The Plants of Rowallane Garden

Step into Spring

Rowallane Garden bursts into life anew every season. Come for a walk, explore the garden and take in all the vibrant colours, fresh scents and beautiful blooms that call the garden home throughout the year.

The Handkercheif Tree 

Known botanically as Davidia involucrata vilmoriniana, Rowallane Garden's handkerchief tree is the product of an adventurous expedition by plant hunter Ernest Wilson. First discovered by a French missionary Father Armand David in 1896, it was introduced by Ernest Wilson in 1904.

White bracts hanging from the handkerchief tree
Handkerchief like bracts hang from the tree
White bracts hanging from the handkerchief tree

The handkerchief tree, located in the hospital, is cloaked in tremendous white flowers - which do indeed resemble white handkerchiefs hanging from the branches. With a surrogate vision in mind, it has also been referred to as the dove tree. When rustled by a light breeze, the flowers give an impression which resembles a flock of white birds smoothly quivering their wings.

The branches can be observed growing horizontally, and ranks of white handkerchiefs adorn the tree. Upon closer inspection, the heads of the flower are most peculiar. In the middle, a band of purple anthers, surrounded by an inch-wide corona of light green petals can be seen. The characteristic white "handkerchief" is actually made up of two white bracts or modified leaves, rather than actual petals.

This is an old plant which was planted in the garden last century. Normally the tree will be slow to produce flowers when grown from seed they need 20 years before they flower!

The flowers are not actually true flowers but are modified leaves (like the Christmas pot plant Poinsettia) the flower part is the little ball in the centre.

The largest one is down in the Hospital which is down the Spring Ground turn left in the valley and go down the hill into the bottom enclosure. The large tree will come into view across the walled entrance. There is also a young tree along Trio Hill which was planted 1989.


Did you know that some of the 1500 rhododendrons at Rowallane Garden have been here since the Rev John Moore planted them over 100 years ago?

Relax and let the world go by at Rowallane Garden
Relax and let the world go by at Rowallane Garden
Relax and let the world go by at Rowallane Garden

Rev John Moore nephew, Hugh Armytage Moore, who inherited the garden in 1903, was an avid plant collector and with the help of expert plant hunters (who often risked their lives seeking out these treasures) he developed the collection until his death in 1955.We are extremely lucky to have a huge range of diverse and unusual species here, ranging from the smallest almost bonsai to the tallest of trees.

Colour all year round

Rhododendrons can be seen flowering at Rowallane throughout the year, even when much of the garden is still in its winter sleep. The purple pink blooms of the delightful rhododendron mucronulatum stand out against the yellow walls of the house as early (or late) as December.

Look out for the gorgeous, creamy, waxy blooms of rhododendron macabeanum while you’re driving up the avenue. The delicately scented blooms of rhododendron ‘cilipinense’ and rhododendron moupinense dotted about the garden are a welcome sight in the early stages of spring.

We have a stunning display throughout the garden but particularly on the spring ground which lasts from early spring until late summer starting with the cool whites, pinks and mauves of the delicate rhododendron triflorums in the spring, through to the yellows, pinks and reds of the summer, many filling the air with their delicious fragrance.

Be sure to come along this spring and spot all the lovely pinks and whites that can be seen all throughout the garden this spring and summer.


The Magnolia belongs a very old family of plants which go back to the dinosaur era, the flowers encouraged beetles to pollinate them as bees had not evolved, some fossilised specimens show to be 20 million years old. 

The structure of the flowers is extremely tough as you can imagine and their petals are actually known as tepals. They have a wide distribution with distinct types in Central and Eastern Asia, the Americas and West Indies.

Magnolia Heaven at Rowallane
Magnolia Heaven at Rowallane
Magnolia Heaven at Rowallane


Scent is uncommon in some species but when they have it is such a blessing. Usually very sweet and invocative and carries well when the air temperature lifts. Our Magnolia dawsoniana in the Outer Walled Garden flowering in late March is a treasure to behold, and in June experience Magnolia x watsonii in the inner Walled Garden has a unusual distinctive scent which is likened to the Germoline cream used for cuts and gashes!

