The Botanic Gardens of Belfast provide a tranquil place for city folk to gain some respite from the hustle and bustle of the streets in the Queens Quarter. Weekday lunchtime the park lures workers from their offices for a dose of fresh air, you’ll find families and dog walkers enjoying the lawns at the weekend and on a rare hot day people will be queueing en mass for ice-cream treats from the “pokey” van.
In a series of free guided walks of the Belfast City Council parks, tour guide Robert took our group of about 40 people around the botanical gardens telling us about the history of the park and the people that enjoyed these varied horticultural surroundings.
The Botanic Gardens are located in Stranmillis, the Irish meaning of which is “Sweet Stream” and indeed there is a sweet little stream which runs through trees and under bridges within the park.
Robert began with the history of the Palm House. Designed by Sir Charles Lanyon and constructed by Richard Turner the structure of curved iron and glass was completed in 1852 after the addition of it’s dome. The dome houses towering palms and plants whilst the wing to the right is the hot house for plants that thrive in tropical environments. During our visit the cooler left wing was awash with colour with spring flowers like tulips and narcissus in full bloom.
Further along our walk Robert pointed out various tree species that were brought over from all corners of the world including the Himalayas, China, Canada and the Meditterean. We heard stories of the various people who visited the gardens, like Queen Victoria who had a passing visit (quite literally) to the then private Royal Botanic Gardens. It was only in 1895 did the gardens become open to public. We also heard the interesting story of the gardens’ curator Joseph Forsyth Johnson. A landscpe architect from England of whom Bruce Forsyth is a descendant. His private life became more interesting than his career when it came to light that he had a family in England and also in America, travelling between both countries “on business”!
The Forsythia plant found in Botanic Gardens is named after Joseph’s great-grandfather and founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society, William Forsyth.
Along the sweet stream and up steps towards the bowling green, rockery and rose garden we came to the herbaceous borders. In summer months the herbaceous borders will be a haven for birds and insects feeding off the nectar of the colourful plants lining the pathways, for now the borders are dense with grasses
As someone who would often walk through these gardens this was a great tour to learn more about the familiar surroundings but also to discover areas I had never ventured to before. At just an hour long it was a very relaxing and enjoyable way to spend time with the folks on a Sunday afternoon.
Other guided walks in this series will take place in Cavehill, Barnett Demesne, Ormeau Park and Falls Park. All free. For more information on these and other Belfast City Council events click here.