Belfast Telegraph

Belfast garden where figs and olives flourish

Ex-navy man Peter and his exotic crops that are ‘dead easy’ to grow

Peter Emerson with an olive tree in his north Belfast garden
Peter Emerson with an olive tree in his north Belfast garden
The grapevine that runs across the house
Peter Emerson in his north Belfast garden
Peter's bumper crop of gooseberries

By Christopher Leebody

Olives, figs and grapes aren't things you would normally associate with being grown in Northern Ireland.

But Peter Emerson (75) from Belfast has turned a former derelict property into a gardener's haven where he grows everything from the mundane to the exotic. 

The former navy submariner moved to Belfast in 1975 after a career that included teaching in Africa.

The property on the Ballysillan Road was so badly damaged that Mr Emerson says it was essentially handed over to him by a friend. 

Originally from England, he moved to Northern Ireland as his father was Irish and became a community worker in north Belfast in the 1970s. 

"I had worked as a community worker in the North Belfast Development centre," he explained.

"In 1977 I resigned and only after did they tell me that when you resign you do not get unemployment benefit. 

"Financially I was a bit stuck, so I started gardening when I moved into this house in 1977. 

"It was derelict but is now a listed building and is looking much nicer than it once was.  Because I was financially not very well off I started growing food. You don't have to be an expert."

While the Northern Ireland climate doesn't automatically appear to accommodate Mr Emerson's exotic produce, he insists that growing everything from plums to figs and olives "is dead easy". 

"I don't do anything - it is the fig tree that produces them," he said.

"The year before I had so many I got a friend of mine in St Georges Market to sell them.  

"One of their customers was from Turkey and they refused to believe these things were born in north Belfast". 

"The fig tree is in part of the garden that is south facing and well sheltered. I have quite a few of them. Anybody can do this." 

Mr Emerson, who describes himself as a "fair-weather gardener", says his best achievement in the garden are his olives.

However, he likes to focus on the indigenous like loganberries, as well as the exotic. 

"My best achievement is the olive tree," he added.

"Apart from that I do like to grow specialties like globe artichokes. 

"If you talk to the average two-year-old child they know what a banana is even though it has been shipped over 5,000 miles.

"But if you talk to the average 20-year-old they don't know that loganberries are indigenous". 

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