A few weeks ago we went away for a long weekend to County Down to visit the parents of a good friend of mine. It was a really nice break and I enjoyed it immensely. It felt like being at my home in America (except there was alcohol involved — hey, it is Ireland after all).
But beyond my absolute pleasure at not having to wash dishes or cook for a whole weekend, I got to do one of my favourite things in the world — visit a big garden. And all the better that it just so happens to be a National Trust garden and one that has loads of mature and fantastic trees. The phrase ‘pig in shit’ comes to mind; I suppose it’s a bit crude, but it comes the closest to expressing my happiness at being able to visit Rowallane.
Rowallane was created in the 1860s by a man called Reverand John Moore. It’s a big demesne-type place located in Saintfield, Co. Down which is about 10km from Belfast. It’s not as big as a landlord house but is a nice, big substantial house with acres of garden. There is a lovely and fairly large walled garden around the house and then the landscape beyond is full of mature trees and a rock garden. The soil must be fairly acidic because Rowallane is known for its rhododendrons and azaleas (not my favourite genus, it must be said, but having seen some different, more unusual species has allowed me to be more open-minded about them).
It is also the holder of the National Collection of Penstemon (which just looked like a pile of mush at this time of year — anyway, I’ve given up on Penstemons after the two cold winters we had. You can keep your half-hardy perennials, life it too short…). There is also a nice little collection of lace-cap Hydrangea in the walled garden. They were still flowering mightily thanks to the microclimate within the walls.
This time of year (it was just after Halloween actually) was a great time to visit Rowallane (by the way, it’s pronounced ‘Roe Alan’ — I say this because I wasn’t sure myself until I heard my friend say it). The colour was fabulous. I’ve mentioned before that there is really no place like the northeastern part of the United States for autumn colour, but I will have to repeat my belief that there is something even richer about the deep, earthy, subtle colours of the autumn leaves in Ireland.
Rowallane really underscores that belief.
I have only one complaint about the place — plant labelling. There were a few name tags but I’d say 75 percent of the time I went looking I couldn’t find a name anywhere. And I do like my Latin names. So I must apologise if I can’t name the plants in my photos. I hope you’ll enjoy them just the same.
Next time… Pruning living willow structures at the little garden.