Casual Gardener: John Manley finds rose garden rapture in Rossglass

John Manley visits a welcoming seaside garden with a rose collection that has to be seen...

The Rose Garden features around 100 different varieties of hybrid teas, floribunda, shrubs, climbers and ramblers

THERE'S a lot to be said for hiring a garden designer and contractors to transform your garden over a relatively short period, ensuring you're equipped with the trendiest plants and hippest hard landscaping. Such a scenario is what many people dream of – all the pleasure of a beautiful garden but with none of the setbacks or backache.

Then there's the garden fashioned over decades by an individual or a couple. A hands-on, labour of love with a collection of plants and features assembled over many years to create a unique space that reflects passion and personality. These are the interesting gardens, where more often than not subtlety and detail trump impact and flashiness.

If you're searching for the ideal example of the latter, then look no further than Rossglass in Co Down and the seaside garden of artist Bernard Maginnes.

Few of us are as fortunate as Bernard in the attachment we have to our home and garden. He was born here in the 1940s, in a modest, single storey farmhouse on the northern shore of Dundrum Bay, the Mournes sweeping majestically to the sea a matter of miles across the water, the beam from St John's Point lighthouse flashing in the night sky.

It's an exposed site that takes a battering from salty winds for much of the year but, on a sunny July afternoon, it's a perfect location.

"If you're born on a farm, you're aware of nature from the beginning," says Bernard of his life-long association with horticulture.

"Recent generations have become urbanised, they've little idea where food comes from and they won't buy a plant unless it's in flower. Thankfully, it seems people are now undergoing a re-education; starting to understand the value of wildlife and biodiversity."

Between working at sea and in Saudi Arabia, studying in Paris and being called to the Bar in both Ireland and England, Bernard has developed and tended a vernacular cottage garden that looks very much at home in the landscape.

Hydrangea, marguerites, monbretia, lavatera, hollyhocks, delphiniums mesh together in the beds around the perimeter, while against the stone wall of the former farm buildings among the foxgloves, Lychnis coronaria and 'Dorothy Perkins' rambling rose, you'll find plum, quince and pear trees grown as espaliers.

The buildings themselves are now being utilised in different guises. The byre has a transparent corrugated plastic roof and now houses a mature vine, while the main barn has been given new life as a gallery where Bernard's paintings are on show. The farmyard has been transformed into a patio garden, lined with a quirky collection of rustic and maritime artefacts.

But hidden at the rear of the house and assorted outbuildings, behind a robust Olearia traversii hedge, is the jewel in this already well-adorned crown – the Rose Garden.

Developed over the best part of a decade, it's the culmination of a lifelong love of roses that features around 100 different varieties of hybrid teas, floribunda, shrubs, climbers and ramblers. Among Bernard's prized varieties are the two-tone 'Nostalgie', the seductive yellow of 'Arthur Bell' and the deep red of 'Trumpeter'.

Never a man to rest on his laurels, in recent years Bernard has extended his garden along a linear path that reaches up the drumlin behind his house. The route, which is planted with wild flowers, dog wood and soft fruits, leads to spot that commands views over Rossglass and across to Slieve Donard and Slieve Croob. Here, he has created a stone circle which is complemented with an impressive sculpture fashioned from old cart wheel rims and the bar of an iron gate.

Like every element of Bernard Maginnes's Rossglass garden, it is imbued with personal charm and artistic flair.

:: The Rose Garden and Barn Gallery at Rossglass are open daily.

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