Big thank you from

Time to visit the enchanted gardens at Rowallane

by Paul Cormacain

SOME 15 kilometres south of Belfast lies the enchanted Rowallane Gardens.

More than a hundred years ago this property belonged to a poor clergyman, now it is in the hands of the National Trust. It acquired the property half a century ago.

The trust is an independent charity which relies on membership fees for much of its funding. So if you join the National Trust you are helping to keep places such as Rowallane open, and also thriving. Even in winter Rowallane thrives!

There are many flowers, plants, bushes and trees at Rowallane, and I have to say that many of them went unrecognised by us. But then it turns out that many were culled from around the world about a century ago, and have been thriving in the 52 acre garden ever since. But they are still foreign blow ins.

The snowdrops and crocus were at their best, and easy to recognise. Some early rhododendrons were in full flower, a bit early compared to our own homebred species, and it was easy to figure out that the early ones were foreign, albeit naturalised.

We now have daffodils in full flower in the garden, but the Rowallane ones had not yet started to flower. (Boast) Some shrubs, which we did not recognise, had a beautiful aroma. Some had lovely colours, many were still flaunting their winter nakedness, but many were getting ready for a glorious spring and summer show.

We went to the pond, not very large but with a couple of islands.

We suspected it would hold many breeding water birds later on in the year, with the islands capable of safely holding some nests. Nothing like a piece of security to attract the birds!

The thing was, there was not a water bird in sight on that day. We thought there should have been, and wondered if someone or something had chased them away before we came. Or did the birds see us coming, decided they did not like the look of us, and they all departed.

The chap in charge at Rowallane that day was a pensioner who worked part time. He was able to tell us about the animals that lived there. The grey squirrels would have a much higher profile later on in the year, but they kept themselves well hidden from us. The chap we spoke to sees them regularly, but like the water birds they kept out of our line of vision. Nor did we see any kingfishers, did not sight a rabbit, never mind a fox or badger. There were many magpies about.

They spend so much time flying around the treetops, and chattering. Their loud noisy chattering could be heard all over the garden, all 52 acres of it. It is in their nature, nor should we be surprised at it. At home, we only have to leave through the door, and we can hear magpies. They could be in the front garden, the back garden, or in a neighbour's garden. Sometimes we think they can be in all three.

So the magpies are noisy creatures. Possibly because of the weather, they have been amorous for some weeks now, and I think much of the noise they make is to do with love. "This is my him", or "this is my her", they seem to be saying.

Or they talk about building a nest on a particular tree and tell all their friends to go build elsewhere. They can always find some thing to chatter about!

Not quite so noisy were the blackbirds, and I do believe they were feeling amorous. As were the wrens and robins, the thrushes and different kinds of tits, the finches, members of the crow family as well as the magpies. In fact, I do believe that every type of bird at Rowallane was in an amorous mood.

Just got a message from the RSPB. Two smews have been sighted at Port Mor, and there is a good chance they may remain there for a time. Why not give yourself a thrill by going to look at these magnificent strangers? Then go to Rowallane!

Coming Events

Saturday 5th February - Community Tree Planting Event at Colin Glen Trust, 10am, more information from 90614115
World Wetlands Day at Lagan Meadows, starting 11 am, guided tours and more, phone Wildlife Trust on 4483 0282.
World Wetlands Day guided walk at Port Mot; and you might see two smew. Details from RSPB 9049 1547

Sunday 13th February - Oxford Island is organising a leisurely stroll in Lough Neagh Wetlands, at 2.30, talk to Island on 3832 2205

Thursday 17th February - At 7.30, Beyond Black Mountain, in Liners Hall Library, with Belfast Hills Partnership, call 90603466

Sunday 20th February -National Trust is organising a meal and guided walk, sounds fascinating, but check with them on 9751 0721

Mondav 28th February - Lisburn RSPB has Anthony McGeehan and Sea Bird Detective Stories its Friends Meeting House, contact David McCreedy on 4062 6125 Friday 11 to Sunday 13th March - Birdwatch Ireland and the RSPB get together at the Killyhevlin Hotel, Enniskillen, for their Annual Wildlife Conference. Details from 9049 1547

Ulster Star