Riot of colour at Mount Stewart
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The gardens at Mount Stewart have been revitalised to bring them back to the romantic splendour envisaged by their creator Edith, Lady Londonderry. Taking advantage of the microclimate that produces mild weather along Strangford Lough, Lady Londonderry cultivated tender plants that she gathered from across the globe, creating a succession of colour and fragrance with bold planting schemes and whimsical statuary.
Because of its mild microclimate, there's always something unusual in flower at Mount Stewart. The gardens have a great collection of plants from the Southern Hemisphere and whilst many of them are summer flowering, there are also some great winter blooms.
Banksia marginata with its citrus yellow cone-like flowers and the giant Eucalyptus globulus from New Zealand, which give off their volatile essential oils whenever the sun is out, are glorious on a clear winter's day. The scattering of tall Eucalypts bring to mind the clearing in the exotic woods where Circe, goddess of magic in Greek mythology, had her mansion on the most westerly isle, Aeaea.
A treat for the eyes
Another evocative scent competes with the Eucalypts - Escallonia resinosa, from South America – the ‘Vindaloo plant’. As it drops its leaves the damp leaf litter emits a mouth watering scent of mild curry, producing a heady cocktail.
Elsewhere, the garden delivers a treat for the eyes. Sir Herbert Maxwell, a great Scottish gardener, wrote to Edith, Lady Londonderry in September 1926 stating: ‘The lust for lilies is a contagious disease as deadly as ‘Rhododendronitis’ from which you suffer incurably already.’
Thanks to Edith’s 'disease', Mount Stewart boasts Rhododendrons from November through to August. The hybrid R. x nobleanum is in bloom in November and by January and early February, some 200 Rhododendron magnificum come into flower. Very few gardens in the British Isles can grow these wonderfully flamboyant trees which originate from Burma.
The rich, earthy scents of plants in autumn and winter, and the gorgeous reds and gold of autumnal foliage around the lake are a real signature of a visit to Mount Stewart.