Ballymena man Adam lands dream dream job in Queen's Walled Garden
He started out selling plants when he was just eight years old - and now a budding talent from Ballymena has been appointed Hillsborough Castle's first Walled Garden Keeper in centuries.
Adam Ferguson (23) has already made a name for himself as an award-winning gardener, taking home a gold medal at the World Skills Competition last year.
Now the Greenmount College graduate is facing his biggest challenge yet with the recreation of an 18th century walled garden at the Queen's official residence in Northern Ireland.
The four-acre showpiece is part of a £20m makeover for Hillsborough Castle due to open next spring.
The project is based on a Georgian kitchen garden from 1770 that provided crops to feed the building's residents and famous guests.
Adam said: "It's brilliant to get this chance. It was slightly daunting at the start but I'm over the moon and it's starting to take shape now.
"We've got a lot of the structural planting in with the hedges, trees and herbaceous borders. So we're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel now."
It's expected that up to 200,000 people will visit Hillsborough Castle next year and Adam said he hoped the garden will provide "a wow moment" as visitors entered the grounds.
While still young, Adam's career choice has been a long time coming.
"I don't know what it was, there's probably not a lot of people interested in gardening when they're eight," he said.
"I just started sowing seeds, building on it every year and then began to sell wee plants to family and friends.
"I didn't really have any family members interested in flowers but my uncles and granda were potato growers.
"They had large gardens and I was always brought up working on them. I also grew up on a farm so I was used to working outside and growing things."
The re-imagination of the gardens will use both modern and traditional gardening techniques.
"It's the same with the crops, we'll use heritage and modern varieties to mix it up and make it interesting," said Adam.
Hillsborough garden and estates manager Stephen Martelli said the project was the culmination of four years of painstaking research.
"Historically it was a very important part of the estate. It's going to be the first impression our visitors get when they enter through the new visitor centre," he said.
"So we're expecting a huge amount of people to walk through this space in a year."
Famous visitors who may have eaten produce from the original garden included US founding father Benjamin Franklin.
He visited the castle to meet Wills Hill, the Marquess of Downshire, who served as secretary of state for the Colonies in the 1770s and created the building.
"You could say we're walking in famous footsteps," said Mr Martelli. "All the members of the Hill family, the governors and latterly the secretaries of state and VIPs who visited would have passed through here." Adam said he hoped to inspire green-fingered tourists.
"There'll be so many textures and techniques of crops people will never have seen before, so it will encourage them to go and try it out themselves," he said.
"I want people to see the garden evolve so they'll keep coming back. It will be difficult, but we hope with a lot of hard work and planning we will be able to pull it off. We'll have to compete against the weather, but hopefully we'll get a good harvest of crops next year."
Two of the garden's quadrants will be dedicated to traditional fruits and vegetables, from raspberries, blackberries and rhubarb to potatoes, and offset by a stunning range of colourful cut flowers.
Apple and pear orchards will fill the remaining two quadrants sown by wildflower and meadowland.
While the grand opening isn't till next year, the castle will be open to visitors for summer season on July 1, offering daily tours and visits to the formal gardens.
Now follow Adam’s eight brilliant tips in your garden this summer:
- As plants grow in current dry weather, offer support in the form of stakes during windy conditions.
- Water newly planted beds often until they have established, using rain water where possible.
- Use organic mulch where possible to both feed and retain moisture.
- Companion planting can be a natural aid to pest control i.e. marigolds in vegetable plots.
- Use natural products such as straw to protect crops like strawberries.
- Take advantage of dry weather to hoe weeds regularly; beds will become weed-free more quickly.
- Minimum digging or cultivating to vegetable beds to protect soil structure.
- Allow time for natural predators i.e. ladybirds to control greenfly and other garden pests.