Did you know that some of the most magnificent gardens in Europe are in Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland has a rich garden heritage with some of the most magnificent gardens in Europe.This summer the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) is encouraging people to make the most of this time of year by visiting some of these stunning outdoor spaces.

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.

NITB’s market manager (ROI) Fiona Cunningham said: “Northern Ireland is full of landscaped gardens, quaint hidden gems and lesser known garden walks and trails and each one offers the perfect place to spend a spring or summer afternoon out with friends or family.

“Whether you are a gardening enthusiast or you simply love spending time outdoors there are plenty of tranquil surroundings and beautiful blooms for you to explore. There is also a whole host of garden events that will be taking place this year to thrill green-fingered visitors and families alike,” she added.

To make sure you make the most out of Northern Ireland’s gardening scene, NITB has has shared with us some of the country’s unique heritage, must-see gardens and seasonal events taking place.

UNIQUE TO NORTHERN IRELAND

Amaze’n
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.

Double Take
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.

Rho kiddin’
The largest rhododendron bush in Europe, as verified by the Guinness Book of Records, can be found in the magnificent gardens inside the walls of Hillsborough Castle. Hillsborough Castle and Gardens are open to the public for tours each Saturday in May and June.

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.

Glenarm Castle Gardens, Ballymena, Co. Antrim
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, when the garden is still rich with displays of herbaceous plants.

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.

Rowallane Garden, Saintfield, Co. Down
An enchanting garden enclosed within a demesne landscape. It was laid out from the mid-1860’s by the Reverend John Moore and afterwards by his nephew, the plantsman and selector Hugh Armytage Moore, who established and developed connections with seedsmen and botanic gardens throughout the world. The garden reflects the beautiful natural landscape of the surrounding area with spectacular displays of shrubs and several areas managed as wildflower meadows.

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.

Other features include the Sunken Garden with grass banks and Irish Yew trees and the Rock Garden created on a natural outcrop. The parkland grounds at Castle Ward are ideal for those interested in garden history and visitors can enjoy walking trails, an exotic garden, stunning vistas and a picturesque farmyard as well as woodland, lakeside and parkland walks with stunning viewpoints.

EVENTS
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. There will be a star appearance by celebrity gardener Monty Don and visitors will be able to explore the gardens and parkland of Hillsborough Castle. The house itself, with its magnificent rooms, will be open each day for tours at a reduced rate to Garden Show visitors.

Bread, blues and bikes is the theme of the International Bread Festival taking place at Castle Ward, Strangford, Co Down, from May 25 - 27. The three day spectacular event delivers an extravaganza of activities across the weekend including headline celebrity chefs, baking demonstrations, breads and foods from around the world, taster sessions, bread talks, speciality foods. Visitors can also enjoy a self-guided tour 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.

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. The Walled Garden was never open to the public when it was built in the 1840s and has recently been restored by North Down Borough Council. 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’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. 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, an historical section, and a heritage garden that displays the best of the roses from local breeders.

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.

The trail offers garden enthusiasts, groups, families and couples great variety as well as a unique insight into County Antrim. Each of the nine stunning spaces are a haven for garden lovers and some of the features waiting to be discovered include 17th century and Victorian ornamental gardens, unique sundials, a cobbled stable yard, two of Europe’s finest early greenhouses and a hornbeam maze in the shape of Northern Ireland.

To learn more about Northern Ireland’s gardens, unmissable events and seasonal highlights or for further information on places to stay or things to see and do in Northern Ireland contact the Northern Ireland Tourist Board on callsave 1850 230 230 or click on www.discovernorthernireland.com

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