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Bloomin' lovely: Two women on their beautiful gardens ahead of National Trust's Open Gardens event

As part of The National Trust's Open Gardens summer event beginning this weekend, two green-fingered experts welcome the public into their amazing gardens.

By Una Brankin

Published 17/07/2015

Budding star: Eileen Wilson in her Lisburn garden
Budding star: Eileen Wilson in her Lisburn garden
Building bridges: a water feature at Tattykeel House in Omagh
Kathleen Ward in the front garden of her home, Tattykeel House, Doogary Road, Omagh
BBC's Cherry McIlwaine
Flower power: Eileen Wilson in her garden
Some of the spectacular colour in Eileen Wilson's garden
Some of the spectacular colour in Eileen Wilson's garden

Kathleen Ward's exquisite garden was a building site when she moved to Tattykeel House in Omagh 25 years ago. Now one of the jewels in the crown of the National Trust's Ulster Gardens Scheme, the delightful one-and-a-half acre space can be explored by the public this weekend, as part of its Open Gardens summer event.

"We only had a small garden when we lived in a bungalow outside Omagh originally, so when we moved, I had this huge blank canvas to work on," says Kathleen, a renowned artist. "It's in my blood. My mother was a good gardener and a great inspiration to me. I always watched her garden, as a child growing up in Enniskillen - unlike my four. It's a mystery to me why they're not interested."

After some renovations, Kathleen and her husband, Hugh, a former headmaster, opened their beautiful home as a B&B and built a design studio in the grounds, where Kathleen produces her beautiful hand-painted and rolled silk scarves, hand-crafted designer handbags, textile art and fine art.

Her vivid use of colour is inspired by her gorgeous garden, which has been featured prominently by the gardening media, from the BBC's Cherry McIlwaine, to Irish Garden magazine.

"The garden was a matter of trial and error from the start. There wasn't the same guidance and information you can get now, from gardening programmes and so on, and there wasn't such a large selection of plants available," Kathleen recalls.

"We had to battle the elements, too, given the exposed setting of the space. The shelter was limited and we had to plant a lot of trees and shrubs. The shrubs went out of fashion for a long time but they're back in again - a garden can look very bleak without them. It's lovely to have all shades of green in the garden throughout the year."

Kathleen's late mother, whom she is named after, helped her shape the garden, which features roses and perennials, and an inviting sheltered area for relaxing. There's also a collection of mature climbers on the house and an eye-catching little red Chinese-style bridge arching over a stream.

"The Chinese feature is a more recent development - it's in the only part of the garden where there's a natural slope," says Kathleen, a former social services manager. "My mother was a more traditional gardener but she did introduce a nice variety of hosta plants at the time. The garden has taken a lot of work since then and still does, but it's worth it.

"We open it by appointment every year and get to meet lots of interesting people. We'll have a cup of tea for those coming at the weekend - I'm sure those coming from a long distance will appreciate it."

Kathleen's open day is followed in August by Eileen Wilson's, in Lisburn. Eileen's handsome garden started out as a field on one acre, when she and her husband Ernest moved to the outskirts of Lisburn 57 years ago.

The couple had hens running through their original lawns and planted plots of vegetables, including peas, beans, potatoes and scallions.

Now a grandmother-of-five, Eileen is still a keen gardener, and won Bronze at the Belfast Telegraph's Blooming Marvellous competition last year.

"Over the years, the garden has become an eclectic mix of conifers, rhododendrons, perennials, shrubs, lawns and pathways," she says.

"The seasonal colour from perennials and bulbs provide a good contrast throughout the garden, over all seasons. We have a large circular feature and a gazebo, where the Girls' Brigade will be serving tea and buns on the open day."

A former teacher, Eileen is keen on herbaceous perennials and has planted a lot of conifers, as well as deciduous species. Annual highlights include crocosmia, anthemis and dahlias.

"I have a lot of geranium varieties and I like dahlias," she says. "I'm not so keen on roses - I find them a bit tricky. They're prone to diseases in the leaves. I never got into growing herbs; I've kept the garden quite traditional - and it keeps me busy."

Eileen's lucky to have the room for her magnificent mature trees, which frame and shelter her lawns beautifully. For anyone with a limited space, she recommends a herbacious border.

"A few small shrubs planted in a small bed will make a fine herbacious border," Eileen says. "Hydrangeas provide a lovely burst of colour when they're in bloom, and you'll get a whole season out of geraniums. Jolly Bees are also lovely for colour, and begonias.

