Major award for Mount Stewart’s work on climate change

The south front and formal garden at Mount Stewart, County Down. Mount Stewart has been voted one of the world's top ten gardens, and reflects the design and artistry of its creator, Edith, Lady Londonderry.

Top European honour for work on protecting famous gardens

THE Mount Stewart Estate on the Ards peninsula has picked up a major European award for its work on protecting its historic gardens from climate change.

The National Trust property has received a first prize for Climate Mitigation Measures in Parks or Gardens in the European Garden Award.

The prestigious award is given by the European Garden Heritage Network, which represents some 210 parks and gardens across 21 countries, and the Germany-based Schloss Dyck Foundation, a centre for Garden Design and Landscape Culture.

It is seen as a ‘seal of quality’ for outstanding achievement in contemporary garden design, the management and development of historic gardens and climate adaptation measures.

Gardeners at Mount Stewart along with National Trust experts have warned that parts of the celebrated gardens could be slowly consumed by sea and rainwater over the next 100 years. They have begun to introduce protective measures at the garden and to propagate plants that are at risk with a view to moving them to safer locations.

Mount Stewart is a rare late Arts and Crafts garden, and its deeply personal, artistic ‘rooms’ – filled with an unrivalled plant collection – were created by Edith, Lady Londonderry, in the early 20th century. It is considered one of the most outstanding gardens in the world.

But warmer summers, wetter winters and rising sea levels are already altering the gardens which are set on the shore of Strangford Lough. Modelling suggests it is very likely that the most famous area, the Formal Gardens, will be slowly consumed by both salt and rainwater sometime in the next 100 years.

The team here is among the first in the National Trust to assess the risks posed by climate change and to make detailed plans for the future.

This includes working with partners to understand localised climate impacts, maintaining the historic ‘sea plantation’ which shelters the area near the house, and introducing plants that are more resilient to windy and salty conditions. This will be a mix of native plants as well as adaptive, fast-growing plant species from Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, and the eastern seaboard of the USA.  

Mike Buffin, the head gardener at Mount Stewart, said over time the intention is to create a new garden further into the estate in the spirit of the existing formal gardens.

We’ll use trigger points, such as storm events, to guide our decisions, and propagate significant at-risk plants so they can be planted in a new, safer location,” he said. “This way, people can continue to enjoy the character and beauty of these unique gardens for generations to come.”

The Director of Gardens and Parklands with the National Trust, Andy Jasper, said the ‘outstanding work’ that Mike and his team are doing at Mount Stewart shows how seriously the Trust is taking climate adaptation.

We don’t have all the answers, but we know the likely impacts and that the time to act is now,” he said. “We’re using all the skills, knowledge and talent at our disposal to find opportunities and take positive action.

“It’s our responsibility to make sure that extraordinary gardens like the one at Mount Stewart have a future and can keep enriching the lives of everyone who visits.”

The research being carried out at Mount Stewart into the effects of climate change will be important beyond the National Trust, said Jens Spanjer, a Director of the Schloss Dyck Foundation and a jury member for the award.

“Horticultural professionals and garden lovers across Europe value the National Trust’s exceptional work on behalf of the heritage and intrinsic value of parks and gardens,” he said.

“The jury recognises this with a first prize and hopes that the gardeners at Mount Stewart will be successful in preserving the beauty and value of the site.” 

The Trust says climate change presents the single biggest threat to the places in its care and the single biggest challenge to achieving its mission.

The work underway at Mount Stewart is just one example of how the conservation charity is making sensible, practical preparations, guided by tools such as its Climate Hazard Map. This helps teams understand climate risks, develop plans and make informed decisions at the right time.

Jim Shannon, the DUP election candidate, has congratulated the estate on winning the award.

“The garden team have been instrumental in ensuring that these extraordinary gardens have a future and can keep enriching the lives of everyone who visits,” he said.

“These beautiful gardens attract thousands of tourists every year and they are so deserving of this wonderful award. Massive congratulations to the whole team and to the exceptional work of so many who made this possible.”