Inspirational Garden Visits

I have just returned from a wonderful trip around Northern Ireland. Mr B and I visited the beautifully restored walled garden at Glenarm Castle, one of Ireland’s oldest walled gardens, (created in the 18th century) and the 6-acre Ballyrobert Cottage garden (an RHS partner garden, which also has a mail order nursery) as well as revisiting the magnificent National Trust gardens in Rowallane and Mount Stewart with its fantastic topiary.

Topiary in Mount Stewart

We also fitted in a walk through Castle Ward (an 18th-century National Trust property), the walls and museums of Derry/Londonderry and the magical stepping stones of the Giant’s Causeway. Scientists tell us the 40,000 interlocking basalt columns are the outcome of an ancient volcanic eruption 50 to 60 million years ago, but legend has it they are the work of the giant, Finn MacCool. He built the causeway across the North Channel to Scotland so he could fight the fight the Scottish giant, Benandonner (Benandonner lost the fight after being tricked by Finn’s wife, Oonagh). I prefer the legend.

We wobbled across the 20 metre Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge (while peering down 30 metres to the sea and rocks below) and finished with a family party in Newcastle, County Down where the “Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea”. The sun shone, the grass was lush and my heart strings were pulled, as they always are, by a visit home, especially to Strangford Lough with its clusters of drowned drumlin islands – the “basket of eggs”.

In September we also visited some stunning gardens in Somerset – the Piet Oudolf garden around the Hauser and Wirth art gallery near Bruton (only planted 2 years ago), Stavordale Priory, Yarlington House and Pen Mill Farm.

The net result of all these beautiful borders, clipped evergreens, immaculate lawns, smooth paths and perfect edges was a feeling of despair and mild panic when I walked around Upper Green garden on our return. The grass is unkempt, paving is far from even and borders have been beaten into submission by rain storms. It all looks dishevelled and very end of season. Is it time for a significant revamp after 30 years? And if so where to start?