Seaforde, County Down

The Seaforde garden occupies the southern half of a five-acre walled garden on the perimeter of a beautiful demesne park, probably created by the great eighteenth-century landscape designer John Sutherland. Visitors arrive by the Downpatrick gate on the Belfast Road and drive through pleasant woodland to a car park, formerly the estate tree nursery. From here the garden is approached through the northern part of the Walled Garden, once devoted to kitchen produce and now the site of a large commercial nursery with a fine choice of trees and shrubs for sale.

The garden as it is today was created in the 1970s by the present owners, Patrick and Lady Anthea Forde, on the site of a formal Victorian ornamental flower garden. Entering through a gate from the north-west end, the visitor should turn left along the wall where there are some attractive plants, notably a good selection of echiums, on the site of the old greenhouses and camellia house. Further along is a recently built Mogul-style tower with a spiral staircase, a small herb garden and a Gothic arbour, while south of this lies a large hornbeam maze constructed in 1975. Its entrance is delimited by two stone urns re-used from the old Victorian garden; those managing to reach the centre will find an arbour with a statue of Diana. Flanking the maze and across lawns are two avenues of shrubs containing the national collection of eucryphias. At present nineteen cultivars of these fragrant, white flowering southern-hemisphere shrubs blossom at Seaforde, including new types with variegated leaves recently found in Tasmania.

On the south side of the Walled Garden the Pheasantry emerges: a secluded, undulating grassy area with specimen trees and shrubs. Of special note is an enormous Rhododendron arboreum and a magnificent Crimean pine (Pinus nigra caramanica). A small pond has Gunnera manicata on its banks, while at least eleven varieties of azaras have been planted in the shade of the trees on the south-east side.

Those interested in tropical plants should find it edifying to visit the Butterfly House on the west side of the nursery. Built in 1988 and now quite a popular attraction, it contains a good selection of tree ferns, including no less than three varieties of Dicksonia and Cyathea. Some of the attractive tropical planting features the African Cyperus papyrus, the banana plant Musa basjoo, the violet-flowering Lantana camara and the Brazilian spider-flower Tibouchina semidecandra. Also from Brazil is a jacaranda with downy, fern-like leaves, while from South Africa are varieties of plumbago and from Japan varieties of nerium and philodendron. Among the datura shrubs is the striking D. suaueolens from Mexico with its large, pendulous, trumpet-shaped fragrant white flowers.

Located just north of Seaforde on the Ballynahinch Road. NGR: J403433. Open Easter to October. Nursery and Butterfly House open all year round. Refreshments available. Toilet facilities. Admission charge. Tel: (01396) 811225