On Saturday, the volunteer group met at the Old Schoolhouse on the Portaferry Road. This had originally been built to educate the children of the staff who worked on the Mount Stewart Estate. In more recent years, it had been used as accommodation for Mount Stewart’s previous Head Gardener and his family. Since then, it has been the office for the team of National Trust Wardens who manage the countryside sites around Strangford Lough, with volunteer accommodation at the other end.
There is a small garden at the back of the schoolhouse. This must have been full of colourful and exotic plants while the Head Gardener lived there. But unfortunately, since he moved out, it has been abandoned and allowed to overgrow. Although this garden is not open to the public, it is a shame to see it so neglected and full of weeds.
So we decided to spend a day working in the garden, to see if we could make some basic improvements.
The shrubs and bushes were cut down in size and brambles and ivy removed. This really opened up the garden and revealed paths, walls and other features that had long been obscured from sight. At times, we felt like archaeologists, cutting back the overgrown jungle to uncover evidence of a long-lost civilisation.
The beds were so overgrown that we decided it would be best to dig everything out. The soil was then thoroughly dug over and we removed as many roots and weeds as we could.
There were many salvageable plants, which we were able to divide and replant. However, working out exactly what they were was definitely the most challenging part of the day.
Although the garden will never come close to being returned to its former glory, we hope that our efforts have certainly made worthwhile improvements. This will be an ongoing project and we’re looking forward to the challenge of trying to keep the garden under control. And we’re anticipating exciting new discoveries as everything starts to grow and flower in the coming seasons.
As we packed up at the end of the day, we were treated to a spectacular sunset over the lough.
We all remarked on what a wonderful place this must have been to live and work. Perhaps even going to school wasn’t always that bad either.