Har­ness­ing the en­ergy of youth

The Walled Gar­den, Gle­n­arm Cas­tle, North­ern Ire­land A shel­tered cli­mate and reg­u­lar show­ers have en­abled new plant­ings in the rein­vig­o­rated walled gar­den of an old Ir­ish cas­tle to thrive in all their vivid splen­dour, finds Non Mor­ris

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by Val Cor­bett

Non Mor­ris vis­its the mag­nif­i­cently rein­vig­o­rated walled gar­den at Gle­n­arm Cas­tle, North­ern Ire­land

The Walled Gar­den at Gle­n­arm Cas­tle is fash­ion­ably sit­u­ated—fash­ion­able for the first part of the 19th cen­tury at least—a few min­utes’ walk away from the im­pos­ing four-tow­ered mass of the house it­self. The cas­tle is home of Ran­dal and Aurora Mcdon­nell, Vis­count and Vis­count­ess Dun­luce. Ran­dal’s favourite ap­proach to the gar­den is via the shady av­enue of shaggy Mon­terey cy­press. The av­enue was once so shady and tun­nel-like that, when the army was sta­tioned at the cas­tle dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, tanks parked along its length were com­pletely hid­den from view. You en­ter the gar­den through the sim­ple green painted Bell Gate, al­most hid­den among the drapes of clema­tis that are trained over the high stone walls.

The ex­plo­sion of fiery colour that greets you—an elon­gated, per­fectly graded cash reg­is­ter of fiery reds, yel­lows and blues—is as sur­pris­ing as it is ex­hil­a­rat­ing. The use of colour and form here in the hot Bor­der is ex­em­plary. There are crim­son dahlias (in­clud­ing Aurora’s favourite star­shaped Dahlia Marie Sch­nugg), their reds made more in­tense by the elec­tric blue of Salvia patens. The del­i­cate arch­ing form of the clear lemonyel­low Cro­cos­mia Cit­ronella is echoed at the back of the bor­der by Inula

mag­nifica, its deeper shade of yel­low soft enough to sit com­fort­ably next to tow­er­ing stands of bruised-mauve

Eu­pa­to­rium pur­pureum.

Perk­ing things up through­out, in that quirky se­cret-ingredient way achieved by only the most mag­i­cal borders, are pock­ets of Po­ten­tilla nepalen­sis Rox­ana, with its ringed salmon-coloured flow­ers and the pink-flushed bells of Pen­ste­mon dig­i­talis husker Red, whose bur­gundy stems and pale flow­ers add sub­tlety and depth to its siz­zling neigh­bours.

It was the for­mi­da­ble Anne Cather­ine Mcdon­nell—count­ess of Antrim in her own right—who de­cided against a kitchen gar­den closer to both the house and nearby Ir­ish Sea and built the cur­rent four-acre Walled Gar­den in the 1820s us­ing lime­stone quar­ried from the demesne. The Count­ess also un­der­took a Ro­man­tic trans­for­ma­tion of the house, in­clud­ing the ad­di­tion of a castel­lated Bar­bican Gate.

She planted a mon­u­men­tal cir­cu­lar yew hedge in the lower part of the gar­den and in­stalled an enor­mous five-bay glasshouse.

Twenty gar­den­ers pro­duced ten­der and out-of-sea­son fruit and veg­eta­bles for the house­hold, with fur­ther spe­cial houses for figs, pineap­ples and mush­rooms.

By the close of the cen­tury, pri­or­i­ties had changed and the Walled Gar­den had be­come in­creas­ingly or­na­men­tal. There are wa­ter­colours of colour­ful herba­ceous borders painted by Louisa, Count­ess of Antrim in 1900 and scrap­book pho­to­graphs show em­i­nent plantswoman Ellen Will­mott vis­it­ing Gle­n­arm to ad­vise on roses.

The 20th cen­tury was a chal­leng­ing time for walled gar­dens ev­ery­where. The only fur­ther last­ing con­tri­bu­tion to Gle­n­arm’s Walled Gar­den was made in the 1950s by the 13th Earl of Antrim, who planted a Beech Cir­cle in the up­per part of the gar­den to echo the 100-year-old Yew Cir­cle and added a splen­did pair of ser­pen­tine beech hedges.

