Garden projects at Downhill Demesne

Looking through the walls into the Orchard at Downhill

From the recently completed ‘secret’ garden at Bishop’s Gate to the restoration of the walled garden at Lion’s Gate, the ongoing garden projects at Downhill Demesne are keeping our ranger team busy…

Despite attracting close to 50,000 visitors per year, Downhill Demesne is yet to fulfil its potential. This cliff top site, which includes the striking ruins of an 18th-century mansion and the iconic Mussenden Temple, has many hidden gems including a secret garden at Bishop’s Gate and a walled garden at Lion’s Gate.

The secret garden at Bishop’s Gate
Formerly a tenanted property, the Gothic gate lodge at Bishop’s Gate was recently reclaimed by the Trust as a new visitor reception point for Downhill Demesne creating an opportunity for the landscaping of the surrounding outdoor space.

The striking facade of Bishop's Gate hides a new secret garden
Downhill Demesne garden project - Bishops gate

‘The ground around the gate lodge had become terribly overgrown into a jungle,’ explains Barry Crawford, area ranger for the North Coast. ‘Only traces remained of the gardens that were once there. We enrolled the help and advice of Mount Stewart gardening staff and set about redesigning the garden, building on what was already there and adding new elements.’

‘The project was largely funded by a £10,000 donation from the North Coast Members Association and we are very grateful to them and to the team of 8-10 volunteers who worked tirelessly to bring the garden to life.’

The result is a new ‘secret garden’, a pretty, colourful space that uses landscaping and the natural features of the site to create in effect a mini walled garden.

The secret garden at Bishop's Gate in Downhill Demesne
The secret garden at Bishop's Gate in Downhill Demesne

Old stone work from the castle grounds which had been exposed were moved to the lodge with the permission of archaeologist Malachy Conway and used to create retro garden furniture.  Another quirky feature unearthed during clearance works was ‘George’ the headless statue.  All eight feet of him! 

‘Rather than being a formal manicured garden the secret garden retains a semi-woodland theme that bridges the gap between the lawned visitor entry point and wilder Black Glen woodland beyond,’ continues Barry.

‘It was completed in late summer and will be a riot of colour next year and somewhere for visitors to sit and enjoy a picnic or refreshments.’

The secret garden builds on recently added features including the natural play area and the restored bog garden.  And next on the wish list, the unlocking and development of the former Downhill arboretum, starting with a tree trail leaflet planned for 2017 season.

Walled garden at Lion’s Gate
Over the winter months Barry’s attention is turning to the walled garden at Lion’s Gate: ‘In response to visitor feedback and thanks to the ongoing financial support from the North Coast Members Association, with another £5,000 donation, we’re now able to focus on bringing the walled garden back to life,’ Barry explains.

‘While we don’t have the resources to put in place formal beds, the vision is to create an imprint of what the walled garden would have looked like, in part using wild flower meadows that aren’t so resource intensive.

The orchard within the walled garden at Downhill Demesne
The orchard within the walled garden at Downhill Demesne

‘The garden would once have been used to grow fruit and vegetables for the house and we have already re-established a small orchard in the walls,’ Barry continues, ‘Moving forward the orchard will be expanded, new paths and beds will be created and there will be a new recreational space.

The project initially runs from now until spring and will involve rangers, volunteers and a group of placement students.  Initial works will also include removal of sheep fencing, water drinkers, invasive elder trees and grasses cutting.

For volunteering opportunities at Downhill Demesne contact the site Learning & Volunteering Officer, Lisa McCaughan @