Dear Mummy, while we were across visiting relatives in Belfast we enjoyed a brief visit to Belfast’s Botanic Gardens. It was a beautiful sunny day in South Belfast and we could see straight away why these 28 acres of gardens were popular with office workers, students and tourists.
The Botantic Gardens are stunning! They are located on Stranmillis Road in Queen’s Quarter, with Queen’s University nearby. The Ulster Museum is located at the main entrance and we walked through impressive black iron gates to enter the park. First established in 1828, the gardens have been enjoyed as a public park by the people of Belfast since 1895 and they form an important part of Belfast’s Victorian heritage.
The gardens originally opened as the private Royal Belfast Botanical Gardens by the Belfast Botanic and Horticultural Society, in response to public interest in horticulture and botany. Originally known as the Belfast Botanic Garden, the site contained exotic tree species and impressive plant collections from the southern hemisphere, many of which can still be seen in the park.
It continued as a private park for many years, only opening to members of the public on Sundays prior to 1895. Then it became a public park in 1895 when the Belfast Corporation bought the gardens from the Belfast Botanical and Horticultural Society. The Belfast Corporation was the predecessor of Belfast City Council, the present owner. Since 2011 the Botanic Gardens have been awarded the Green Flag Award every year, which recognises the best open spaces in the UK. We can see why, the gardens are immaculate and well kept. I love running bearfoot on the lawns and it’s so clean and tidy that my mummy doesn’t mind me being free!
Walking down one of the many paths we head to the gardens’ most notable feature – the Palm House conservatory. The building was designed by Sir Charles Lanyon, who also helped design parts of nearby Queen’s University and built by a leading ironmaster of the day, Richard Turner. It’s an impressive structure and it glints in the midday sun.
The Palm House is one of the earliest examples of a curvilinear cast iron glasshouse in the world. Its construction was initiated by the Belfast Botanical and Horticultural Society in the 1830s. It’s an impressive sight and I’m intrigued to enter it straight away!
The foundation stone was laid by the Marquess of Donegall in 1839 and work was completed in 1840. (We visited one of her properties last year at Mount Stewart and she was an avid horticulturist in Ireland). Belfast’s Palm House predates the glasshouses at Kew and the Irish National Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin, both of which Richard Turner went on to build. We’ve yet to visit Kew Gardens but can’t wait after walking though these botanic gardens.
The Palm House consists of two wings, the cool wing and the tropical wing which were completed in 1840. The dome was added in 1852. I explore the whole Palm House, inspecting all the plants and picking my favourites. My mummy loves looking at all the spiky cactus and large tropical plants. The cool wing houses all year round displays of colour and scent using plants such as geranium, fuchsia, begonia and built displays. It was a rainbow of beautiful spring colour!
The Palm House contains a range of tropical plants, hanging baskets, seasonal displays and birds of paradise, and is one of the earliest examples of a glasshouse made from curved iron and glass. It shows how advances in glasshouse technology allowed horticulturists to grow exotic plant species during the Victorian period.
I love walking through the wings pretending I was a princess and they were my precious flowers. I even pretend to dance with my prince outside the glass house.
Other attractions at the Botanic Gardens in Belfast is the Tropical Ravine (which is currently closed for refurbishment), a children’s playground and beautiful walks around the grounds. We can’t wait to come back to see the finished the Tropical Ravine. The original ravine had become old and inefficient but it’s set to be restored back to its former glory, with a modern 21st century twist that will see it become one of Belfast’s most popular tourist attractions.
Before the work started on the Tropical Ravine, many of the plants were moved into the Palm House or rehomed to other ferneries. It was clearly evident as the Palm House was filled to burst with amazing plants. The large specimens that the council couldn’t shift have been covered and protected from reconstruction work and the cold. Some of the plants are very valuable – the tree ferns are estimated to be over 150 years old.
Botanic Gardens is often used for events, such as band recitals, concerts and opera performances. When we visited people were enjoying picnics on the grass and soaking up the sun. We’d recommend a visit to the Botanic Gardens if you are ever in Belfast, it was a lovely open space in the heart of the city.
Love Bella xx intrepid horticulturist.