The award-winning, five star Montalto Estate, in rural Co. Down, has opened a fascinating The Lost Garden Trail within its 400-acre estate.
The Lost Garden was initially discovered in 2018 when the estate was preparing to open to the public for the first time in decades. The team uncovered stone slabs in an unexpected area, which led to a forgotten garden. Further investigative work was put on hold whilst focus continued on opening plans.
With the arrival of 2020, the team took the opportunity to revisit the area, and continue the exploration of what else was still to be uncovered.
In the overgrown area, the team started to uncover many interesting artefacts and original features and, working alongside a highly respected historic gardens consultant, has brought the garden back to life.
The Lost Garden Trail experience provides visitors with an understanding of what the area would have looked like back in 1912, when the estate was owned by Lord and Lady Clanwilliam. The trail is 1.2 miles and surrounded by native woodland, which gives a sense of tranquillity. Visitor interpretation located throughout the area reveals the physical and historical elements of the trail and garden.
Key highlights include the remains of an original Victorian glasshouse which had been discovered by the team in an overgrown area. The lost garden is the warmest, most sheltered, south facing area on the estate, which is why the glasshouse is located here. This would have catered for fruits that needed a warm and humid climate, and helped elongate the growing season.
The trail also features an original stone bench seat located alongside part of the garden wall. It was uncovered as part of the clearing of the site, and visitors can enjoy this discovery as they walk the winding pathways around the trail.
An exact replica of a rose arbour discovered in disrepair by the team has been designed and created by local engineer John Lyons. This statement piece has been carefully placed within its original location, and will look even more stunning as newly planted roses mature over the next 18 months to two years.
The Lost Garden Trail also features the remains of two bridges, linking one side of the garden to the other. These have been reinstated in a similar design to what they were originally. These are also located in their original settings, crossing a stream. All the timber work has been handcrafted by two talented joiners from the Ballynahinch area.
A large stone stag has been placed beside a section of original metal fencing to symbolise that this estate once had a deer park, an area which was adjacent to The Lost Garden setting.
The trail features a wide variety of beautiful garden plants, flowers, trees, and shrubs. The gardening team discovered Philadelphus, Mahonia, Japanese Maple, and many native trees that had seeded in the area and gave a canopy to this beautiful garden. The Rhododendrons on the far side of the river were kindly donated from other gardens.
There is also an area dedicated to award-winning alpines; the alpine plants are in pots as they are lifted in and out according to what is in season, and are expertly nurtured by important volunteer Gordon Finch, current Chairman of the Ulster Alpine Society. The society had its humble beginnings on the Estate at a garden fete when it was set up by Lady Clanwilliam during her ownership.
The Lost Garden Trail has been made possible through major private investment, with additional support from Tourism NI’s Experience Development Programme.
David Wilson, managing director of Montalto Estate, said: “We are looking forward to opening and welcoming visitors to this brand new, magical, experience – The Lost Garden Trail. We have restored this historic setting, whilst adding sympathetic, contemporary elements. The winding pathways, and diverse planting and features, will tell stories of days gone by which will help visitors ‘step back in time’, and experience a little of the tranquillity from that period. With significant private funding alongside support from Tourism NI’s Experience Development Programme, we have breathed life back into this wonderful area.”
Supporting the opening of The Lost Garden Trail at Montalto, Ciaran Doherty, Head of Regions and Investment at Tourism NI, said: “We are delighted to support the restoration of The Lost Garden Trail which will serve to enhance the visitor facilities on offer at Montalto Estate. We were also pleased to feature the estate in our recent guide to Historic Houses and Gardens, showcasing a number ofvisitor experiences to be enjoyed in these beautiful surroundings throughout the year. I have no doubt this project will create new and compelling reasons to visit the area.”
For further information on Montalto Estate, including opening hours and admission, go to www.montaltoestate.com