When in Rocky Mountain National Park, you are surrounded by conifers, Douglas-Firs, Lodgepole and Limber Pines, all much the same shade of green, and so when I arrived back at Mount Stewart, my eyes picked up immediately our famous Irish Forty Shades of Green. We are so fortunate to have a great variety of trees, all shapes and sizes, and colours.
The lake shores at the moment are wonderfully coloured, and here and there in the gardens there are hints of autumn.
Our Myrtles, with their beautifully coloured bark, are in flower, tiny white blossoms profuse along the branches.
Have you ever seen the Red Hot Pokers such a vibrant orangey red?
And, good news for all schoolchildren, the conkers are nearly ready! Although you should really wait a year to let your conker harden before entering a competition, you can speed the process by soaking the nut in vinegar, baking it, or varnishing with clear nail polish. A coating of hand cream helps to ward off chips and grazes. In North Belfast we collected them from underneath the trees in Alexandra Park and called them cheesers, but apparently this only applies to those with straight edges, caused by twin or triplet nuts. A fat darning needle heated over the gas ring made a hole and a long strong cord was inserted with a good granny knot to hold it fast.
Conkers (from the French Conque when they played with snail shells) was first recorded as a game using Horse Chestnut seeds in the Isle of Wight in 1848, and is still popular. The 2014 World Championships in Southwick, Northants, attracted contestants from 15 countries. An idea for a new annual event at Mount Stewart?