Belfast Telegraph

‘I enjoy being outside in the quiet with a cuppa, listening to the birds’

It started off as a neglected orchard, with weeds growing up to chest height. But the featureless field that once surrounded the old farmhouse near Moira where John and Erica Lund have lived since 1993 has been transformed into a verdant garden, packed with surprises round every corner.

John (74) and Erica (65) have a daughter, Melissa, son Casper and late son, Oliver. They have two grandchildren, Tilly and Darcy.

When the couple moved there from Cultra, they found an old farmhouse that had been lived in by the same family since it was built in 1910.

Erica says: “The orchard was up to chest height in weeds, so we replanted the whole orchard except for the pear tree which is the last survivor. It’s a whiskey pear which has been there for at least 150 years.”

With that, the couple embarked on a major labour of love. They demolished an old extension on the back of the cowhouse with the help of a JCB, then bought a half acre of field at the back of the house and tackled the neglected orchard.

“Erica set to and virtually pulled the entire weed population out of that orchard. Her father took down the weeds with a blowtorch and Erica dug out the heavily matted weeds underneath. She did all the hard work, pruned apples and various things,” John adds.

Erica managed to fit in the renovation in her spare time, labouring in the mornings before starting work.

“We had a permanent bonfire going,” she recalls.

And there were a few nasty surprises.

“Like all Northern Irish farms it hadn’t had dustbins. On the other side of the cow house was a complete rubbish tip, 60 feet long and 15 feet wide. We set about clearing it — there were broken lightbulbs in it and everything,” John explains.

The pair come from prominent textile families and there are many reminders of that heritage — including the original statue of Master McGrath that once stood in the Demesne at Lurgan where Erica grew up.

The famous greyhound became an Irish national hero by beating England’s racing pride ‘White Rose’ and carrying back the coveted Waterloo Cup to Ireland three times.

The family statue now rests alongside a serene pond built from stones from the old Kilmore Road railway bridge which was demolished to be replaced with a new one.

The railway bridge had to be removed in one night so that the trains could run as normal the next morning.

“We spoke to the demolition chap and he said to be there at the appointed time, on a moonlit night,” Erica explains.

“The sandstone and coping stones were left on the right hand side — they were covered with old graffiti, things like ‘lest we forget’ and ‘Harry Magill’.

“Once the JCB went into the middle it just scooped up the rocks and put it into the big trailer and it was one huge pile of debris — the whole lot. When we were ready for making the pond, it all had to be sorted out again.”

Erica says there is nothing very rare, but a wealth of projects have been completed throughout the garden — a hosta bed, triangular vegetable patch and a spring woodland glade with anemones, cowslips, hellebores and trilliums.

John’s most recent project is the raised ‘no dig’ beds, based on an innovation that was introduced at the Royal Horticulture Society’s Harlow Carr garden in England and making use of layers of cardboard and newspaper.

Erica says: “I dabble. I plant and hope — I can’t do themed planting. I can’t do a white garden or a hot garden. I just plonk it in and hope it does well.”

However, she is proud of her parterre garden, where they sometimes play boules.

This will be the first time they take part in the Ulster Open Gardens Scheme and they will be giving a Powerpoint presentation showing how the garden has evolved, while a tea barn will be run by Save the Children Fund.

John says: “We’re doing this garden opening because we feel we should make an effort.

“We’ve been round quite a few of the RHS schemes and I felt my wife was extremely modest about her achievements. I thought she needed recognition. And what have we done all this for if we can’t use it to some good?”

Erica says that unlike her husband she is not keen on travelling and prefers to be at home in her garden.

“I just enjoy being out in it, be it on my hands and knees or having a cuppa and listening to the birdlife and being quiet,” she says.

“A lot of our plants have memories attached. They’ve been given by people or planted in memory of friends and there is a lot of emotional attachment to quite a lot of

the bits and bobs that have come.”

Where to visit ... and when

May 14 and 15

Mr Richard and Beverley Brittain, 31b Carrowdore Road, Greyabbey. This three-acre garden is in a reclaimed quarry with natural woodland, ponds and bridges.

June 25

William and Daphne Montgomery, Greyabbey House. The micro-climate provided by Strangford Lough means that a wide variety of trees, shrubs and plants flourish in the gardens.

July 30 and 31

Mr John and Erica Lund, Orchard Garth, Old Kilmore Road, Moira. Created over the past 20 years, this garden is a melange of lawn, shrubs and herbaceous plants.

  • For more information on gardens open to the public in the next few months, visit: National  Trust Ulster Gardens’ Scheme, admission £3. All funds raised will help support National Trust gardens in Northern Ireland.

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