A Lost Victorian pleasure garden was uncovered when a couple who bought a house in Kircubbin cleared back 50 years of undergrowth.
Now, Noel and Karen Harrison are throwing open the gates of the garden of Tubber na Carrig to the public to show off the major restoration work that has been done.
The pair bought the five-bay Georgian House – a Grade 1 listed building – in 2001 and immediately set to work restoring the house and garden.
Since then, they have discovered that the tangle of shrubbery surrounding the house concealed a host of intriguing features including an 11-acre Victorian pleasure garden with a maze of paths, a walled kitchen garden and some lost greenhouses.
Garden designer Trevor Edwards, who has been working for the last few years at uncovering the lost garden, said the house was originally built around 1800 and known as Summerhill. Previous owners have included the Dean of Down and Lt Col John E Ward.
"When Mr Harrison bought the house, he approached me to look at it from a garden point of view," he said.
"It was totally overgrown – like a lot of Victorian gardens it had been planted with bird cherry that had been left unchecked and had grown absolutely wild. There was a tennis court that was completely enveloped in this bird cherry.
"We cleared a lot of the undergrowth. When we first got started with this back in 2002, we had a policy that we would clear the cherry and remove anything that was dead, dying or dangerous. Then we looked at how we would restore the garden. Over the last number of years we have been dedicated to restoring certain elements and protecting some of the mature trees that are there."
In the course of the restoration, they have restored the stonework of a Ha Ha (sunken trench) that ran in front of the house, allowing servants to pass unseen; they have restored the well; and uncovered a tunnel between the house and the well which would have been used by servants, although it hasn't been opened up yet.
They have mapped and restored a maze of pathways that wound through the Victorian Pleasure gardens and built a new walled garden.
It's thought the building may have served as a Sector Operations Room for the airstrips of Ballyhalbert and Kircubbin– it was deemed important to strategically locate the Operations Rooms close to, but not at the airfield.
Unfortunately the room was in too poor a state to retain and it has now been replaced by a lake in the centre of the pleasure garden.
"We exposed a lot of pretty areas in the gardens that weren't able to be seen such as bluebell and snowdrop walk which were completely overgrown and are now visible and accessible," Mr Edwards said.
"The tarmac tennis court was taken out and replaced with a lawn tennis court.
"We also exposed some of the early walls of greenhouses so they are now visible. There is also a mystery in the garden near the well – what appears to have been a room that was cut into the rocks. It was assumed it was an ice house but it was elevated and an ice house wouldn't be elevated.
"There was also a theory that it was used to house sick cattle. But I think it ties in with the well on the rock and the small quarry that was within the demesne – I think it may have been used to store gunpowder away from the house."
He added: "Some old yew trees that lined the entrance to the house are still there – showing the entrance."
Original features inside the lost garden:
* Maze of paths
* A walled kitchen garden
* Lost greenhouses
* Tennis court
* Sunken trench for staff
* Well and tunnel
* And a mystery room