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Press release

Celebrated Mount Stewart garden wins European Garden Award for ‘exemplary’ climate mitigation measures

The south front and formal garden at Mount Stewart, County Down in Northern Ireland.
The south front and formal garden at Mount Stewart, County Down | © National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The National Trust’s Mount Stewart in County Down has received a first prize for Climate Mitigation Measures in Parks or Gardens in the European Garden Award.

The prestigious award is given by the European Garden Heritage Network, which represents some 210 parks and gardens across 21 countries, and the Germany-based Schloss Dyck Foundation, a centre for Garden Design and Landscape Culture. It is seen as a ‘seal of quality’ for outstanding achievement in contemporary garden design, the management and development of historic gardens and climate adaptation measures.

The celebrated garden was one of three to be awarded first prize in the category, which was introduced in 2022.

Mount Stewart is a rare late Arts and Crafts garden, and its deeply personal, artistic ‘rooms’ – filled with an unrivalled plant collection – were created by Edith, Lady Londonderry, in the early 20th century. It is considered one of the most outstanding gardens in the world.

But warmer summers, wetter winters and rising sea levels are already altering the gardens which are set on the shore of Strangford Lough, the largest sea inlet in the British Isles, in Northern Ireland. Modelling suggests it is very likely that the most famous area, the Formal Gardens, will be slowly consumed by both salt and rainwater sometime in the next 100 years.

The team here is among the first in the National Trust to assess the risks posed by climate change and to make detailed plans for the future. This includes working with partners to understand localised climate impacts, maintaining the historic ‘sea plantation’ which shelters the area near the house, and introducing plants that are more resilient to windy and salty conditions. This will be a mix of native plants as well as adaptive, fast-growing plant species from Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, and the eastern seaboard of the USA.

Head Gardener Mike Buffin said:

Over time, we’ll create a new garden in the spirit of the existing Formal Gardens, further into the estate. We’ll use trigger points, such as storm events, to guide our decisions, and propagate significant at-risk plants so they can be planted in a new, safer location. This way, people can continue to enjoy the character and beauty of these unique gardens for generations to come.”

Jens Spanjer, Director of Schloss Dyck Foundation and jury member, said:

Horticultural professionals and garden lovers across Europe value the National Trust's exceptional work on behalf of the heritage and intrinsic value of parks and gardens. The research being carried out at Mount Stewart into the effects of climate change will be important not only for the National Trust but for many other gardens.

The jury recognises this with a first prize and hopes that the gardeners at Mount Stewart will be successful in preserving the beauty and value of the site.”

Jacob Fischer, Partner at Denmark-based LYTT Architecture and jury member, said:

In our designs for new parks and public spaces, we try to ensure from the outset that they can easily cope with the effects of climate change and contribute to climate change mitigation in cities. I am aware that in historic parks and gardens it is much more difficult to meet these challenges. What is being done at Mount Stewart is exemplary and will certainly inspire and guide work in other gardens.”

The Trust says climate change presents the single biggest threat to the places in its care and the single biggest challenge to achieving its mission. The work underway at Mount Stewart is just one example of how the conservation charity is making sensible, practical preparations, guided by tools such as its Climate Hazard Map. This helps teams understand climate risks, develop plans and make informed decisions at the right time.

Director of Gardens & Parklands Andy Jasper said:

The outstanding work that Mike, his team and partners are doing at Mount Stewart shows how seriously the Trust is taking climate adaptation. We don’t have all the answers, but we know the likely impacts and that the time to act is now. We’re using all the skills, knowledge and talent at our disposal to find opportunities and take positive action.

It’s our responsibility to make sure that extraordinary gardens like the one at Mount Stewart have a future and can keep enriching the lives of everyone who visits.”