We depart from London Gatwick airport on our flight to Belfast (flights from other regional airports may also be available at a supplement – please contact us for details).
Upon arrival we will join our coach and transfer to our first visit, Antrim Castle Gardens, an absolute historical gem. These unique gardens, located close to Antrim town centre, recently underwent a major restoration on many of the key features which date back to the late 17th century. The site features a number of notable new, restored and ornamental gardens which retain a strong sense of history and intimacy.
We continue to The Richardson’s Walled Garden, set in the tranquil landscaped grounds of Greenmount Campus. The garden has a dramatic, formal framework with softer planting within. Intricate Celtic knot gardens and a small maze throw a wonderful contrast to the colourful mixed borders and rose beds. Pleached lime trees, formal yew hedges and a large trellis clad pergola contrast with the informal potager planting of fruit and vegetables amongst ornamental plants.
Following our visit we continue to our hotel, the comfortable Dunadry Hotel in Dunadry, County Antrim, where we will enjoy dinner in the evening.
Following breakfast, we travel to Mount Stewart, the dazzling and idiosyncratic gardens which bask in the micro-climate of low rainfall and humid coastal air that exists here. The Italian Garden south of the house is in the form of a giant parterre, edged in startling golden thuja or smouldering purple berberis and filled with plantings of carmine, yellow and scarlet on one side, with cooler blue, lavender and grey on the other. Elsewhere, there is a Spanish garden with huge eucalyptuses looming in the woods behind, and an exuberant and formal sunken garden surrounded by a fine pergola planted with clematis, honeysuckle and roses. The entrance façade of the house overlooks an entirely different landscape, a scene of serenity with noble trees leading gently uphill to a lake. East of the lake are blood-red and orange rhododendrons and the banks of the lake are planted with long drifts of arum lily. This is one of the most attractive and stimulating gardens, where traditional features are carried off with exuberance and panache.
In the afternoon we move on to Rowallane Garden. The first impression is one of mystery as you approach the house through a dark tunnel of conifers and rhododendrons, but this is quickly dispelled by the flower-filled spectacle which opens up before you. The liveliest gardening is to be found in the walled garden, where mixed borders are stuffed with big old shrubs and the occasional rare rhododendron animates the scene. Astilbes, hostas, meconopsis, primulas and much else form the underplanting. The walled garden has a kind of inner sanctum, where a lawn is planted with specimen trees and shrubs. Outside the walled gardens a walk through ramparts of rhododendrons leads to a naturalistic rock garden planted with azaleas, daphnes, olearias and pieris.
Dinner will be served back at our hotel in the evening.
After our full Irish breakfast, we will spend the day touring a selection of gardens in Co Antrim. We travel to the scenic Antrim coast, where we visit the gardens at Glenarm Castle, the 400 year-old home of the Earls of Antrim. Originally created to supply the Castle with its fruit and vegetables, and one of the oldest in Ireland, the Walled Garden is now filled with exciting flowers and specimen plants with rich displays of herbaceous plants. There is also a wonderfully scented herb garden, surrounded by a circular yew hedge, which features four stone capitols which came from the Earl-Bishop’s palace at Downhill in Co Derry.
We continue along the beautiful Antrim coast, to visit the famous Giant’s Causeway via the picturesque village of Cushendall. The 37,000 hexagonal basaltic columns were created by ancient volcanic eruptions some 60 million years ago, along the same chain of seismic activity that created Fingal’s Cave on Staffa, a hundred miles or so to the north. Of course, there is also a more romantic explanation – that it was built by the giant Finn McCool, as the consequence of a gargantuan spat with a Scottish adversary, although another version of the legend has it that he was merely trying to reach his girlfriend. Either way it is an impressive sight.
In the afternoon we head inland for the gardens at Benvarden in Ballymoney. Like Glenarm, this garden has been in the same family for centuries and it too boasts a fine walled garden. There is also a rose garden, a box and lavender parterre, a well-stocked kitchen garden with hot houses; a vinery, melon house and espalier-trained apple trees against the high curved brick walls.
We stay at the four-star, riverfront Da Vinci’s Hotel in Londonderry tonight, and for the remainder of our tour.
After breakfast, we visit Glenveagh National Park, once an enormous private estate, its steep valley sides clothed in natural woodland of oak and birch. At the park’s centre we find Glenveagh Castle, a late 19th century castellated mansion which was originally built as a hunting lodge. Surrounding the castle are Scots pine woodlands and gardens boasting a multitude of luxurious exotic plants which contrast strikingly with the surrounding barren landscape. Further highlights include the Walled Garden, the Italian Terrace and Tuscan Garden.
We continue to Oakfield Park, a Georgian Deanery, which has won several National awards for the restoration of its gardens and buildings. Sitting in a lush landscape of parklands and mature woodlands, it features a large lake, planted with reeds and wild flowers, which is home to swans and abundant wildlife. There are also flower meadows, willow tunnels, oak circles, heritage trees and classical Nymphaeum by the upper lake.
We return to our hotel in time for dinner.
We check out of our hotel after breakfast, and travel to our final visit, Hampstead Hall, a fascinating city garden in the suburbs of Derry. Aside from the formal garden in front of the late Georgian house, it also features traditional Japanese and Italian gardens, as well as some lovely exotic plantings.
Following this, we transfer to Belfast for our return flight.