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The Casual Gardener: National Trust Co Down garden restored to Victorian glory

A restoration project at Castle Ward in Co Down will help re-establish its reputation as one of the best examples of a Victorian garden in Ireland

Restoration of the Windsor Garden gets under way at Castle Ward

CASTLE Ward at southern end of Strangford Lough is famed not only for its eccentric two-faced mansion house, but also two very distinctive designed landscapes – the 17th and 18th century Temple Water and the 19th century Windsor Garden with pleasure grounds.

The expansive estate close to Strangford village is owned by conservation charity the National Trust, which has already committed to a three-year plan to restore the traditional landscaping of the Romantic era Temple Water.

Now the gardening team at Castle Ward have embarked on an ambitious project to restore the original Victorian Windsor Garden, a task that will require half a kilometre of edging, more than 100 tons of soil and compost and over 4,000 bulbs.

The focus on the potential of the pleasure grounds – which incorporate a Pinetum that housed trees and shrubs sourced from exotic places around the world; a rockery; and the 19th century Windsor Garden (now known as the Sunken Garden) – is led by head gardener Andrew Dainty.

“Together these innovations are a fine example of the gardening style of the period and were obviously designed to show off to visiting guests,” Andy explains. “It's been a long-term vision of mine to restore the Windsor Garden and when funding was secured at the start of 2017, the project was given the green light.”

When originally designed, the Windsor Garden was a formal terraced garden, dominated by a sunken parterre with an elaborate bedding design between gravel walks. Over the years the garden's form has altered dramatically with elaborate beds being replaced by rolling lawns and an imposing statute of Neptune overshadowing the flowers to take centre stage.

“The garden was no longer recognisable as one of the greatest gardens in Ireland, however, thanks to the support of gifts in wills, donors and the Ulster Garden Scheme, we have embarked on a £37,500 project to elevate the presentation of the Sunken Garden and revive the Victorian passion for plant collections and colour,” says Andy.

With help from a team of volunteers drawn from Ireland and beyond, the plan is to create kaleidoscope of intricate planting befitting of the era from which the original garden dates.

“Over the next few months our ambition is to restore the Windsor Garden with its associated parterres and rose beds, back to the historic presentation captured on canvas in a painting by Mary Ward in 1864.”

Work began with a 3-D scan of the garden to establish the dimensions of more than five dozen new beds. This was followed by the creation of plans and the installation of over 550 metres of edging to create the new parterre design. Pathways were widened, over 120 tons of soil and compost were manually wheelbarrowed into the site and finally, over 4,000 bulbs will be planted to bring the design to life.

“The project has been tough but really satisfying,” Andy reveals. “It's been fantastic to be involved in every aspect of it – from the birth of the idea to the final result.”

Along the way, he confesses to having been “everything from the wheelbarrow man to the project manager” but “enjoyed every minute of it”.

It's expected that the end result will revitalise this once important area of the demesne and re-establish Castle Ward as one of best examples of a Victorian garden on the island of Ireland.

It's recommended you visit this spring to see the beautiful new planting scheme in full bloom.

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