Paradise Garden Club

The gardens were always known as the Pleasure Grounds. Hardly surprising as they have given so much pleasure to members of the family and in the years we have been here to many visitors.

My gardening career at Ballywalter Park started when I saw a tree, precisely framed by the kitchen table; where I stand to knead my bread dough. It looked like a blob. It is a Quercus ilex which has an untidy habit; it puts its branches down to the ground where they root and start a new tree which eventually splits the original trunk. I gathered what equipment I needed and started the job by giving the tree a fringe cut from inside the canopy. This revealed a beautiful trunk, many branches that had rooted as explained and a 50 old oak. The trunk was incredibly beautiful, a proper tree. It is a tree I look at daily and it gives me immense pleasure

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For many years my husband and I worked on the very overgrown parkland. Every year for about 6-8 weeks from the 1st of February till the end of March, we would cut and pull away branches recreating the vistas planned by our forebears. This is the policy we still follow. We are lucky to have the garden diaries of the 3rd Lord Dunleath who was an exceptional dendrologist. His plans and methods are used to inform the choices we now make in the Pleasure Grounds. These have all the features you would expect of an 18th and 19th century garden. There are many walks created to show off the most beautiful rhododendrons, shrubs and trees. During lockdown we recreated two walks that had become overgrown over the decades since 3rd Lord Dunleath’s death in 1956. One walk has the very uninviting name of Swamp Ride. It is quite swampy during the winter but in May – June it has a spectacular wetland with wild irises that flower all at once.


We also recreated a walk in what used to be known as Rose Hill. This area was so overgrown by invasive species it could not be cleared as a one off project. Instead the garden team created a romantic walk through what used to be the west side of the Rose Hill and now ensure it is maintained, whilst still cutting back and expanding the work started in 2020. It is now a charming walk with areas opened up giving view points where you glimpse a rare or overgrown specimens that has not been seen for years or further views of the Pleasure Grounds. The reflection pools and streams have in the last few years been weeded in the autumn with the aim of allowing the stream to look beautifully overgrown in the summer. This creates a habitat that benefits biodiversity both in the water and on land. In winter it does what it was designed for, reflect the trees and shrubs planted along the edges. We have a very diverse wildlife here. Ottars swim up the culvert from the Irish Sea and feed on the eels that swim through in the winter months. In the spring they galumph around the rockery looking for ground nesting ducks which offers a delicious morsel of duck egg. The Rose Hill is home to our hedgehogs and migrating and native birds sing their hearts out all year round but mostly in spring.


The Walled Garden is a particularly special sanctuary. In my research as a food historian I discovered that the word paradise is Pashto for walled garden. This is a paradise for humans as well as insects and birds. Not only do we grow all the fruit and vegetables that we need in the house we also sow and plant in such a way that we support a number of beehives. We have created pollinator bed with flowers that keep our biodiversity healthy. We use no spray, artificial fertiliser or fungicides to improve the environment and we have not for 6 years. From time to time we supply some of the restaurants in Belfast, mostly when we have a glut of produce. Like any garden it is in constant development which is one of the special joys of gardening… it is never ending. Come and see for yourself by clicking on the visits page.

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