.
Even when visiting the UNESCO World Heritage site The Giant’s Causeway you are never far from a garden. The historic private demesne garden of Benvarden on the banks of the river Bush is only minutes away. 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 – Ireland’s Oldest Licensed Whiskey Distillery.
Further south and inland, be sure to visit the newly restored Antrim Castle Gardens and Clothworthy House. This historical gem has a magnificent setting, and beautiful features such as the Large Parterre, Her Ladyship’s Garden and Yew Tree Pond.
While at the gardens visit the Garden Heritage Exhibition in the newly refurbished Clothworthy House, where the Oriel Gallery plays host to a range of stunning exhibitions throughout the year. With a year round programme of events and activities including talks, walks, interactive workshops, performances and exhibitions, these Gardens are just waiting to be explored.
Why not round the trip off with a visit to Ballyrobert Cottage Garden and Nursery near Ballyclare. This traditional cottage garden extends to more than 2 acres in rural County Antrim and is beautifully maintained. William Robinson, the Irish-born, world renowned garden designer, was the inspiration for the layout of this unique, traditional location and for some retail therapy a specialist nursery, stocked with a wealth of cottage garden plants, is also available and open to the public.
In County Down a simply “must see” in on the list of gardens of the UK, if not the world, is Mount Stewart. 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. Paths from the formal gardens wind into the surrounding woodland, inviting the visitor to explore the planting around the five-acre lake.
Rowallane Garden in Saintfield houses one of Ireland's premier plant collections. Walks include the main garden, the Spring Garden, the Rock Garden and the Walled Garden. In spring and early summer the rhododendron walk is one big, beautiful blaze of colour. Other highlights are the hydrangeas, fuchsias, shrub roses, primulas, meconopsis, heathers and dwarf bulbs.
At Seaforde Gardens, Downpatrick you will find the oldest maze in Ireland at the centre of the 18th Century walled garden. It also has a Butterfly House, interesting for both its butterflies and tree ferns and unusual tropical planting.
From the oldest to the largest and longest, you will find the world’s largest and longest hedge maze (Guinness Book of Records) the ‘Peace Maze’ in Castlewellan Forest Park. Castlewellan 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 and historic Annesley Garden.
For a walk on the wilder side Tollymore Forest Park in the shadows of the Mourne Mountains is a great visit. Tollymore takes in an area of almost 630 hectares and offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and the sea at Newcastle. A walk along the Shimna river is marked by many curiosities, natural and artificial - rocky outcrops, bridges, grottos and caves. Tollymore wood was the preferred material for the interiors of the White Star liners including the 'Titanic'.
The beautifully landscaped Downhill Demesne, Castlerock 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 the Bishop’s Gate you come upon an appealing modern ornamental garden.
In nearby Coleraine the Northern Ireland National Collection of Daffodils is held at the Guy L Wilson Daffodil Garden at the University of Ulster. The garden is a spectacle of bloom from early March to mid April with 1,500 daffodils on display thanks in part to the donations of bulbs from as far afield as New Zealand, Holland and the USA. The garden is a memorial to the local daffodil breeder Guy L Wilson.
Situated on the edge of the picturesque Sperrin Mountains you will find the pretty 17th century ‘Plantation’ home of Springhill, County Londonderry. The herb garden is designed around a scented Camomile Lawn. The Camomile Lawn has a long tradition in big houses in the British Isles. The Elizabethans enjoyed the sweet fragrance that filled the air as they walked on the soft, springy Camomile.
Just outside the Walled City of Derry you will find the tranquil Prehen Woods. This precious ancient woodland is a natural trove, dating back as far as 1600. Today’s wood is a remnant of the extensive woodland that once covered much of the east bank of the River Foyle, stretching as far as Strabane. The ancient woodland is also home to some colourful wild inhabitants. The more privileged (and quiet!) visitor may even catch a glimpse of the endangered red squirrel, while birds include the sparrowhawk and long-eared owl.
