Not to be Sneezed At

The gardeners are planting like mad at the moment and the Italian Garden and the Sunk Garden beds are as full as a Chelsea Show Garden. Look out for blue plumbago and standard scarlet geraniums amongst others – this is going to be one colourful summer season!

But, while we wait, some of our most interesting plants are in flower just now. A favourite of our visitors is the Handkerchief Tree, the first one is in full bract at the moment on the Drive.

1

And a close-up…..

2

Davidia involucrata was named after French priest and naturalist Father Armand David who was also the first westerner to describe the giant panda, ‘a most excellent black and white bear’.

3

Echium pininana, or giant viper’s-bugloss, from the Canary Islands – see lots of these statuesque flower spikes along the approach path to the house and in the Lily Wood. NB: The viper’s bugloss (Hadena irregularis), a noctuid moth in the tribe Hadenini, whose caterpillar feeds on viper’s bugloss and related plants – thank you Wikipedia!

4

Many visitors are fans of the beautiful blue poppy, Meconopsis, blooming just now in the Lily Wood.

5

The Mexican Orange Blossom Choisya ternata shrubs are scenting the air at the north front of the house.

6

Our stunning Aeonium Voodoo plant, a native of the Canary Islands, stands guard in the Courtyard, with its yellow pyramidal panicles of flowers growing high on the stem.

Ellen

Garden ABC

A is for Aaaaaw! Until the cygnets show themselves, the mini mallards have star billing on the Cutsie-o-meter. Today was chilly and they huddled together to keep warm – a sort of Do it Yourself Duckling Duvet.

1

2

Later, Mum took them for a swimming lesson.

3

B is for bluebells carpeting the woods – see them on our new trail.

4

C is for our vibrant scarlet Chilean Fire Bush – see several in the Lily Wood and Memorial Glade. Take sunglasses.

Ellen

Potty McPotface

A conversation with a visitor, who was admiring the huge pot down beside the joiner’s workshop, took us through all possible types of garden containers. He had geraniums, planted in a pair of old leather boots, that were two feet high. I seem to remember my Granny grew her parsley and scallions in an old Belfast sink, and I’ve seen a sideboard with its open drawers doing service as pots. At home, I keep a Busy Lizzie in a Victorian ‘gazunder’. Looking around I notice that Mount Stewart  has a myriad collection of containers, so here are a few – see if you know where they are situated.

1

But, what makes a plant pot an urn,  a jardiniere or a tub or trough? Or does it matter what they are called as long as they are filled, as ours are, with beautiful plants?

2

This elegant container, shaped like an 18th century Fontainebleau urn, appears in old photographs of the Italian Garden, now it closes the vista from the North Front of the House.

3

A classical style stoneware jardiniere has birds, cherubs, and swags in its design.

4

The pony memorial now does duty as a tub for a little Rhododendron Iteophyllum.

5

The large Lotus pots in the Shamrock Garden were a gift from family friend and Park Lane neighbour Sir Philip Sassoon.  At his country home Sir Philip had an Italian style garden so no doubt he and Lady Edith had lots of interesting conversations.

6

Terracotta pots add to the Mediterranean atmosphere of Tir N’an Og.

7

Am stumped for a name to give this one, shall we have a vote??

Ellen

Great Expectations

First garden blog of the year and I am counting my blessings on such a lovely day. How lucky am I, first of all to have a beautiful drive through County Down’s answer to the Dark Hedges, and then to arrive in my ‘office’ at Mount Stewart, surrounded by spring colour of rhododendrons, tulips, lobster claw, camellias, primulas (you can see I’m not the Latin name expert) and the first swallows swooping around the North Portico.

