About Ulster Gardens Scheme

The Ulster Gardens Scheme was established to raise funds to support work in gardens cared for by the National Trust in Northern Ireland. Many people enjoy visiting National Trust properties, especially those with a beautiful garden, and it is obvious to all that the maintenance of such beauty makes heavy demands on the resources of a charity such as the National Trust. Often financial restrictions mean that routine maintenance eats up all available funds, leaving little if any for additional projects which could enhance the visitor experience.

Some years ago, with this in mind, a group of like-minded gardeners decided to support the work of the Trust by opening their own private gardens to these same visitors with all proceeds going to specific projects within National Trust gardens in Northern Ireland. And so, from this simple idea the Ulster Gardens Scheme was founded.

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Ulster Gardens Scheme volunteers at the Plant Stall

The Scheme is run by a committee of volunteers from across the Province, united in their love of plants and gardens. The committee meets regularly to plan forthcoming openings; sourcing new gardens to visit, organising volunteers to help on the day with admissions and plant sales and a myriad of other ‘behind the scenes’ activities to ensure that visitors have an enjoyable afternoon in the surroundings of a beautiful garden.

On the day, visitors are greeted at the entrance by members of the committee, offering a sunny smile, even when sunshine isn’t particularly evident. Other members of the team produce hundreds of plants each year to sell at the gardens. Regular visitors can be seen making a beeline for the plant stall early in the day to snap up some of the rare and unusual plants which can often be found. Some of the team also travel around Northern Ireland (and beyond) giving lectures on the Scheme to gardening clubs and other groups, supported by the work of our own committee photographer who records all of the garden openings each year.

At the end of each year, the head gardeners and property managers from all of the National Trust properties are invited to put forward proposals for special projects in their gardens which require financial support. The committee considers the merits of each proposal and allocates funding as it considers appropriate. Money is only allocated to projects which would add to the attraction of a property but for which there is insufficient funding available from the Trust’s central funds. Routine maintenance does not qualify for any support from the Scheme.

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Stone Eagle at Castleward,
restoration funded by
Ulster Gardens Scheme

In the past the Scheme has assisted with the restoration of statuary, garden buildings, and ornamental features; the provision of plants for new developments and improved visitor facilities. The committee has been particularly supportive of training schemes for new gardeners to help ensure a high level of horticultural skills are passed on to future generations for the long term survival of the gardens. Modern technological advances have not been ignored; the committee recently approved funding for the use of mycorrhizal fungi in the propagation of rhododendron cultivars at Rowallane.

Of course, none of this would happen without the support of all those who kindly share their own private garden with visitors under the Scheme. Some will open their gates for one or two days every few years and others make their gardens available throughout the summer months every year under our ‘By Appointment’ Scheme. All of the money raised is greatly appreciated by the National Trust in Northern Ireland, its gardeners and by the organising committee of the Ulster Gardens Scheme.

If you feel you would like to open your garden for the Scheme, please contact us and a member of the committee will get in touch with you to discuss arrangements. If you feel your garden is too small to cope with large numbers of visitors, or if there is restricted access and parking, our ‘By Appointment’ Scheme may be a suitable option.