Belfast Telegraph

Blooming Marvellous: Barrow-load of prizes for best gardens in Northern Ireland

By Linda Stewart

Since we launched our Blooming Marvellous gardening drive back in March the green shoots have pushed through the earth and the spring blossoms have unfurled.

And now that your plants are full steam ahead, we're launching the highlight of the campaign – our Blooming Marvellous gardening competition.

Whether you've got a balcony or a landed estate, we want to find the gardeners whose passion and skill have created the most inspirational gardens in Northern Ireland.

The closing date isn't until July – which means you have just over a month to get your garden looking as vibrant and vital as it possibly can.

And there's plenty at stake. We are offering £1,000 worth of gardening products for the winning garden in each of our four categories, so it's time to get mulching.

Don't worry if you only have a little backyard. You can enter your garden in one of four categories – small urban (which includes balconies and courtyards); urban garden; small country garden, and large country garden (over half-an-acre).

Just photograph a few views of your garden, add your name and contact details, tell us what category you're entering and either email or post your photos to us at the Belfast Telegraph. If you want, you can include a brief outline of a few paragraphs describing your garden, but this isn't compulsory.

After that, you just email your entry to or post them to Linda Stewart at Belfast Telegraph, 124-144 Royal Avenue, Belfast BT1 1EB. The closing date is July 4, 2014.

Our judges will scrutinise the entries in July and shortlist three from each category, after which they will visit the finalists' gardens in person.

Once we choose our winners, they will be interviewed and featured in a special Blooming Marvellous gardening supplement in August.

Our four judges are well-known figures in the world of horticulture – BBC Radio Ulster presenter Cherrie McIlwaine; Greenmount horticultural lecturer David Dowd; National Trust Rowallane head gardener Averil Milligan, and garden designer Trevor Edwards.

They give an outline below of what they will be looking for in a prize-winning garden.

But just to put the finishing touches on your planting scheme, we are giving away a free packet of seeds with every Belfast Telegraph on Friday, May 30. You can choose from sunflowers, ladybird poppies, cosmos, mixed annuals, cornflower, foxglove, giant imperial larkspur, pansy and 10-week stock – so get sowing!


The Belfast Telegraph has launched a major gardening drive called Blooming Marvellous. We're calling on gardeners across Northern Ireland to take up a trowel and breathe new life into dismal gardens. If you take great pride in your garden, email

Proud of your patch? Here's how to enter...

Put the finishing touches to your balcony, courtyard or garden this May and June.

Photograph a couple of views of your garden — we need sharp images that give a good idea of your garden.

Email your entry to: including your name and contact details, garden photos, what category you are entering and a brief background if you want.

Alternatively, you can post your entries to Linda Stewart at Belfast Telegraph, 124-144 Royal Avenue, Belfast BT1 1EB.

The closing date is July 4, 2014.

Meet the judging panel

Averil Milligan, Head Gardener at the National Trust’s Rowallane headquarters in Saintfield, Co Down:

I'm looking for things like gardener's eye – is the way they use the space balanced and how do they break it up between hard landscape and soft landscape? I would also look at how happy the plants are and are they thriving in their current situation. I'll look at progression of colour throughout the year and how people have placed plants for texture, scent, height and whether it's wildlife-friendly. People think they have to have everything very tidy and regimented, weeding the garden every second day. But it's good to have wildlife coming in to visit the garden.

David Dowd, Horticultural lecturer at CAFRE Greenmount College, and a former gardener at Mount Stewart estate:

I would be looking for a garden with a good design in terms of balance, unity and proportion. I would also be looking for a good structure to the garden – that would be evidence of a good practical garden – and use of space. Every garden has challenges – some are shady and some are in the sun, and it's about the skill of the gardener in adapting to the conditions they have. I'd also look at the quality of the plants – are they free from pests and disease and is the pruning correct? The real test is whether they can keep the garden looking interesting the whole year round.

Cherrie McIlwaine, Presenter of BBC Radio Ulster's Gardeners' Corner:

You can get a sense quite quickly if a person really loves working in their garden – it doesn't have to be perfect by any means, but you do get that sense. I'd be looking for gardens that connect with the wider landscape, but people can create wonderful magical garden spaces in the most unlikely situations too. If you live in Fermanagh or Down where the wider landscape is lovely, you can create a garden that blends in beautifully with nature, but equally lovely can be a small bijou space in the middle of Belfast or Derry. I'm looking for that sense of the personality of the gardener and a love of plants.

Trevor Edwards, Garden designer and member of the National Trust’s Ulster Garden Scheme Committee:

I look for someone that has put thought into their garden – which means design in my opinion, in that an amateur can design something provided they give it a bit of thought and research. I'm looking for plants that have been suitably grouped together in terms of behaviour and of growth habit. You don't need the garden to be overgroomed as long as it is maintained and there is good plantsmanship, in that plants have been pruned and cared for. Space is grace – so things don't have to be crammed together and it doesn't have to be overfilled. It's important that access is good, in terms of footpaths.

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