Behind the Walls

The Evolution of the Walled Gardens at Glenarm Castle, Northern Ireland

By Historic Houses

Glenarm Castle, entrance front (2020-04) by Glenarm CastleHistoric Houses

The McDonnell Family at Glenarm

The McDonnells of Antrim came originally from the Western Isles of Scotland but have been at Glenarm for nearly 600 years. Like the gardens, Glenarm Castle has evolved over the centuries and today’s castle of 1636 is a flamboyant mix of architectural periods.

Lettuces ready for the table in the Kitchen Garden at Glenarm Castle (2020-06) by Glenarm CastleHistoric Houses

The Earliest Gardens

There was a kitchen garden recorded at Glenarm as early as 1260.  Glenarm Castle has been rebuilt several times since and today the Walled Garden is on a different site, but it is part of the history of what is one of Northern Ireland’s oldest walled gardens.

Glenarm Castle in the late 18th century (1793-06-01) by Thomas MiltonHistoric Houses

Georgian Glenarm

Glenarm Castle and the McDonnell family were caught up in the turmoil of Irish history until the 5th Earl of Antrim remodelled the castle in 1750.  His new castle had walled gardens near the house, now lost,  and was surrounded by a fashionable landscape garden and deer park.

Glenarm Castle in the late 18th century (1793-06-01) by Thomas MiltonHistoric Houses

A contemporary visitor was certainly taken with the view, “…extremely romantic and beautiful;… adorned with various evergreens, myrtles and the arbutus, or strawberry tree, almost continuously in blossom...”. 

Anne Catherine, Countess of Antrim (circa 1815) by Glenarm CastleHistoric Houses

Anne Catherine, Countess of Antrim (1775-1834)

The Glenarm Castle garden we see today exists thanks to eight generations of the McDonnell family.  First was Anne Catherine, Countess of Antrim, who inherited the estate and title in her own right and, having outlived one husband and her twin sister, married for love at 39.

Glenarm Castle in the early 19th century (1828) by Glenarm CastleHistoric Houses

A new house

Moving back to Glenarm Castle with her new husband in 1817, Anne Catherine added gothic turrets, creating a more romantic appearance, and then turned her attention to the creation of a walled garden a short walk away to supply fruit and vegetables for the house.

Contrasting greens in the Walled Garden at Glenarm Castle (2020-09-29) by Glenarm CastleHistoric Houses

The Walled Garden

Anne Catherine’s walled garden at Glenarm Castle was first built in the 1820s.  She needed a large walled garden both to protect the plants from the salty coastal wind and to make sure of a regular supply of fruit and vegetables. 

Apple trees at Glenarm Castle Gardens (2020-10) by Glenarm CastleHistoric Houses

Self Sufficiency

Before the building of the Antrim Coast Road in 1842, a major work of Victorian engineering, Glenarm Castle was cut off from the rest of Ireland while Scotland, across the North Channel, was relatively easy to reach. The new gardens allowed for much greater self sufficiency.

The Herb Garden at the heart of Glenarm Castle Gardens (2020-05) by Glenarm CastleHistoric Houses

The Herb Garden

The herb garden at Glenarm Castle sits within a circular yew hedge which dates from Anne Catherine’s garden of the 1820s. The sundial is dated 1822. The garden was divided into quadrants, each devoted to a different type of cultivation, vegetables, soft fruits, orchards etc.   

Looking west across the Walled Garden (2020-05) by Glenarm CastleHistoric Houses

The Glasshouse

A long 5-bay glasshouse still stretches along the North wall where peaches, apricots, grapes and tender plants are grown.  In Anne Catherine’s day as many as 20 gardeners were employed here and she also built a Mushroom House and a glasshouse dedicated to figs.

Reds, oranges and a hint of blue in the Hot Border at Glenarm Castle (2020-09-29) by Glenarm CastleHistoric Houses

The Victorian Garden

In the late 19th century, there was less need for a large garden and part of the walled garden was made over to ornamental planting.  The beauty of the flower borders were captured in watercolour by Louisa, Countess of Antrim, wife of the 11th Earl, around 1900.

