One of Northern Ireland's most spectacular historic estates is to throw open its gates to the public for the first time in a decade.
Lady Dufferin will open her private gardens at Clandeboye Estate on the outskirts of Bangor on Sunday, April 14, the first of three open days this year that will showcase the grounds in spring, summer and autumn.
Not only is the estate famous for its fascinating social history, but also its unique horticultural heritage spanning three centuries.
Clandeboye's gardens have been cultivated by generations of the same family since the days of the 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava in the 1850s – and are still nurtured by Lady Dufferin.
"In 1850, Lord Dufferin enlisted the help of James Fraser, a Scottish landscape gardener, to advise on the creation of the parkland, Arboretum, and walks to Helen's Tower and Helen's Bay," Lady Dufferin said.
"One of the first additions to Clandeboye was a collection of trees shipped in from the Americas. Since then, every generation has left their own legacy in the gardens and, importantly, continued to grow the catalogue of species. Today, Clandeboye boasts one of the most extensive and eclectic collections in Ireland with more than 3,000 catalogued shrubs and trees in the gardens."
Lady Dufferin described how she first came to live at Clandeboye in 1964 and instantly fell in love with the wonderful gardens – but admits she was "quite daunted" by the time-consuming task that faced her.
"The gardens date from 1850 from the time of the First Marquess. Since then, every generation has added to their development," she said.
"In particular, over the last 50 years I have continued to grow the Arboretum with the addition of many more beautiful and rare tree species.
"I have also created Sheridan's Garden in memory of my late husband – this is a peaceful and informal woodland garden that will hopefully become an enduring addition to the estate."
The gardens are occasionally thrown open to small, private tours for groups but this is the first time in a decade that the public have been admitted on this scale.
"They haven't been open often before simply because it takes a great deal of planning and work to get the gardens ready for so many eyes to see," Lady Dufferin said.
"This year, I was keen to share their beauty and I hope everyone enjoys seeing them in their springtime splendour.
• Tickets are £8 (under-fives free), available from Clandeboye events office on (028) 9185 3457 or e-mail email@example.com
7 hidden treasures to see ...
1. The Arboretum — Started in the 1860s, the Arboretum is one of the most extensive collections of trees in Ireland. Among the favourites are the stunning weeping beech and giant redwoods from California.
2. Brenda’s Garden — This garden was created in the 1920s and named after Brenda Woodhouse, wife of the 3rd Marquess. In April it is awash with primulas, rhododendrons and maples.
3. Sheridan’s Garden — Created by Lady Dufferin in 1980s, Sheridan’s Garden is a peaceful woodland garden.
4. The Bear Garden — When the 1st Marquess brought two bears from Russia to live at Clandeboye, he put them in this garden. Thankfully there are no bears here today.
5. The Bee Garden — This walled garden is a vibrant mix of colour as bee-friendly plants come into bloom.
6. The Lake — Clandeboye Lake is a man-made lake dug in the 1860s. It is home to a wide variety of birdlife.
7. The Walled Garden — The tree nursery grows a variety of local provenance trees and shrubs.