1

At last our weather forecasters have turned up the dry side of the stone, and with it a bit of softer air and even some heat. Just enough to start our plants ‘springing’ into life. Gunneras are about three feet high, the yuccas are in bud, and with azaleas and cherries and the odd pheasant joining the rhodies to create a wonderfully coloured backdrop to the grounds, cameras were out in force. Visitors today were from Austria, thrilled with the Congress of Vienna chairs, and from Australia, surprised to see our eucalyptus trees. Others from Oxfordshire, Kilrea and Bangor enjoyed the sunshine and warmth of the courtyard.

This morning, Head Gardener Neil inspired us all with his plans for this year’s planting. The invasive Rhododendron Ponticum has been culled and beds have been prepared to receive new plants from Alan’s nursery. Neil showed us the green leaves of the new Cardiocrinum Giganteum plants that had been grown from seed over the last five years. These will turn into huge 6ft high blooms and will look spectacular as only Giant Lilies can.

2

Our hard-working gardeners have been planting like mad to fill the formal beds with all sorts of beautiful bloomers.

3

4

Gemma and Joan, members of the Thursday Gang,  working hard doing a bit of weeding, making room for more plants. The Bothy Motto – see a space, plant a plant. I’m keeping an eye on our Columbian Oreopanax incisus growing to about 4ft tall, white flowers, Italian Garden, roll on summertime.

5

In the meantime, our beautiful mauve-blue Susan rhodie will keep me happy, isn’t it gorgeous?

Ellen

That’s All, Folks

I often look around our series of outdoor rooms and think of the quote from Goethe ‘…architecture is frozen music…’ and wonder if I am being a bit fanciful in wanting to describe our gardens as ‘nature’s orchestra’?

1

Those huge trees that provide the permanent backdrop to the garden layout are the bass section, the larger shrubs the cello and saxophone, the climbers and creepers the violins, the brightly flowered annuals the bravura brass, and the more delicate plants the flute and viola.

I can hear this lily playing 76 Trombones as I march past.

2

Percussion is provided by the rustling of the eucalyptus trees, while the fountains represent the tinkllng of the zylophone or a ripple on a keyboard. Lady Edith’s all important fragrance is the melody, starting low in the spring, swelling in the summer months and dying away in the autumn, when crunchy leaves take over the cymbals – we can choose the rhythm with the regularity of our footsteps.

Huge pots represent the tympanies.

3

Noah raises his arms to conduct the whole ensemble and the creatures of the ark, the herms and topiary figures are a quietly appreciative audience.

4

5

But, I’ve indulged my fancy for too long and alas, this year’s concert is over. This is my last blog of the season and I want to say a big thank you for all those ‘likes’, to those who got the jokes, and to Paul, Jonny, Lisa, Louise, Kenny, Barbara, Rachel, and Lesley for their patient help with queries about those pesky plants that kept blooming so fast I couldn’t keep up with them. I’ve loved Neil’s marvellous, inspirational, garden walks – will he ever be finished planning? Don’t think so! And a special thank you to Jill who allowed me to fill in for her (we miss you), thank you for the opportunity to learn lots of wonderful things about flowers, and to do a little extra volunteering!

I’ll sign off with another quote, this one by Ralph Waldo Emerson – ‘The Earth Laughs in Flowers’. Certainly a walk round Edith, Lady Londonderry’s Land of Heart’s Delight cannot fail to lift your spirits and bring a smile to your face.

6

Job Done.

Ellen

The family and other animals

On the garden highlights tour today I was asked about the plaques set into the Italian Garden wall where the pets’ names are recorded. Animals, both real and imaginary, have always played an important part in the life of the family. Birds, dogs, and horses are all commemorated in the grounds and in various paintings in the house. Look out for the darling one of Lady Mairi as a child with her dog in the Sitting Room. Creatures from the Ark Club are also in evidence in the Italian Garden; spot the cheetah, the rabbits and the alligator, together with orangutans on pillars, kittens, and in the Shamrock Garden, animals fashioned in yew by our gifted topiarists.