Ran­dal was given the key to the Bar­bican Gate in 1992, when he was only 25. ‘By the time I took on the Walled Gar­den, it was com­pletely derelict bar the yew cir­cle, the beech cir­cle and a few shrubs,’ he ex­plains, ‘but I didn’t hes­i­tate. I had al­ways loved this place. It had sagged rather, but it was very ex­cit­ing to be able to stop it sag for a bit.’

Har­ness­ing the ‘en­ergy and the op­ti­mism of youth’, and en­cour­aged by an en­thu­si­as­tic es­tate man­ager of sim­i­lar age, Ran­dal, with 600 years of fam­ily his­tory nip­ping at his heels, set about restor­ing the dispir­it­ing four acres and turn­ing it into a beau­ti­fully or­dered, at­mo­spheric and up­lift­ing space.

He rel­ished the chal­lenge of set­ting out the ‘bones’ of the gar­den, im­me­di­ately and in­tu­itively plant­ing fur­ther hedges of beech and yew to guide the eye and form vel­vety back­drops, in­stalling an av­enue of Ir­ish yew at the top of the gar­den for a calm place to walk and sit and cloth­ing the west-fac­ing wall be­hind it with bright red Dis­cov­ery ap­ples that now grow in ridicu­lously per­fect tri­an­gles like gi­ant sam­pler shapes.

The col­laps­ing 100-yard-long glasshouse—ev­ery pane of which was ag­o­nis­ingly rhom­boid rather than rec­tan­gu­lar—was re­stored and the few re­main­ing spec­i­men trees, in­clud­ing a spec­tac­u­lar cin­na­mon-barked Chilean myr­tle, were nur­tured back to good health.

Things re­ally started mo­tor­ing when the Mc­don­nells asked Nigel Mar­shall, newly re­tired head gar­dener of Mount Ste­wart, to help them de­velop the gar­den, es­pe­cially the borders. ‘Nigel was a turn­ing point,’ ex­plains Aurora. ‘He was in­spi­ra­tional.’

Aurora knew lit­tle about gar­den­ing when she ar­rived at Gle­n­arm, but has been a hun­gry learner and has

be­come a sen­si­tive and sup­port­ive driv­ing force in the team. A se­ries of stilted lime hedges—

Tilia platy­phyl­los Rubra—was planted, which now of­fer im­mac­u­lately framed views of the Hot Bor­der and the hand­some white glasshouse fur­ther up the gar­den, with its sim­ple an­chor­ing bor­der of cat­mint.

As you turn the cor­ner at the top of the Hot Bor­der, you re­alise that the lime hedge keeps the cool sil­very Dou­ble Borders as a won­der­ful sur­prise. The plant­ing in the Dou­ble Borders is ex­quis­ite: pale rock­ets of pas­tel-coloured fox­gloves, del­i­cately arch­ing an­gels’ fish­ing rods and airy tow­ers of white Lysi­machia epher­merum set against the inky green of the yew cir­cle.

An arch in the yew of­fers tan­ta­lis­ing glimpses of the Herb Gar­den. Here, framed by bay trees un­der­planted with wild straw­berry, the bright-yel­low but­tons of Tanace­tum

vul­gare clash hap­pily with the dustier yel­low of the head­ily scented curry plant. To one side, an el­e­gant, par­tic­u­larly slow-grow­ing mag­no­lia,

Mag­no­lia de­nudata, qui­etly en­joys its spread­ing ma­tu­rity.

The Walled Gar­den at Gle­n­arm opened to an en­thu­si­as­tic pub­lic in 2005 and has con­tin­ued to evolve—thought­fully and with imag­i­na­tion. A stone rill com­mis­sioned from ar­chi­tect Jill Lambert runs sure­foot­edly be­tween a pair of hedges to a rec­tan­gu­lar pool at the cen­tre of the Beech Cir­cle. It is the gen­tle de­tail of lin­ing the rill with egg-shaped pebbles brought up from the beach that makes the dif­fer­ence and, as head gar­dener James Wharry ob­serves, the morn­ing light on the gen­tly mov­ing wa­ter is mag­i­cal.