"If you're very stuck for space, you can plant them in pots, and then you don't have to worry so much about your soil."

While some plants like the sun, others prefer the shade. For such a small country, we have a marked variation in temperature and soil quality, which has to be taken into account before choosing garden plants. As it's slightly milder in Lisburn than Omagh, Eileen can grow more varieties than Kathleen, for example.

Both advise anyone starting off with a garden to take time to do proper research. "There are a lot of garden designers out there now and you can get lots of advice, but it's nice to do it yourself," says Eileen.

"Have a good look round and go to the flower shows and open gardens. You can get some great ideas.

"Then, you have to think about the size of your garden and how much time you want to spend on it. All gardens need a good structure. Conifers and shrubs provide a nice framework and give greenery all year round."

In larger gardens like Kathleen's, correct drainage is essential.

"You have to get your soil right - not just the top soil," Kathleen says. "I use good processed horse manure to enrich the soil.

"In a smaller garden, I would plant a few specimen trees which won't grow too big. Copper bark trees have lovely leaves, and I love silver birches. They catch the light beautifully and they're lovely in winter. After that, you need to think about colour and perennials.

"I like hosta plants - there's a huge variety of colour, texture and sizes with hostas. For the best impact, plant three or five of the one variety together."

While Eileen isn't a huge fan of roses - "I have a few but I haven't got on well growing them" - Kathleen can't resist them.

"They are prone to disease, but you can get some good resistant breeds now," Kathleen says. "I like David Austin roses - I order direct from him in the south of England. I started off with Sam McGredy roses; I'd go to see fields of them growing at his home, near Portadown."

Eileen's garden is more sedate and classic English-country in style than Kathleen's, who has added a few quirky touches. But both spaces are glorious at this time of year and truly inspirational for green-fingered visitors on the open days. And both ladies are fans of climbing plants.

"Some climbers, like clematis, have a nice fragrance, although not as strong as roses," concludes Kathleen. "They're beautiful on trellis. We have Virginia Creeper on our house walls - you have to mind it, as it can cause damage to the eaves, but I love the vibrant colour. Just to stand back and see everything in bloom is amazing. People say to me, 'you must do some talking to those plants - they look so happy!' I don't know about that, but they certainly make me happy."

Open invitation to enjoy all the colour in these gorgeous gardens

It's your last chance to enjoy the fruits of two of Ulster's top country gardeners in the National Trust's Open Gardens 2015.

Tomorrow and Sunday, 2-5pm, Kathleen Ward and her husband Hugh will host the public in their fabulous garden at Tattykeel House, Doogary Road, Omagh. Described by the National Trust's Ulster Gardens Scheme as "a country garden of approximately one-and-a-half acres planted with conifers, shrubs, roses and perennials," the Wards' beautiful grounds include a sheltered sitting area, interesting features and a collection of well-grown climbers on the house. Kathleen runs a very interesting craft studio at the house. Partially suitable for wheelchairs.

Directions: Tattykeel House is approximately 2.5 miles from Omagh, on the south side of the A5 Omagh to Ballygawley Road. The house name is carved in stone at the entrance. Plant stall and teas available.

The final open garden of the season - Saturday, August 1 and Sunday, August 2 - belongs to Eileen Wilson, who lives at 'Dawlish', 70 Limehill Road, Lisburn.

The Bronze winner in 2014 Belfast Telegraph's Bloomin Marvellous competition, Eileen's garden is described by the National Trust as "a country garden, which offers interesting features at the turn of every corner. A wonderful selection of conifers, ornamental trees and shrubs giving all year round interest."

The garden is partially suitable for wheelchairs.

Directions: From centre of Lisburn, cross the bridge towards the M1. At traffic lights, turn right onto Young Street. After 250 yards, turn left onto Ballynahinch Road. Stay on this road, passing under motorway. Approximately 400 yards from tunnel, turn left onto Limehill Road. House on right.

From Belfast: Leave M1 at Junction 6, A49 Lisburn city centre. At roundabout take the third exit, Lisburn. On leaving roundabout take first left onto Kensington Park. Stay on this road and at T junction turn left onto Ballynahinch Road. Pass under M1.

Approximately 400 yards from tunnel turn left onto Limehill Road. House on right. Plant stall and teas available. Visit www.ulstergardensscheme.org.uk for more details.

Belfast Telegraph

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