1

In Lady Edith’s fairytale book, The Magic Inkpot, Cruncher the cat, the Stewart dragon, dachshunds, golden retrievers, bats, a wise owl, and bees accompany the children on their adventures. Lady Helen’s doves get a mention too. In times past, on garden open days dog shows were popular, and as a child Lady Mairi ran a small menagerie to be enjoyed at a small charge for charity. Until recently, the screeches from her pet cockatoos just a corridor away from the house tour route raised many a smile, and startled visitors asked, ‘Is that the ghost?’. In relation to practical matters in the gardens, Lady Edith in 1938 took delivery of 72 tree frogs in an attempt to naturally contain the snail menace. Lizards and green terrapins were also on her shopping list, and King Fuad’s gift of pink flamingos provided an unusual and picturesque sight at the lake.

On Jubilee Terrace the white stag holds sway and the swans and ducks are valued occupants of the lake area.

2

3

Horse racing was important, the family hunted and attended point to points and Lady Edith played in a ladies’ polo team. Lady Mairi had received a bequest of horses in her father’s will and estabished at Mount Stewart the first bloodstock stable in Northern Ireland. Her filly, Northern Gleam (see the memorial in the Pony Wood) won the 1953 Irish 1,000 guineas, and Fighting Charley took the Ascot Gold Cup two years in a row.

4

Polemarch was a very successful racehorse, famously winning the St Leger in 1921, at 50-1, and featuring with his proud owner the 7th Marquess on family Christmas Cards that year. Polemarch’s portrait is in the Entrance Hall with his jockey Joe Childs, who later rode for George V. Polemarch was eventually sold and went to stud in Argentina.

5

The latest four-legged favourite in the gardens is Poirot, our Mouse Experience Assistant, complete with handsome moustache. Patrolling mostly around the entrance area, this furry feline insures against any possible mouse shortage by being especially nice to the reception staff. I think he knows they have a pet shop’s worth of cat groceries stashed behind the counter, but so far he has missed the goldfish in the Spanish Garden pond. Of course, being Belgian, Poirot maintains his favourite dish is Chocolate Mouse.

Ellen

Ruby’s a Gem

Sciurus Vulgaris doesn’t sound like a very elegant name for one of our favourite rodents, the Red Squirrel. Mount Stewart is a haven for these cute little creatures and if you come into the grounds of the estate early in the morning you are guaranteed to see them zigzagging along the hedges and walls near the Sunk Garden. Smaller than their grey cousins and weighing up to 350g, reds live in twiggy nests called dreys, hidden high above ground in tree trunk holes. Their double jointed ankles enable them to scamper up and down trees and walls with ease. The babies are called kittens and are fed by their mothers until their teeth begin to develop at about 10 weeks. As their teeth keep growing they need to keep gnawing, not only on nuts but all sorts of things like flower roots, birds’ eggs, and bulbs (sorry gardeners), and some even go for electrical wiring. Recently in England a few people noticed that soap was missing from their bathrooms. Squirrels living in the tree-lined street were caught red-handed but made a clean getaway.

ruby red squirrel

This is Ruby Red, our friendly in-house squirrel although we don’t really want her inside as she was once discovered eyeing up the books in the Sitting Room. The children love meeting her when she helps with our brilliant Education Programme for Schools. Jenny Ferguson, who was up early enough to capture this photo of Ruby admiring the garden, would be pleased to take a booking for your school. Or just book the family in for a guided walk along our Red Squirrel Trail on Saturday 26th September, and take part in squirrel related activities. Don’t think this involves chewing anything unusual.

Not everyone will be aware that the original French version of the Cinderella story had her slippers made from squirrel pelts (vaire) instead of the glass version (verre). Pelts were also used as currency in Russia and Finland, useful to know for a Trivia Quiz? Oh well, maybe not.

Our squirrels help in forestry and conservation by hiding nuts and seeds in underground larders but then forgetting where some of them are, and so another tree is inadvertently planted! Red squirrels don’t hibernate but will relax and have a duvet drey day if the weather is too bad to go looking for nuts, something we have in common, zzzzzzz.

Ellen