Glorious gardens: We reveal our first batch of finalists
Vivid colour and verdant planting – these are the first finalists in our Blooming Marvellous gardening competition.
Our judges have been painstakingly digging through scores of stunning entries and we can now announce the shortlist for our Small Country Garden category.
We were bowled over by the wonderful gardens that our readers have shared with us, but these are the glorious spaces that really stood out.
Helen Crawford's garden in Newtownards features a variety of mature trees, shrubs and plants within a boundary of drystone walls and is divided into a series of 'rooms', revealing their secrets as the garden is explored.
It is filled with eyecatching reclaimed features including a stained-glass and wrought iron panel that catches the sunlight and provides height, along with unusual items such as old decorative pipework, wheels, mirrors, cogs and an old pump, all sourced locally. The centrepiece to the patio area is a fully working outdoor fireplace, hand built using reclaimed Belfast brick.
And the emphasis is on a casual user-friendly space, with lots of pots and tubs to add colour and a curved informal wildlife pond.
"Everything has just evolved, with nothing too carefully co-ordinated," Helen says.
Our second finalist is Sean Palmer from Downpatrick, who transformed an old lane into a garden bursting with life.
"I've been living here about 38 years and at the start there was just nothing, only whins and stuff like that," he said.
"It used to be a lane where horses would have walked and I've planted it with roses on one side and other flowers on the other. There is one garden at the bottom and as you travel up to the top there is another garden, and there's a lane where I grow wildflowers."
And our third finalist is Mike Hartwell, who created his vibrant, naturalistic garden in Killyleagh with his late wife Ruth from nothing 14 years ago.
"We strongly believed that a garden was a celebration of your life experience, not just a pretty thing to be looked at – thus it should relate seamlessly to the inside of the house, and the planting should express all that you have learned from nature," Mike says.
"There are several habitats, a small woodland area, wildlife pond with camomile lawn and 200 self-sown orchids, gravel garden, wildflower meadow, and one side is given over to organic vegetable beds.
"The garden is a work in progress and at any one time it may not be neat – something will be changing. Most of the star displays are in May and June, and will be over by July, though a key principle was always year-round colour."
There are four categories in our Blooming Marvellous gardening competition which was launched in May.
The next step is for our judges to visit the gardens in person on July 18 to choose an overall winner. After this, our shortlisted gardens will all be featured in a supplement.
And there's plenty at stake. We are offering £1,000-worth of gardening products for the winning garden in each of our four categories, so it's time to get mulching.
STORY SO FAR
Small country garden category finalists
* Helen Crawford, Newtownards
* Sean Palmer, Downpatrick
* Mike Hartwell, Killyleagh