Gardeners Question Time - specialist talks programme

Mount Stewart Gardeners Question Time

In addition to the recordings of Gardeners' Question Time on 9 June, we have a packed programme of specialist talks that are free for all visitors to enjoy.

These specialist talks, walks and additional activites are free events (normal admission, members free) and do not need to be booked in advance, however please arrive early as we are anticipating a very busy day and space will be limited.

11 am Mind Trap Garden with Ian Price in the Sunk Garden

11 am Not Just A Pretty Face with Ann Fitzsimons on the Dodo Terrace

12 noon Around the World in 80 Edible Plants: A Perennial Edible Adventure with Stephen Barstow in the Sunk Garden

12 noon Garden Design Workshop with Michael O’Reilly on the Dodo Terrace

1pm Botanicals in your G&T and other stories with Barbara Pilcher

2 pm Love your home…design your garden…Good Garden Design for small, large and heritage gardens with Michael O’Reilly on the Dodo Terrace

2.15 pm Diarmuid Gavin’s Garden Tales in the main marquee

3 pm Not Just A Pretty Face with Ann Fitzsimons in the Sunk Garden

3 pm Garden Design Workshop with Michael O’Reilly on the Dodo Terrace

3 pm Walk and Forage-Around the World in 80 Edible Plants with Stephen Barstow

4 pm Plants of Burma with Seamus O’Brian in the Sunk Garden

4 pm Plant Hunting in Tasmania with Neil Porteous on the Dodo Terrace

4 pm John Paul Leake and Kevin Sharkey from The Merchant Hotel cook up some of the delights foraged from the gardens.  

4.15 pm Mind Trap Garden with Ian Price in the main marquee

Plus: music from the McGinn Sisters and Jeff Curie and Plant Hunters theatre with Matt Biggs


Speaker biographies

Seamus O'Brian

Seamus O’Brien manages the National Botanic Gardens, Kilmacurragh in County Wicklow Ireland, a 17th century country estate that acts as an annex to the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin in Dublin. There he specialises in the flora of temperate South America, the Himalaya, China and Irish natives. He is Ireland’s leading authority on Rhododendron species and has travelled extensively across the world to study plants in their native habitats. His latest biography on Joseph Hooker’s Sikkim travels will be published by Kew in 2018. 

Ian Price

Ian Price is a professional garden designer with almost 20 years of experience. Since qualifying from Writtle College in 1998 with a BSc(Hons) in Landscape & Garden Design, Ian worked for a number of garden design and build firms as a designer and landscaper before setting up his own business in 2004. 

Ian is passionate about his work and has won a number of awards. He recently achieved a lifetime ambition of winning a gold medal at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017 with the “Mind Trap sponsored by idverde” Fresh Garden, built by Conway Landscapes. This was a concept garden, and only Ian’s second RHS show garden, that was a physical manifestation of how Ian felt when he was at his worst living with depression.  Recently, Ian was invited back to where his started his show garden experience at Allianz Garden SHow Ireland, where he designed a garden that was built entirely by students from CAFRE Greenmount College.

Ian continues to design gardens through Northern Ireland and beyond for predominately private clients. 

Diarmuid Gavin

Diarmuid Gavin is a garden designer who works in a contemporary style throughout the world. Educated at Dublin's Botanic Gardens, he holds an honorary doctorate from Nottingham Trent University. He runs a garden design studio with clients throughout Europe, Africa and Asia.

 Diarmuid lectures extensively throughout the globe, including recent stints in Toronto, London, Monaco, Moscow, Stockholm and Kiev. The author of 11 garden design books, his most recent publication - The Extra Room - appeared in September 2016.

Ongoing garden projects include the installation of a series of gardens in Harrods, Knightsbridge alongside developing new landscapes throughout the Uk, Europe and China. He is soon to begin his first project for the National Trust at Gibside, Newcastle creating a contemporary park inside the 6 acres walled garden. He is developing a design for a collaboration between London's Natural History Museum and the Science Museum on Exhibition Road.

Television credits in Britain include BBC Home Front, Art of the Garden, Planet Patio, Diarmuid's Big Adventure, Dirty Old Town, Diarmuid's Pony Kids and Blood of the Irish.

Matthew Biggs

Matthew Biggs is a gardener, plantsman, broadcaster and writer, with over 30 years’ experience in horticulture. He studied at Pershore College of Horticulture and The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and is currently a regular panellist on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners Question Time. He has presented numerous television programmes, notably Channel 4’s long running ‘Garden Club’ and writes for several magazines as well as being the author of several books,

Matthew’s passion for the plant hunters was ignited when he helped to create a display at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in 2009, celebrating the bicentenary of the birth of plant hunter William Lobb, who collected in the Americas and introduced the ‘Giant Redwood’ and ‘Monkey Puzzle’ into cultivation.

Matthew’s first performance of ‘Two Great Plant Hunters’, at RHS Malvern Spring Show in 2017  celebrating the 30th Anniversary of The Plantfinder, received enthusiastic reviews.

Ann Fitzsimons

Ann FitzSimons, science graduate, decided on a total change of career in 2003, left medical representation after 20 years and signed up at Greenmount College for an HND in Horticulture. While at Greenmount she worked at Birr Castle, Co Offaly and won the RDS horticulture student of the year award . After graduation and a period of garden work she started The Uncommon Garden Company in 2007, growing herbaceous perennials using largely organic methods and peat free compost.

Ann is now kept busy growing her favourite plants, attending markets and plant fairs and giving talks to gardening clubs. She is also a frequent contributor to Gardener’s Corner on BBC Radio Ulster.

John Paul Leake, Executive Chef - The Merchant Hotel

From the young age of 15, Belfast born John Paul was hooked on the excitement and buzz of the kitchen environment. Having worked in various restaurants across Belfast before travelling to Australia and Southeast Asia, he finally settled in London in Marco Pierre White’s Restaurant Mirabelle, to further enhance his culinary skills. In 2010, John Paul returned home to Northern Ireland and was welcomed by The Merchant Hotel to pass on his world class experience and showcase the wonderful produce Ireland has to offer.

John Paul takes inspiration from Hugh Fearnley – Whittingstall’s ‘farm to fork’ ethos, delighting in the explosion of diversity and choice of Northern Ireland’s local produce in recent years.

Kevin Sharkey, Head Chef - The Great Room Restaurant, The Merchant Hotel

Born and raised in Belfast, Kevin worked in a number of local restaurants before joining The Merchant Hotel team in 2008. Starting as Commis Chef, Kevin worked his way through the kitchen ranks to his current position of Head Chef to which he was appointed earlier this year.

From kale and squash to broccoli and blueberries, Kevin grows his own fruit and veg at home taking great pride in creating dishes from home grown produce. He brings this passion to the kitchens of The Merchant Hotel, taking a keen interest in foraging ingredients such as elderberries and wild garlic to create new and exciting dishes for The Great Room Restaurant.

Michael O'Reily


Barbara Pilcher


Stephen Barstowe


Neil Porteous