Northern Ireland has a rich garden heritage with some of the most magnificent gardens in Europe. 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. Check out our guide to some of the country’s unique heritage, must-see gardens and seasonal events taking place this summer!
Unique to Northern Ireland
The Peace Maze at Castlewellan Forest Park, County Down, is the largest and longest hedge maze in the world – it’s planted with 6,000 yew trees! It 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’s also a maze in the shape of Northern Ireland with seven central spaces, one for each county 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 gaze upon the magnificent spreading branches of the handkerchief tree Davidia involucrata. It has massive wide spreading branches which are 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 six pence (approx 75p) and planted in Rowallane by then owner Hugh Armytage Moore.
Must see Gardens
Mount Stewart, Newtownards, Co. Down
Mount Stewart 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
Florence Court enjoys a peaceful setting in west Fermanagh, 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 summer house.
The Argory, Co. Armagh/ Tyrone
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.
Castle Ward, Strangford, Co. Down
Castle Ward 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.
What’s on this Summer
Garden Festival Hillsborough
17th- 19th May – Hillborough Castle
Taking place in the stunning setting of the private gardens of Hillsborough Castle, from May 17 – 19, is this year’s Garden Show Ireland which will feature over 200 exhibitors and promises to offer something for every generation. Visitors to the show will be treated to three days packed full of show gardens, plants and flowers galore, garden ideas, demonstrations and expert advice, children’s gardening fun, kiddies’ wheelbarrow races, stalls of all kinds, home-made food, craft workshops, cream teas, jazz and wine on the lawn, entertainment, and a lot of fun for every age group.
International Bread Festival
25th-27th May, Castle Ward
Bread, blues and bikes is the theme of the International Bread Festival, the three day spectacular event delivers an extravaganza of activities across the bank holiday weekend including headline celebrity chefs, baking demonstrations, breads and foods from around the world, taster sessions, bread talks and speciality foods. Other features of the festival include a U105 Road Show and self-guided tours of Castle Ward house. Day two boasts an exciting evening of blues music with an exclusive concert by music legend Van Morrison and to complete the festival weekend bikers from across Ireland are encouraged to get on their motorbikes, push bikes and vintage bicycles and tour around Strangford Lough followed by live music on the front lawn.
Explore Bangor Castle Walled Garden
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. 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 Rose Week
Belfast’s Rose Week, a true celebration of Northern Ireland’s rose heritage, is back from July 15 – 21, in the stunning grounds of Sir Thomas & 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.
Antrim Garden Trail
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 county 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.
For further information on gardens, parks & opening times go to http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/gardens/ Why not enjoy a short break whilst you discover our magnificent grounds and secret gardens, you’ll find great offers on accommodation with many hotels stating from only £49 per room.