This magical Cultra garden was 10 years in the planning, but the story of its creation is tinged with sadness.
It was a labour of love for husband and wife designers Rodney and Pat Millar — but just three months after it was completed Rodney lost his battle with cancer.
Now the beautiful Victorian home in Holywood is up for sale. But before that, Pat is throwing open the garden gates for one weekend only so the public can enjoy their shared vision.
It is a late addition to the growing list of private gardens opening to the public this spring and summer under the Ulster Gardens Scheme.
The only charge is a £3 gate fee, which is donated to the National Trust for restoration work in its own gardens.
Pat described how she and her graphic designer husband spent 10 years painstakingly drawing up the plans for their dream garden.
“We actually completed our design and got it drawn up in 2009 and got people in to do the hard landscaping. It was completed in October 2009,” she said.
“My husband died in July 2010. He saw our vision realised and his last three months were spent happy in the garden.
“It was a fairly big garden with a Victorian house and we wanted the garden to reflect the age of the house. We planned to have a design that complemented the Victorian house, rather than modernising it.”
The terrace at the rear of the house commands a magnificent long view looking out over the Italianate garden’s formal box hedges and fountain. On either side of steps leading down into the garden are Victorian rose beds, while below the Italian garden more steps leads down into an avenue of hornbeams.
There is also a secret garden, a decked area with a Japanese twist, shaded by a pagoda and planted with bonsai, ferns and bamboo.
“You don’t know it’s there. It's a lovely place in the evening,” Pat said.
“I just love it — it has been my saving grace over the last two years. It is what has kept me sane.
“Rodney was only 61 when he died and that was one of the reasons why I wanted to open and share it. I wanted to share our vision.”
The garden at 16 Circular Road West is open from 2-5pm this weekend.
Among the highlights of the 2012 Open Gardens programme is Grovehill near Lurgan, owned by Brian and Shirley McKnight. It features follies, an arboretum, Italian, Japanese and Arizona gardens, with 4.5 acres of lawns and a kilometre of walkways. Among the hidden delights are the startling wooden sculptures of a face and a huge hand emerging from the ground.
Meanwhile, the garden at Throw's Lane, Portadown, owned by Mrs Noel Willis, reveals how a garden can integrate a modern home into rural surroundings. Five years ago it was a smallholding with an old roadside cottage and outbuildings — but now the old byre has been thatched and is part of a garden that features trees, shrubs, roses, bulbs and herbaceous plants.
The scheme organisers are always looking for new gardens to open to the public. For full details of the scheme, visit the website at www.ulstergardensscheme.org.uk