ARRROUND THE GROUNDS

Charlie is back.  No, not the 1660 Restoration of the Monarchy –  our own Charlie the Cheetah has been repaired by Brian Bennet of Cliveden Conservation, just one of the Refurbishment, Renovation and Replanting tasks carried out recently.   You can see what a good job Brian has done with our big cat by the before and after pictures below.
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Other work has been going on as well.   Lindsay of Mansion Landscapes has been working in the Spanish Garden restoring  the broken tiles and steps, and using the original lime recipe for infilling between the stones.

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As well as all the repair work, the gardeners are hard at work putting in new species.  At the far end of the lake visitors will be noticed the arrival of fencing around the rockery area.  This is to guard new planting that will concentrate on South African species, so something colourful to look forward to there.

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And we’ve had to say a sad goodbye to an old friend, the ash tree beside the lake.   Dying off and becoming a hazard, the decision was made to fell it.  However, we have a new seat – perfect for selfies!

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On the other side of the lake a new tree has arrived,

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This is a Planera Aquatica or water elm.  Native to North America, it will tolerate damp or boggy areas which means it will feel quite at home beside the lake.  The twigs are brown and hairy with tiny white flowers in Spring and interesting irregular shaped nuts.  It will grow to about 15 metres tall.

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And finally, the red tulips have gone from the Shamrock Garden and the Tuesday gang, Fiona, Celia and Alison, were busy last week planting salvias and begonias, all in the Red Hand’s signature scarlet.

Ellen

 

 

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Spring in My Step

The other day I heard a radio discussion about the beneficial influence of beautiful places on those who are depressed or despondent, and I thought “How like our own dear Mount Stewart”.  Recently returning from a lovely holiday featuring sun, sea and sand I flew over the crumpled green eiderdown of Ulster’s fields contemplating the daily grind that awaited, until I remembered how fortunate I am to work here.  I knew the moment I drove in through the gates my spirits would lift; its the Best Place for taking you out of yourself.

I also realised how very lucky we are to live in a country with seasons.  In the Far East it is either hot, or hot and wet, and there is none of the wonderful fresh Spring smell of emerging buds and those delightful citrusy colours that we get here at this time of year.

So, I couldn’t wait to get back to see what had been happening in the gardens while I was gone.  Certainly the place looks fantastic, tidy edges, pruned shrubs, hardly a weed to be seen, the gardeners have been busy. OK, some of our more tender plants are still in their winter woolies but I was amazed to see how much colour there was and the camera was red hot.

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The lake walk is so pretty just now, and the swans are nesting too.

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Spring-like green and white, even the Skunk Cabbage looks fresh, but don’t sniff – it lives up to its name!

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The fiddleheads of the ferns are about to burst.

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A beautiful peachy pink rhodie to add to the reds and whites.

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Standing under this Magnolia Stellata is like being in a snowstorm.

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My fave rhododendron, Loderi King George, with huge clusters of sweet smelling bells.

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The Jetty has been prettied up with a coat of preservative, adding an architectural detail to the lake.

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The topiary has been trimmed and has a nice sharp outline against the sky.

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And the white tulips are like little lanterns lighting the corners of the Sunk Garden.

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So, I hope you’ll agree with me that Mount Stewart deserves the accolade of a Best Place as, guess what? There is currently a competition for Northern Ireland’s Best Place. Launched on 6th April by the Royal Town Planning Institute, members of the public can nominate their Best Place.  A panel of judges will collate a top ten and you can then vote for your favourite.  Closing date for nominations is 2nd June and you can nominate by emailing northernireland@rtpi.org.uk, making sure you clearly mark it Northern Ireland Best Places in the subject box.   Let’s get Mount Stewart House & Gardens on that list!

Ellen

 

CHRISTMAS CRACKERS (YULE LOVE ‘EM)

Thought I might sneak in a little festive blog seeing as how it is the season of goodwill and all, so I had a dander round in the interval between our Christmas Caroling at the north front portico and went to check up on the formal gardens. The gardeners have been doing their own version of wrapping with most of the tender stuff being sheltered from any possibility of harm.