Feel­ing that the up­per part of the gar­den still lacked co­he­sion, the Mc­don­nells turned to friend and land­scape de­signer Cather­ine Fitzger­ald, who came up with a deeply sat­is­fy­ing de­sign for six or­na­men­tal gar­dens in sep­a­rate rooms, five to pay homage to the orig­i­nal pro­duc­tive func­tion of a walled gar­den and a Mount to take

the sixth space. There is now a gar­den of crab ap­ples un­der­planted with tulips fol­lowed by cot­tage-gar­den an­nu­als, a Pear Gar­den, a young Cherry Gar­den with a re­strained struc­tural pat­tern of box balls, and perhaps the two most suc­cess­ful gar­dens: an Ap­ple Or­chard, with mown paths through long grass laced with frit­il­lar­ies, ragged robin and ca­mas­sia, and the Med­lar Gar­den, with 24 nat­u­rally kinky-trunked med­lars and

box-edged parter­res filled with airy, light-catch­ing com­bi­na­tions such as Stipa gi­gan­tea and Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis.

The Mount is a tri­umph. Half­way up, your eye is filled with kalei­do­scopic colour from all cor­ners of the gar­den and, at the top, it’s an added plea­sure to see how deftly the el­e­ments of the gar­den fit to­gether, to glimpse the house through a screen of fine trees and to un­der­stand the jewel-box qual­ity of the gar­den in the con­text of the wilder coun­try­side beyond.

I try to take it all in—the new Hy­drangea Bor­der planted by cur­rent gar­den ad­vi­sor Reg Maxwell (for­mer cu­ra­tor of the Belfast Botanic Gar­dens) and the East Bor­der, in which a lime­stone sculp­ture of Madonna

and Child carved by Ran­dal’s grand­mother, An­gela Sykes, when she was 16, nes­tles among tall grasses and volup­tuous tree pe­onies.

As we turn to leave, Ran­dal points out a tow­er­ing palm tree emerg­ing from a bank of ma­ture wood­land be­hind the gar­den ‘grown from the stone of a Christ­mas date planted by my aunt be­fore the Sec­ond World War’. It hasn’t quite stopped rain­ing all day, but it’s warm and there’s a con­stant feel­ing of gen­tle light break­ing through. This is clearly a won­der­ful place for grow­ing things and the Walled Gar­den at Gle­n­arm is a tes­ta­ment to the end­less nur­tur­ing en­thu­si­asm and cre­ativ­ity of those who care for it.

The Walled Gar­den at Gle­n­arm Cas­tle, Gle­n­arm, Bal­ly­mena, North­ern Ire­land (028–2884 1203; www. gle­n­arm­cas­tle.com). The Walled Gar­den and Tea Room are open un­til mid Oc­to­ber; Mon­day–satur­day 10am–5pm, Sun­day 11am– 5pm. The 11th Gle­n­arm Cas­tle Tulip Fes­ti­val runs from April 29 to May 1

The Hot Bor­der leads to the Bell Gate of the Walled Gar­den. The dahlias in­clude Marie Sch­nugg, Fas­ci­na­tion and Bishop of Llandaff

The Herb Gar­den within the Yew Cir­cle. Wild straw­ber­ries grow un­der the stan­dard bay trees, joined by a range of culi­nary herbs, in­clud­ing fen­nel, oregano, marigold, bor­age, mint and thyme

Right: Flow­er­ing its head off: a Chilean myr­tle

(Myr­tus luma) in the Lower Gar­den

Above: A cir­cu­lar lawn at the cen­tre of the Pear Gar­den, where es­paliered pears are un­der­planted with tulips in spring and dahlias in sum­mer

The cas­tle, seen from the top of the demesne, with a view out on to the North Chan­nel

The Dou­ble Borders in early sum­mer, punc­tu­ated with vary­ing shades of pink, mauve and white fox­gloves, Stachys byzantina and irises

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