Glossy Gardens: Hillsborough Castle, Co Down


Officially opened in April this year after a five-year investment project spearheaded by Historic Royal Palaces, the historical horticultural space has many interesting features including Lady Alice’s Temple, The Lost Garden, a dipping pond, herbaceous borders and an apple orchard.


Historically it was Wills Hill, Earl of Hillsborough and later 1st Marquess of Downshire, who set out the Small Park at the same time as building the house in the mid-1700s. The fashion at that time was for a landscape that looked natural, with carriage rides and clumps of trees breaking to reveal interesting views. This fashion was promoted by famous English landscape designer Lancelot Capability Brown who, although he never came to Ireland, worked for Wills Hill on the landscape of his house in England.


The garden to the north of the main house is one such contrived, “natural” landscape. Some of the carriage rides and paths survive, circling the lake which was created by damming the stream. As time passed, fashions changed, and the family chose to extend the gardens to the south. The extended garden, with waterfalls, pools, rocky outcrops and glens, followed the early 19th-century fashion informed by the “Picturesque”; gardens were planned to look like Italian Renaissance paintings of landscapes.


The Walled Garden dates back to the 18th century and is a large, four-acre site historically used to produce fruit, vegetables and flowers for the castle. Of particular interest is the Espalier fruit trees growing on the surrounding wall of the garden, which were planted around 50 years ago and now produce masses of apples and pears. Produce from the Walled Garden will be used in the nearby café, which is worth a visit after an amble around the site.


Overseeing the Walled Garden is Adam Ferguson, 23, who tells me his plans for this month. “In June, we are concentrating on planting out our courgettes, pumpkins and oriental salad leaves. To list a few that we are sowing direct this month, Parsley “Champion Moss Curled”, Radish “Vienna” and Swede “Maria”’.” As for floral recommendations, Ferguson says Rosa “Princess Anne” is an English shrub rose with a deep pink bloom which will flower in flushes throughout the summer.


While at the castle do make sure you see a new artwork, “A Mummer’s Banquet” unveiled last month by Belfast-born artist John Kindness. He was commissioned by Historic Royal Palaces, to create the large artwork for their new community space. Kindness is best known for the Salmon of Knowledge sculpture in Belfast City Centre, also fondly known as The Big Fish. “A Mummer’s Banquet” is seven large painted aluminium panels, the final effect being a frieze of striking, fantastical characters recognising the history of hospitality and entertaining at Hillsborough through the centuries.


Speaking of which, the first ever food festival is taking place at Hillsborough Castle and Gardens from Friday 5 to Sunday 7 July. There will be cookery demonstrations, artisan food producers, culinary tips from international chefs and entertainment on the bandstand.


Need to Know: There are various ticket options available – for garden visits only (from £8stg) or combined castle and garden tours. If booked online, a ten per cent discount applies. Family ticket options are also available.

Penny McCormick

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