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With the mildish conditions we have had so far this winter there are still plants in bloom and plenty of colour to be found.

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Our lovely myrtle tree has black berries which look great against the terracotta red bark.

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Dried flower heads have a star-like charm.

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Don’t miss these magnificent Mahonias in the Shamrock Garden with flowers like corn on the cob, bright yellow and plenty of them.

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The birds were enjoying seasonal red berries in the Mairi Garden.

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Is our framework Formorian playing “Joy to the World?”

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Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year to all our visitors.

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Ellen

GARDEN OF EDITH

At our property update meeting last week it was lovely to hear how well our various events had gone throughout the season and to learn about more exciting days to come leading up through Christmas, and the spring and summer months next year.  As this is the last blog of this season I thought I would leave you with some of our lovely autumnal colours.

Come and see us – the gardens are still amazing and the mild weather has helped some of our more tender plants to stay in bloom

12    The Sunk Garden is still a riot of colour and the misty sunshine this morning gave it a really seasonal air.

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An evergreen climber from Chile that is an old hand in the garden has flowered early, its little purple and white blossoms peeping out between luxuriant hanging tendrils.  Don’t think it will be quite warm enough to produce the sausage-like fruits that are such a delicacy in Chile, but we keep hoping!   It’s a Lardizabala biternata or Zabala Fruit and is listed by Lady  Edith in the 1956 edition of the garden guidebook so has been growing on the pergola for at least sixty years.  Find it at the north west corner.   Much admired by the keen gardeners who attended the recent Burma Fundraiser.

4     We have lots of colourful fungi too at this time of year, how about these for a tasty omelette?  Perhaps not, as I am sure  you are aware what looks like something edible may be poisonous, so best be on the safe side and buy mushrooms from your local costermonger.
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Some plants are edible.  These nasturtiums look great in a salad, both peppery leaves and flowers, and the asters would look great in a vase on the table.  These make a great show under the yew trees in the Italian Garden.

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The Pergola looked so nice today in the sunshine I couldn’t resist taking yet another photo.
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The Lake is just gorgeous at the moment, take your camera and have a walk around.

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Up by Tir Nan Og there is still plenty to see too.  Have a look at this rather special Schima Khasiana from China, a member of the tea family, still in bloom.   One of my favourites, I call it the fried egg plant.

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Really sorry to say another season has come to an end. My thanks to Lindsay and Lauren for their help in posting the blogs, and to our (award winning) gardening team who exhibit great patience in answering my many questions.  So, time to wrap up and take a break.   As you can see from this skelfie, I’ve been working my fingers to the bone.

Ellen

 

CREAM OF THE CROP

Our wonderful garden team at Mount Stewart was recently nominated by Peninsula Mowers (an agricultural machinery repair and training company in Greyabbey) as an exemplar in staff training and development, and we won!  A total of 17 awards in different categories were presented to Northern Ireland’s businesses and individuals who are outstanding in their field.  After seeing off stiff competition from some of the biggest and best in Northern Ireland, we picked up the prestigious ‘Farming Life and Danske Bank’ LANTRA (land based industries) award for ‘Commitment to Staff Training and Development’.

Garden Manager, Paul Stewart accompanied by members of the Mount Stewart gardening team attended the presentation ceremony featuring keynote speaker, Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Michelle McIlveen, at Belfast’s Ramada Hotel.

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Representatives from Peninsula Mowers of Greyabbey and LANTRA, and garden team members Paul, Neil, Anna, Rachel, and Jonny looking very clean and tidy.  No wellies or garden gear here, don’t they clean up well?

Garden Manager Paul has arranged and devised a number of training programmes ranging from back to work placements, training and employability skills for the long term unemployed to bespoke heritage garden apprenticeships working in partnership with the local South Eastern Regional College, Peninsula Mowers, and other gardens in Northern Ireland. Most of these initiatives have largely been funded by a wide variety of external bodies and supporters such as the Pilgrim Trust and Ulster Garden Villages.