Looking along the central axis of the garden at Glenarm Castle (2020-09-29) by Glenarm CastleHistoric Houses

The Beech Circle

In the 1960s, Sir Randal McDonnell, 13th Earl planted a circle of beeches at the heart of Glenarm Castle Gardens to echo Anne Catherine’s yew circle.  The beech circle was reached by a serpentine beech hedge which created a central axis across the middle of the garden.  

Madonna and Child in the East Border at Glenarm Castle (2020-09-29) by Glenarm CastleHistoric Houses

Madonna and Child

At the bottom of the central path, in the East border of Glenarm Castle Walled Garden,  the 13th Earl of Antrim’s wife, the professional sculptress, Angela Sykes, added a charming limestone sculpture of a Madonna and Child, executed when she was only 16.

Viscount and Viscountess Dunluce (2015) by Glenarm CastleHistoric Houses

The 21st Century

Full restoration began after the 13th Earl’s grandson, Randal, Viscount Dunluce became the custodian of Glenarm. He and his wife, Aurora, moved into the castle with their children and, in 2001, set about bringing the garden into the 21st century, opening to the public in 2005.

Pale contrasts in the Double Borders at Glenarm Castle Garden (2020-09-29) by Glenarm CastleHistoric Houses

The Flower Borders

A series of expansive herbaceous borders were the brainchild of the late Nigel Marshalll, previously head gardener at the National Trust’s Mount Stewart.  "Nigel was a turning point. He was inspirational." says Lady Dunluce.

August in the Hot Border at Glenarm Castle Gardens (2020-09-29) by Glenarm CastleHistoric Houses

The Flower Borders

The brilliant hues of the Hot Border on the North Wall give way to softer blues, pinks and creams in the impressive Double Border while a new Hydrangea Border keeps colour in the garden well into the autumn.  

Looking along the central axis of the garden at Glenarm Castle (2020-09-29) by Glenarm CastleHistoric Houses

New Accents

Lord Dunluce has brought several new accents to the garden. A double rill running over beach pebbles leads to a rectangular pool, a new focus at the end of the serpentine walk. The pebbles celebrate the Earls of Antrim’s ancient right to collect stones from the beach.

Hedges break up the view at Glenarm Castle Walled Garden (2020-06) by Glenarm CastleHistoric Houses

The Obelisk

The Obelisk in the centre of the Apple Orchard at Glenarm Castle was sculpted from local oak wood by Corin Giles. Lord Dunluce recognised that an eyecatcher was needed in the North West quadrant of the gardens.

Plans for a revived garden by Catherine FitzGerald (2004) by Glenarm CastleHistoric Houses

A Plan for the Upper Garden

In 2004, Irish landscape designer Catherine FitzGerald re-invigorated the upper garden, with a series of six newly designed gardens which combined flowers and fruit trees, echoing the original purpose of the walled garden.

Hedges break up the view at Glenarm Castle Walled Garden (2020-06) by Glenarm CastleHistoric Houses

The Upper Garden

The two centre panels host a Medlar Garden to the South, with beds edged in formal box but filled with airy clouds of Stipa gigantea and Verbena bonariensis, and a Crab Apple Garden to the north where Spring tulips give way to cottage garden flowers.

The new gardens expand into the Apple Orchard, the Pear Garden, the Cherry Garden and culminate, in the South West section, in a spiralling grassy knoll, called The Mount, from which visitors can survey the whole garden and the ancient deer park beyond.

Visitors to the Tulip Festival at Glenarm Castle (2020-05) by Glenarm CastleHistoric Houses

Opening to Visitors

Today the Walled Garden at Glenarm is less than an hour from central Belfast, the paths throng with enthusiasts from the May Tulip Festival until the apples ripen in October. It has adapted to new circumstances over the centuries and is now ready for the future

Credits: Story

Glenarm Castle www.glenarmcastle.com
Glenarm Castle around 1787 by John James Barralet from 
Views of Seats in Ireland, Thomas Milton, 1793
Ian Campbell Photography

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps