Helen Waddell's Secret Garden

Secluded County Down demesne opens its doors to raise money for RSPB

Kilmacrew House harbour is a special place. Not only does it offer some of the most scenic, historic and enchanting private gardens in Northern Ireland but it was a favourite haunt of one of the country's most gifted and celebrated writers, Helen Waddell.

With the gardens having been opened to the public only once in the last 20 years, the chances to venture inside have been limited. But on May 30, for one day only, the gates will be thrown open for a good cause – to raise money for the RSPB.

Commemorating the fact that the gardens were once owned by Waddell's brother-in-law, Rev JD Martin, work by the 'Darling Of Ulster', who used to visit regularly, will be on display. During her prolific career Waddell won several accolades, including the Royal Society of Literature’s AC Benson Medal, one of the highest literary awards in existence.

Patrons will also be able to ramble down the gardens' enchanting walks along rustic winding pathways where colour, scent and sound combine in a feast of the senses. The four-acre site is home to many rare plants gathered from around the world. These include the exotically named Dutchman’s Pipe, Monkey Puzzle and Ghost Tree. There is also pair of massive beech trees, known affectionately as the ‘grandmother and grandfather’ of the garden.

Louise Anson, owner and great-granddaughter of Rev Martin, organised this event to raise awareness of the essential work done throughout Northern Ireland by RSPB. 'I am very keen for the community to visit Kilmacrew and enjoy the gardens as it is such an important part of our heritage,' said Ms Anson.

'Looking after this beautiful heritage estate takes a lot of time and effort, so it was incredibly helpful that Greenmount Agricultural College came out and developed a gardening plan. In addition, RSPB’s volunteers helped me prepare the gardens for the open day. This is my way of thanking them. The RSPB is a very worthy charity, I wanted to show my appreciation for all the work the volunteers have done.'

RSPB’s Cara Gibney said, 'We are very lucky to be able to use these beautiful gardens to promote the RSPB’s work. We hope that people will come along, enjoy the gardens and find out more about us. The RSPB does more than bird protection – our work encompasses nothing less than the entire width and breadth of nature and wildlife conservation.'

For a great day out with a slice of literary history and afternoon tea in stunning surroundings, seeing rare and beautiful plants from around the world and doing your bit for nature conservation, why not head down to Kilmacrew House on May 30.

Kilmacrew House can be found just off the A1 carriageway between Banbridge and Dromore. There is a £5 donation. This Open Garden will mark the beginning of the RSPB’s summer calendar of events. For more information about this and more, contact the RSPB on 028 9049 1547.