And if you fancy a spot of horticulture inspired shopping to brighten the day, stop into the buzzing Ness Garden Centre on the Glenshane Road in the city. After a hearty lunch or much deserved coffee in the cafe you will be ready to start exploring the centre and great gift shop.
In a wooded park above the river Blackwater, the early Victorian house of The Argory, County Armagh 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, a special feature being made of the many famous shrubs raised at the Slieve Donard nursery in County Down. At you leisure you can enjoy refreshments in the properties award-winning Lady Ada's Tea-room.
In the quiet market town of Markethill you will find Gosford Forest Park, Northern Ireland’s first conservation forest comprising 240 hectares of diverse woodland and open parkland in gentle rolling drumlin countryside. Gosford Forest Park boasts literary links with connections to Jonathan Swift and there is also a fascinating walled garden at the castle which dates from the early 1800's. The bricks lining the walls are hand-made and came from a long since closed down brickworks in Newry, County Down.
While near to Armagh City why not stop into Woodview Garden Complex, on the main Armagh to Portadown road. The complex comprises a large garden centre, a flower shop, a garden shop, a superb restaurant and the renowned Eakin Gallery. Plenty to keep all the family entertained!
The magnificent gardens of Florence Court in County Fermanagh, are overlooked by the dramatic outline of the Cuilcagh mountains. Florence Court is well known to gardeners as the home of the Irish Yew (Taxus baccata ‘Fastigata’). The original tree discovered in 1760 can still be seen, its offspring are now featured in gardens throughout the world. It is known affectionately as the ‘Mother of all Irish Yew trees’!
Nearby, The National Trust’s Crom Estate is one of Ireland’s most important nature conservation areas and is home 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. Visitors are led through the park to discover a series of ornate buildings which enhance the parkscape: Gad Island tower, a schoolhouse, a boathouse, a hexagonal tea house and the romantic ruins of Old Crom Castle.
Northern Ireland Environment Agency owned Tully Castle is another garden delight in Fermanagh. The agency have created a beautiful formal garden although not intended to be an accurate reconstruction of a renaissance-style formal garden, it give a flavour of how a garden in this early period might have looked.
And if you are feeling creative in Fermanagh, why not visit Northern Ireland’s only Eco Barn at Orchard Acre Farm. Enthusiastic owner Teresa specialises in delivering creative craft, cookery, green living and gardening courses. Courses can cover all aspects of growing food to organic principles, small garden food production, gardening for wildlife and garden madness for families and kids. Lots of food for thought!
Drum Manor Forest Park, County Tyrone is the most centrally located Forest Park in the province, lying immediately south of the Sperrin Mountains and west of Lough Neagh. It has a beautiful walled butterfly garden with 4 trails of varying lengths. The Park is also home to an arboretum and splendid views across parkland down to twin artificial lakes.
It’s not just within the formal gardens of Northern Ireland that you will discover exciting and unusual flora and fauna. Take a trip to Peatlands Park, County Tyrone to explore the history and heritage of Northern Ireland’s bogland. Within the park are two National Nature Reserves, declared as such for their unique flora and fauna species, many of which are found nowhere else in Northern Ireland.
To find out about Sundew – a rare plant found in local boglands, visit the An Creagán Visitor Centre, County Tyrone and follow the Biodiversity Trail walk. Waymarker signs along the winding gravel paths and boardwalks allow visitors to experience both woodland and wetland habitats where a variety of flora and fauna can be observed, including badgers, foxes and red squirrels. The natural landscape is also a haven for many wild birds - some 33 species have been recorded - among them the Whinchat, which has been seen breeding in the young trees at the edge of the bog, an uncommon sight in Northern Ireland.
An unusual garden experience for all the family can be found at Woodview Garden Centre and Land of Little Animals, Omagh, just one mile from the Ulster American Folk Park. At this busy location you will find the Garden Creations Garden Centre, a gift and coffee shop, as well as the Land of Little Animals visitor attraction where both young and old get to meet numerous small furry friends!