A couple enjoy a stroll around the Palm House in Belfast Botanical Gardens.
Explore the world of Northern Ireland horticulture and you’ll uncover a great many interesting facts that could surprise even the most inquisitive.
Read on, you might need these for gardener’s question time.
1. We’re renowned for roses
Northern Ireland has been a centre of rose growing since the late 19th century and in fact Newtownards is home to the world’s oldest rose breeding family, the Dicksons. Colin Dickson is the sixth generation of his family to carry on its rosy and award-winning traditions. His rose nursery has produced many famous and gold standard plants, and can even name a rose for special occasions or as a gift.
2. The mother of all Irish yews lives here
The millions of Irish yew trees all across the world all come from just one source in Northern Ireland.
In the 1700s, a County Fermanagh farmer found two seedlings displaying a graceful upright shape growing on a hillside. He planted one in his garden and gave the other to his landlord, Lord Enniskillen, who planted it at Florence Court. The Florence Court Yew prospered and its popular contours led to it being commercially propagated in 1820. Still standing today, the original is known affectionately as the mother of all Irish yews.
3. We’re good with borders
The herbaceous borders in Belfast’s Botanic Gardens are believed to be the longest on the island of Ireland. Comprising 2,000 square metres of herbaceous perennials, spring shrubs, bamboos and grasses, they look their most colourful in summer, though the beauty of the grasses and bamboo still shines through in the winter months.
4. We’re no dozers with daffodils
It’s no wonder the country is ablaze with beautiful daffodils in spring – some of the world’s best narcissus experts have sprung from Northern Ireland. The multi award-winning Brian Duncan from Omagh is one of the pre-eminent daffodil hybridizers in the world today, and he follows Guy L Wilson, Lionel and Helen Richardson, William Dunlop and more, who have brought daffodil breeding to new heights. The extensive daffodil garden at Ulster University’s Coleraine campus is dedicated to Guy Wilson, who was from Broughshane.
5. There’s a lawn for smelly feet
The herb garden at the pretty Springhill House is designed around a scented camomile lawn, no doubt because the Elizabethans enjoyed the fragrant scent that filled the air as they walked on the soft, springy turf. Back in the day, when greeting guests, Lady Conyngham cleverly encouraged gentlemen visitors to remove their boots and enjoy a stroll on the lawn. This way, her drawing room ‘odours’ stayed sweet.
6. We have a record-breaking rhododendron
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. (Currently closed for refurbishment until July 2018).The plant can be found in the Granville Garden, which was replanted by Lady Granville, aunt to HM The Queen, in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In bloom, the flowers are deep pink.
7. There’s a show of handkerchiefs
A rare handkerchief tree, Davidia involucrata, stands in Rowallane Garden. Its large spreading branches are laden with beautiful, fluttering, white tissue-like flowers, and for many gardeners May time each year means a pilgrimage to gaze upon its magnificence. The species comes from a remote region in China and was once considered the Holy Grail of exotic flora. This particular tree was purchased in 1904 for seven shillings, six pence and planted by Rowallane’s then owner, Hugh Armytage Moore.
9. There’s 500-year-old oak tree
The oldest oak tree so far found in Northern Ireland has been dated to 1642 and can be seen at Belvoir Park Forest. Though gnarled, hollow and alive with insects and fungi, it has a giant girth of eight metres and is probably in the last stages of its life. The tree is one of a significant number of ancient oaks contained within the forest.
10. Mazes aren’t lost on us
The Peace Maze at Castlewellan Forest Park is among the longest permanent hedge mazes in the world. It’s planted with 6,000 yew trees, covers nearly three acres and has 2.18 miles of pathway. It was the longest permanent hedge maze until pipped by the Pineapple Garden Maze in Hawaii in 2007. At Carnfunnock Country Park there’s a maze in the shape of Northern Ireland, and another at Seaforde Gardens is the oldest in the country.