"No selection of the world's most exciting gardens would be complete without those found in Northern Ireland. Mount Stewart, Rowallane Gardens and Belfast Botanic Gardens are justifiably famous then there are the many lesser known gems including the arboretum at Brook House in Londonderry whose fine trees from around the world never cease to amaze and impress me."
Roy Lancaster VHM, plantsman, lecturer, writer and broadcaster, member of RHS Floral Committee B
(Roy Lancaster is a highly respected horticulturalist, broadcaster and writer. He has authored many gardening titles, including What Plant Where?, What Perennial Where? and What Houseplant Where? He writes regularly for the RHS journal, The Garden and is an RHS committee member. Roy lives in Hampshire.)
Northern Ireland has made several significant contributions to horticulture:
- Northern Ireland has been the ‘breeding ground’ for many new plant varieties produced by numerous talented nurserymen. Many superb varieties of trees and shrubs native to the southern hemisphere have been introduced by Slieve Donard (Newcastle) and the Daisy Hill (Newry) nurseries. To name but a few Escallonia Donard Seedling, Eucryphia x intermedia ‘Rostrevor’.
- Northern Ireland has been a centre of rose breeding since the late 19th centrury and is home to the world's oldest rose breeding family, the Dicksons of Newtownards, County Down. Colin Dickson is the sixth generation to carry on the tradition! Famous roses produced by the Dicksons Nursery include Shot Silk, Innisfree, Grandpa Dickson and Elina, which was added to the World Rose Hall of Fame during the International Rose Convention meeting in Japan, 2006. Check out a short video produced by Jon Danzig about the Dicksons (late 1980s).
- Rose breeding continues to be hugely popular today and with so many new rose varieties, it’s no surprise that the rose growing community has taken to naming many of the new roses after famous people or celebrities. For example, George Best has a beautiful pinkish red flower named in his honour and the ‘Belfast Boy’ is in good company with celebrity roses named after Hollywood superstars Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn, singers Paul McCartney and Dolly Parton!
- The daffodil world has benefited from the intricate and patient breeding by Guy L Wilson, Brian Duncan, William Dunlop, Sir Frank Harrison, Kate Reade, Nial Watson and Tom Bloomer…all from Northern Ireland.
- Northern Ireland has the distinction of cultivating the Irish yew, a dense, dark and fastigiated tree. Around 1760 a County Fermanagh farmer, George Willis found two young yew trees displaying a graceful upright shape in the Cuilcagh Mountains. He planted one in his garden and gave one to his landlord, Lord Enniskillen, who planted it at Florence Court, County Fermanagh. The Florence Court tree prospered and soon became known as the ‘Florence Court Yew’, its popular shape led to the tree being commercially propagated in 1820 and today all fastigiated yews across the world can be said to have derived from that one tree. It is known affectionately as the ‘Mother of all Irish Yew trees’!
- Hans Sloane of Killyleagh, County Down was a founder of The Chelsea Physic Garden. Founded in 1673, as the Apothecaries’ Garden, with the purpose of training apprentices in identifying plants. The nearby locations of Sloane Square and Sloane Street were named after Dr. Hans Sloane. Along the Ards Penninsula at Greyabbey you can visit our own Physic Garden.
- Throughout the history of botanical exploration, Irish men and women have made a significant contribution to our knowledge of the earth’s flora and the introduction of garden worthy plants from their native habitats. The greatest of all of these collectors was a modest man from Londonderry, Dr Augustine Henry. Born on 2nd July 1857, Henry grew up in Tyanee, County Londonderry and studied at both Queen’s College Galway and Belfast, before receiving his medical degree in Edinburgh.