A Winter Walk through Mountstewart Gardens

Mountstewart House
Mountstewart, the family seat of the Londonderry family

Nestled along the inside shore of Strangford Lough in County Down is a rare hidden gem; the Mount Stewart Estate. Ancestral seat of the Londonderry Family, the estate is now managed by the National Trust, and it boasts one of the best gardens in the UK.

It is about 20 minutes from our house, and we visit frequently through the year. There was a break in the rain today, if not the clouds and as the weather has been dreadful this winter it’s been a while since we last visited; so we donned our wellies, grabbed the dogs and went for a walk.

The recent storms have been hard on the woodland, and that is immediately obvious as you make your way around the lake. It’s a work in progress, and you can see recently felled trees, in parts neatly cut, but in other places jagged breaks where the wind took it’s toll. Woodland management

Woodland management

For regular visitors, you would notice a lot more light around the lake now, as a lot of work has already been carried out.

I was pleased to see that the Cork Oak survived. As far as I am aware, it is the most northerly example of it’s type, normally these trees grow much further south, where the cork bark is harvested for wine production. I have a particular fondness for this tree, as a few years ago, I noticed a pine sapling growing epiphyticaly on one of the upper branches. The light makes it a bit difficult to see in the photo, but if you look at the second fork in the trunk, and then up, you may see some whip like branches with needlelike leaves that look ‘wrong’, thats it.

Cork Oak
Most northerly cork oak (that I know of) with an epiphytic pine growing on top

The problem is once the pine is established it will become too heavy for the oak branch to support. At that stage if it breaks, then the way is open for virus and disease to set in. I’m very protective of this Cork Oak, as you can probably tell.

Each year a brace of swans try rearing a brood, two years ago the brood were all wiped out but last year was much more successful and a couple of the cygnets are almost fully grown now. They look like they are doing well.

Following the lake on round shows signs of a few more trees down, which will have hit the population of red squirrels that live here. Although we were there too late in the day to see them I did see signs

Signs of squirrel predation on acorns
Squirrel predation on acorns

These are acorn husks, that a squirrel has opened. If a mouse had opened this, the acorn would have a round hole nibbled round the bottom, but a squirrel had the strength to split the shell in half, you see it even better with hazel nut shells which split cleanly.

Pine cones
Fallen cones

Throughout the grounds there are various types of pinecones that have been stripped of the little oil rich pine nuts inside.

All around there are signs of life as early buds start to show and even blossom. It won’t be long, maybe a couple of weeks before this area is a riot of colour and scent

img_2859

This was just a brief walk round the lake while the rain was off. But in a few weeks time when the real spring blooms are in full glory I will be back to do the estate a bit more justice and show you the formal gardens and the house.

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25 comments

    • I’m just working through everything that I’ve missed in my spam folder, and here you are again! I am so sorry – I have no idea why that happened. Haven’t even got looking at the nominations yet, but I really appreciate it

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I love this post, Sonia! I have been a gardener for almost 20 years now (I have my own gardens, but I also garden for clients), and I love seeing gardens in other parts of the world. Your post is lovely!

    Also, I love the interesting story of your beloved cork oak. I would love to visit the Mountstewart gardens for that alone. Hopefully someone will look after that oak, even if it mean removing that sneaky pine. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope to perhaps get back this weekend when all the spring flowers willl be starting to bloom. There are a whole series of formal gardens, they come into their own later in summer, and the woodland is glorious in autumn.
      I will try and do it justice, but the cork tree does concern me, I have a real soft spot for it

      Liked by 1 person

      • I will. It is such an interesting property, Lady Edith Londonderry was the Queen of Society at the time, and she ran a society ‘set’ called The Arc Club, so there are a lot of sculptural references throughout as each person had their own animal character. I can’t remember Winston Churchill’s off the top of my head, but there are rumours that he once rode his horse up the staircase, and more besides. So this was just a taster – until I can properly do it justice. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, what fascinating history. You should include some of that in your posts as well. I pinned your post in hopes that we can visit someday. 🙂 It’s now on my bucket list!

        Liked by 1 person

      • The NT have recently spent £1M refurbishing the house and I haven’t been round it since it’s been done up. I want to do the full works, house & grounds 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • It is well worth a visit, we are lucky, it’s not far so we can go there regularly- I love it

      Thank you for taking the time to stop by and comment xx

      Like

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