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The Casual Gardener: Adam secures role in recreation of Hillsborough walled garden

The bid to recreate a functioning Georgian walled garden at Hillsborough Castle has taken a big step forward ahead of next spring's grand opening

Hillsborough Castle's new walled garden keeper Adam Ferguson Picture: Richard Lea-Hair

A YOUNG Co Antrim man who claimed a gold medal at last year's World Skills competition has been selected as the first ‘walled garden keeper’ for more than a century at Hillsborough Castle.

Adam Ferguson (23) was appointed by Historic Royal Palaces, which oversees Queen Elizabeth's official residence in the north.

A talented gardener who began selling plants at the age of eight, Adam will now play a central role in the creation of a new walled garden at the Co Down castle, which is inspired by a Georgian kitchen garden that once fed the historic building’s residents.

Adam and his team have already begun work on the new five-acre garden, which will occupy the same area as its Georgian precedessor.

Walled gardens proved especially popular during the 18th and 19th centuries to extend the growing season and create the conditions for an increased variety of plants originating in the Tropics. As well as sheltering the garden from wind and frost, the walls also serve a decorative function.

The aim at Hillsborough is to make the new garden a living, working, productive space – a hive of activity in the heart of the castle grounds where visitors will be greeted upon arrival when the transformed castle fully reopens in spring next year.

Set within 100 acres of majestic grounds at Hillsborough Castle, the walled garden takes inspiration from a historic garden which once produced fruit, vegetables and flowers for the house. Famous residents who may have once eaten its spoils include US founding father Benjamin Franklin, who visited the castle to meet its founder Wills Hill, the first Marquess of Downshire, who was secretary of the American colonies during the 1770s.

The walled garden project will see the sheltered, enclosed space return its original 1770 layout, featuring four quadrants with a central ‘dipping pool’. So far, the quadrant pathways have been laid and a planting pattern marked out by the castle’s expert team of gardeners.

A variety of traditional fruits and vegetables will be cultivated in two quadrants of the walled garden, from raspberries, blackberries and rhubarb to potatoes, offset by a diverse range of cut flowers creating an abundance of colour. Meanwhile apple and pear orchards will landscape the remaining two quadrants sown by wildflower and meadowland, offering a place of reflection and sanctuary.

As the garden matures, it's planned that it will provide an educational resource for visitors and community groups. Tailored learning projects in the walled garden and wider estate will encourage people of all ages to engage with the history of the castle, while caring for the natural world.

Speaking shortly after being unveiled as the Hillsborough Castle’s walled garden keeper, Adam said the project was the culmination of a large amount of research, planning and labour by the team.

"Our ambitious planting scheme will showcase a range of traditional crops which would have supplied the house, combined with modern equivalents," he said.

"From April 2019, it will be the first part of the gardens and estate that you will see from the lower courtyard entrance – we want to create a wow moment that will captivate visitors when they arrive."

Historic Royal Palaces say they are indebted to US businessman Mark Pigott, who made a major financial contribution to the project in 2014. To date, £20 million has been raised for a variety of projects associated with the castle and its gardens.

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