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Paul with John Henning, Danske Bank, Paula Smyth, LANTRA, Graeme Huston, Johnstone press.  Afterwards he spoke of his pride in the team at Mount Stewart.  Paul said “A trained and engaged workforce who are on board with our vision is essential in developing our business and being the best we can be in all that we do. The staff have bought into this vision and have been instrumental in mentoring and developing our trainees, volunteers, less experienced members of staff and indeed each other. They are a great team and we are very proud to achieve this award. Recognition for staff development like this can only help the reputation of National Trust in general and Mount Stewart in particular as an employer of choice in Northern Ireland.  They are a very professional and multi-talented bunch and this award is recognition that they are leading the field in Northern Ireland in terms of people development in the land management industries.”

Photos courtesy of LANTRA.

Of course we can always use more volunteers – why not join our award winning gardening team – all you need is an interest in plants and a good sense of humus.

Ellen

SURELY NOT ROTTEN POT?

The thing about Mount Stewart is that the house and garden are closely entwined, and inside the mansion you will find lovely flower arrangements and an intriguing collection of beautiful bowls full of sweet smelling pot pourri. However, when researching Pot Pourri for this week’s blog, I was rather disconcerted to discover that a literal translation from the French is Rotten Pot. I would rather have the definition that lists ingredients like dried rose petals, herbs and spices, so that the stew that has gone a bit off becomes a more appealing melange of fragrant blossoms, essential perfume oils and spices displayed in a pierced or open container.

Certainly pleasantly scented surroundings, both outside and in, are what made a stay at  Mount Stewart special for Lady Edith’s many summer guests.  Her Ladyship had her own special recipe for the mixture, and Lady Rose tells us of constantly searching for the absolutely correct essence of vetiver oil used by her grandmother in order to recreate the pot pourri of those days when the house was full of visitors.

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In Lady Edith’s little drying room tucked away off the black and white stone hall we can see a very practical pair of wellington boots, a walking stick, measuring jugs, baskets and trugs, and the drying racks that were used to process the petals.  Best picked when the dew has evaporated, the petals, or whole buds as used by Lady Edith, should be dried until papery and then tossed with other fragrant ingredients like lavender, orris root, rose oil, or vetiver oil. Little organza sachets wait to be filled and given as gifts or sold in support of Lady Edith’s many charities.

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Lady Edith used whole stalks of delphiniums and small rosebuds; according to her notes once collecting over 300 rose blooms in a day.

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They may have been similar to today’s pink free-flowering Rosa Raubritter, or the double blooms of the white Dundee  Rambler, and most importantly, they had to be fragrant.  Our current project in the gardens is to reinstate the rose garden  as it was when Lady Edith was collecting petals and buds for her mixture.

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Huge decorative ceramic bowls full of the recipe were placed all around the house to the delight of guests, many of whom  remarked on the fragrance of the Mount Stewart rooms in their thank you letters.

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Lavender was a key ingredient in the pot pourri recipe.  Lady Rose continues the tradition with this lovely little blue-themed basket, combining dried lavender with delphinium petals, perfect for a bathroom.

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This little note on the reverse of a photograph of Queen Mary and Princess Alexandra refers to the “delicious” gift of pot pourri.   Hope it didn’t end up in the palace casserole.

Ellen

Volunteer Outing to see the Brent Geese

Nine intrepid twitchers from our volunteer team met at Harrison’s for a soup and sandwich lunch before getting our wellies on, and, led by Gemma and her trusty ‘scope, we tramped across the lough shore towards Chapel Island.

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At the moment there are around 22,000 Brent Geese on Strangford Lough.  Family groups wheel overhead before they land, exhausted from their long flight from Iceland.  Still more to arrive.

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Eel Grass is the favourite food of the Brents, and on Strangford there is plenty for all.

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As well as Brent we spotted a kestrel hovering, bluetit, wren, plover, widgeon, lots of swans and a bar tailed godwit.

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Homeward bound across the low tide of the lough.

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Our footsteps mingled with those of the geese.

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Thanks Gemma for arranging the lunch, the tides, the weather and a lovely day out.

Ellen