Size matters

Over the years Magnolia trees have been hybridised to encourage smaller plants more suitable for our gardens today, but most species can be large trees, we have one in the Walled Garden flowering in April which is the size of a beech tree, and is a beautiful when the pink candle shaped flowers are seen from a distance on the naked branches. If you haven’t got that amount of space, choose a beauty such as the Japanese Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata) as it is slow growing, it is easy to grow and gives an oriental feel to a garden when maturing.

Choosing and Pruning

Magnolias dislike lime, so if you can grow Camellias or Rhododendron plants then Magnolias will be happy with you too. Choose a good spot of soil where the plant will be able to mature without disturbance, allow room all around and check the mature size of the plant on the nursery label - remember you can plant bulbs and smaller plants underneath it- so that you don’t need to prune it as it grows too big for your space.  Magnolias can be spoiled by pruning as the shape defines character, only remove dead or damaged wood, so they are pretty maintenance free.

Himalayan Blue Poppies

Himalayan blue poppies don't have the reputation for being the easiest of plants to grow, but we all enjoy a challenge. They love moist acid soils, so if you can grow Rhododendrons or Camellias in your soil or your neighbours can – then it’s worth a try.

The popular name ‘Himalayan blue poppy’ is usually applied to the blue form which grows quite tall (3-5ft, 1-1.5m) and most have beautiful blue flowers.

Look out for blue poppies
Detail of meconopsis, blue poppies in the walled garden at Rowallane, Co Down, Northern Ireland
Look out for blue poppies

How to get started

You can grow from seed in early spring - indoors to get an early start. They love a rich moist acidic soil, so dig in leaf mould or compost which has no lime added before planting out.

They enjoy an area away from hot sunshine, so look for a quietly lit corner which avoids the hot midday sun and if you hit a dry spell you can give a little water to keep them going. Then cross your fingers and hope that they will flower for you (usually in mid May) but seed grown plants may flower a little later.

Keeping going

When given the right conditions blue poppies over winter and reappear the following spring.

Claire McNally, Head Gardener at Rowallane Garden says: "I always likes to give Mother Nature a helping hand, so I divide mine up when they are coming through in the spring and the leaves are still small (less than 10cms). Division of the crown is one simple way - just dig carefully round the plant and lift it out, look at the crown and where there are cluster of leaves is one plant, usually there will be a second or third that you can split away from the others with a sharp spade or knife. This is very satisfying to do as these will multiply when you replant them again."

In the autumn they will disappear, don’t panic this is natural, as they are herbaceous plants.


Did you know that we have our own variety of Daffodil known as 'Narcissus Rowallane'? Long celebrated in art and literature, narcissi are associated with a number of themes in different cultures, ranging from death to good fortune, and as symbols of spring.

Daffodils in the Walled Garden
Rowallane Garden Narcissus Daffodils in the Walled Garden
Daffodils in the Walled Garden

Whats in a name?

Narcissus is a genus of predominantly spring perennial plants in the Amaryllis family, The name 'Daffodil' is derived from 'affodell', a variant of asphodel. The narcissus was frequently, referred to as the asphodel and from at least the 16th century, 'Lent Lily' and "Daffydowndilly" have appeared as alternative names

Narcissus were well known in ancient civilisation. The genus is generally considered to have about ten sections with approximately 50 species. The exact origin of the name Narcissus is unknown, but it is often linked to a Greek word for intoxicated (narcotic) and the myth of the youth of that name who fell in love with his own reflection.

In the garden

The species are native to meadows and woods in southwest Europe and North Africa with a center of diversity in the Western Mediterranean, particularly the Iberian peninsula. Narcissi are well suited for planting under small thickets of trees , They also grow well in perennial borders, where they can be grouped as 6 - 12 bulbs.Narcissi bulbs are not attractive to rodents and are sometimes planted near tree roots in orchards to protect them.