Cherrie McIlwaine on a vist to Mount Stewart and World War One Gardening
I so love this time of the year when the light begins to change and everything looks new somehow and full of promise.
Slender daffodil shoots working their way imperceptibly through the ground, shrubs and trees ready with perfect, wrapped tight buds, or ribbons of crocus rippling through grass, all say spring is coming and that it isn’t far away.
We had the luxury of seeing things anew in this lovely early spring light during the week, when we took late afternoon walk around the lake at Mount Stewart.
We were with Head of Gardens Neil Porteous, and we had come record a piece about early Rhododendrons.
There was a mercurial quality to the atmosphere. The last of the day's visitors had left and the gardens were quietly relaxing, taking an easy breath. As we made our way up the path a little family of swans swam gently over the silvery water of the lake towards us.
And further along the path we were stopped in our tracks by a small mountain of Rhododendron growing happily on a slope facing the water. The name of the variety is, appropriately “Full Garb” and it obviously loves where it lives.
“Full Garb” is all vibrant foliage and crimson blooms with a contorted tracery of bold branches hidden beneath it’s skirts. The name really suits, especially at this time of year when much else is holding it’s breath waiting for warmth.
Should you take yourself on a trip to Mount Stewart, have a look for some of the other Rhododendrons in flower at the moment. Rhododendron Protisum is native to the Himalayas with large pendulous leaves and flowers like raspberry ruffles.
Rhododendron Facetum is a smaller shrub, with scarlet flowers and an open, slender shape, perhaps more suited to the average garden.
During the days of the Great War the average garden would have been a very different creature, with many given over at least in part, to the cultivation of fruit and vegetables.
The Allotment movement came into it’s own at this time and as we mark “World War One At Home” with a series of programmes across radio, television and on-line, Reg Maxwell talked to us for this week’s programme about the Allotment movement here, what people grew and how they were taught.
Cabbages, celery, beans and beetroot were among the familiars grown, alongside potatoes and beans with great names like “British Queens” and “Ballyboylan”
Alongside the need to support the war effort at the time, it must have been a life-changing experience for many families to be able to grow fresh vegetables for themselves.
Know-how and inspiration are the stuff of garden shows and this year’s Garden Show Ireland celebrates it’s 10th anniversary in a new location. The atmospheric and historic grounds at Antrim Castle will become the festival’s new home from May 9th –11th.
Growers and showers from these shores and beyond will be there to display the fruits of their horticultural labours, show gardens large and small will give us all ideas and inspiration and among the special guests this year will be television presenter and horticulturalist Alys Fowler and the team from River Cottage.
Renowned plants-woman and broadcaster Helen Dillon who talks to us for this week’s programme, will be there too to share her wit, wisdom and gardening know-how.
You can hear her interview on this week’s programme and find out more about the garden festival at www.gardenshowireland.com
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