Alan Mercer is fourth generation managing director at Hillmount Garden Centre. The 27-year-old visits parks across Northern Ireland to admire nature, the abundance of colourful flowers and plant life, but also for inspiration and to relax.
Asked to name Northern Ireland's five best public parks, he recommends...
Botanic Gardens, Belfast
Established in 1828, the gardens have been enjoyed as a public park by the people of Belfast since 1895. There is an extensive rose garden and long herbaceous borders, and the tree enthusiast can seek out the rare oaks planted in the 1880s, including the hornbeam-leafed oak. Situated near Queen's University, it is an important part of Belfast's Victorian heritage and a popular meeting place.
Terrace Gardens at Antrim Castle
Antrim Castle Gardens are some of the most beautiful and historically intact gardens in the UK and throughout Ireland. The Gardens – which won the SpecialAward in the 2012 Tranlink Ulster in Bloom competition – and Clotworthy complex offer a beautiful location near Antrim town centre for a stroll or a coffee, or to experience exhibitions, courses and classes.
Ness Country Park, Derry
In the steep wooded Glen of the Burntollet River, south-west of Londonderry, lies Ness Country Park. It features 55 hectares of mixed woodland along with open parkland and extends along both sides of the Burntollet River. There are 7km of stunning woodland and riverside walks including a magnificent waterfall walk. For less able visitors, there is also a meadow walk which offers easy access.The park has picnic tables, wildlife ponds, wildflower meadows and a new visitor centre with an exhibition on woodland biodiversity.
Forthill Park and Cole's Monument, Enniskillen
This is a pleasantly wooded town park with walks, shrub gardens and children's play area in central Enniskillen. Started in 1845, the monument took 12 years to complete. It is built in memory of Sir G Lowry Cole. A series of 180 spiral steps lead to a viewing platform with magnificent views of Enniskillen and the surrounding area. There is a small admission charge for the monument – tickets can be purchased at the Enniskillen Tourist Information Centre. Children must be accompanied by adults. The park is open all year.
The second largest public park in Ireland, it is enjoyed by up to 2,000 people every day. The parkland contains well-maintained paths which provide excellent walking and running. There is an active Friends of the Park group, who take a great interest in what's going on. They meet on the last Wednesday of every month in the Gate Lodge and welcome new members.
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