Day out: Rowallane Garden, County Down

Escape the crowds this summer and seek solace in one of Northern Ireland’s most beautiful and magical country gardens

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The National Trust’s Rowallane Garden in windswept County Down is the perfect summer hideaway.

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Grown from Victorian beginnings, the gardens are a mixture of formal and informal spaces, giving way to scenic vistas and a variety of plant and animal life, best experienced with leisurely strolls, wildlife watching and afternoon tea.

The beauty of Rowallane is a product of Reverend John Moore and his nephew Hugh Armytage Moore, whose visionary approach to escapism and connecting with nature turned a 19th-century garden into an outstanding 21st-century spectacle.

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“No other plant is as unambiguously blue,” writes gardener Monty Don of the Himalayan blue poppy, one of Rowallane’s most vibrant summer flowers ©National Trust Images
Ornamental June 

Once used for vegetables by Rev Moore, the walled garden has diversified into a sea of colourful ornamental planting. June is the perfect time to revel in its huge magnolia tree, beside various hydrangea, viburnum, shrub roses and a young pocket handkerchief tree. 

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Brick archway through to Rowallane House ©Getty
Rock Garden Wood

Following the Victorian trend for rock gardening, the once-
weathered rocky outcrop of Rock Garden Wood was carefully re-imagined by Armytage Moore to become a treasure of Rowallane, designed to celebrate every season. Visit in June and you will see the pale, pink shoots of the common spotted orchid, ready to erupt in July. Look out for the light creams of the butterfly orchid too, often nestled among wildflowers beneath Rowallane’s shrubs and woodland. 

Close-up image of the spring flowering, Common Spotted Orchid purple flower also known as Dactylorhiza fuchsii
Common spotted orchids flower in July ©Getty
Refuge for life

Rowallane Garden boasts many exotic plant species but perhaps is best-known for its collection of rhododendron – some of which have remained since Rev Moore planted them over 100 years ago. These hardy plants are one of the earliest to bloom in the garden and can be seen all year round, but it’s in spring and summer that the warm yellows, pinks and reds of Rhododendron triflorum are at their most spectacular, filling the air with a gorgeous delicate fragrance. You may also be lucky enough to see the garden’s striking Himalayan blue poppies, which flower from mid-May into early summer. 

Rowallane’s carefully selected range of plant life, trees and wildflowers support a wealth of life across the gardens. Its insect-friendly meadow plants – sweet peas, dahlias, lavender – encourage a healthy pollinator population for the summer months. 

Bright purple lavender in full bloom in the garden, summertime, England.
The garden is packed with insect-friendly meadow plants, including lavender ©Getty
Summer strolls

The fiery, floral summer displays are back-dropped with sweeping views across County Down’s surrounding landscape, offering lots of options when it comes to exploring the gardens and choosing a picnic spot.

Follow the bending conifer trail to Trio Hill, passing remnants of May’s bluebell carpet and a series of woodpiles, designed for hedgehogs and other wildlife. It’s the perfect route for stretching your (and your dog’s) legs, before or after afternoon tea at the National Trust café.

Find out more about Rowallane Garden

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Main image ©Getty