When you volunteer it goes without saying that you have to find pleasure in what you are doing and that for me is a given in the gardens of Mount Stewart. And the Japanese concept of ikigai means that the job you do has a beneficial effect on others. Here at Mount Stewart one of the most rewarding things about being a garden steward is being able to bring a smile to our visitors’ faces. Directing them to today’s exciting new flower, letting them know our exciting future plans, showing them the little secret places that only we who work here know about and explaining why we have orang-utans wearing flowerpot hats.
Anyway, this being the “washup” blog of the year I thought I would pass on a few things that have brought me, and hopefully our visitors, pleasure in 2017. Highlights came thick and fast in a busy season for the property. Although Head Gardener Neil proclaimed a 37” rainfall as a wet year, my days on duty seem to have escaped the worst of the weather, I can only remember sunny days. And although Hurricane Ophelia felled a lot of our trees, Neil, always willing to fill a space has already plans for planting lots of new stuff, so we have a silver lining to that very destructive stormcloud. Thankfully, apart from a few branches, the eucalyptus trees survived – phew!
Volunteers and staff provided the audience for Gardeners’ Corner on local BBC radio, when presenter Helen Mark brought the programme to the Temple on a beautifully sunny September morning. Neil, a regular contributor to the panel, was joined by Sarah Cook, former head gardener at Sissinghurst.
A second brood of swifts were raised in the courtyard nest. Four noisy little ones were admired by many visitors as the chicks peeked out of the nest and were fed every few minutes by their hard working parents.
Something else I take particular pleasure in is learning about our exotic plants and researching the intrepid plant hunters who brought them back to the UK. Lady Edith was instrumental in funding several of these expeditions that involved many trials and tribulations for the (mostly) men travelling in foreign parts.
Surviving earthquakes, fighting disease and thwarting rivals, they had to be a combination of botanist, mountaineer and Indiana Jones, in order to bring back wonderful and rare plants, many of which are now on the Red List in their native countries.
This impressive rambling Salvia Dombeyi, named for Joseph Dombey who travelled in Chile and Peru, is a tender perennial found at around 3000 metres in Peru. Its flowers are among the largest salvia flowers at nearly 8 cm long. Red blossoms were used as part of religious ceremonies by the Incas who believed that mysterious mountain gods were the cause of volcanic eruptions.
Our resident swans reared three out of their four cygnets this year. Always graceful and elegant, they add a really picturesque note to our beautiful lake.
A very exciting highlight this summer was the creamy white flowering of our Emmenopterys Henryi tree hidden away in the far reaches of the estate. Found in the temperate parts of China and Vietnam, it is deciduous, can attain heights of 45 metres and grow to be 1000 years old.
Named after the Irish botanist Augustine Henry from Cookstown, it is noted for its very rare flowering. Introduced to the UK in 1907, the first flowering in Europe was in 1971 and from what I read ours is only the 6th flowering in the UK since then, the last one in Cambridge in 2012.
A quirky plant which the visitors really enjoyed this year and which flowered all summer was our giant rhubarb.
The cherry red blossoms dominated the shamrock garden and drew many admiring comments.
There’s still plenty to see in the gardens even though we have had snowfall and Francesca’s board will give you interesting information about what’s in bloom.
I’ll sign off now with a big thank you to the gardening team for all their hard work in making my, Trevor and Pat’s jobs so pleasant.
With very best wishes for a Happy Christmas and a Good New Year to all.