Growing talent at Mount Stewart

Published : 10 Nov 2015

Thanks to funding from Pilgrim Trust, the National Trust at Mount Stewart is entering the second year of their Garden Apprenticeship Scheme in partnership with South Eastern Regional College.

Pilgrim Trust, a charity founded in 1930 by the American philanthropist, Edward Stephen Harkness, awards funds to preservation projects, particularly those aimed at preserving the fabric of architecturally or historically significant places and artefacts.

Mount Stewart Gardens Manager Paul Stewart explains: 'In an area with relatively high levels of unemployment finding enthusiastic and dedicated people is comparatively easy, but finding people with the right technical skills can be more of a challenge.'

Paul elaborates: 'With the garden flourishing and expanding into new areas we saw this as an opportunity to grow our own talent, tailoring a scheme to address the very practical and specific demands of a heritage garden while at the same time providing opportunities for local people.'

'As a charity we are reliant on the generosity of our members and supporters, and we were delighted that the Pilgrim Trust provided 75% funding for the Garden Apprenticeship Scheme here at Mount Stewart. With this scheme we can provide paid, bespoke on the job training for two years working in tandem with South Eastern Regional College who will be delivering the academic side of the tuition in the Royal Horticultural Society level 2.'

In September Mount Stewart recruited Portaferry man Benjamin Bridges to the role of Apprentice Gardener.

Ben told us: 'I originally trained as an electrician and after a period of unemployment I volunteered at Castle Ward before gaining a 6 month ‘first start’ placement at Mount Stewart. It was during this placement that I decided that this was what I wanted to do.'

'One of the great things about the garden is the shear diversity of plants and horticultural styles throughout the grounds. Also the people who work here have been great. It’s a pleasure to work with such a professional team.'

Ben will be joining local Ards man, Kenneth Skelton, who is entering the second year of his Mount Stewart apprenticeship.

Situated on the Ards Peninsula, Mount Stewart is one of Northern Ireland’s most important heritage sites. The garden was created by Edith, Lady Londonderry, a self-taught and highly gifted gardener, between 1915 and 1959 and is home to one of the most extensive plant collections in the National Trust.

Mount Stewart gardens are open daily, 10am to 4pm. The recently restored house is open weekends only during November and December, 12 to 3pm.