Sitting at the mouth of the gentle River Lagan where it becomes a deep and sheltered lough, Belfast is surrounded by mountains that create a special micro-climate that is conducive and beneficial to horticulture.
From the Victorian idyll that is Botanic Gardens in the heart of the city to the spectacular heights of Cave Hill Country Park, the great expanse of Lagan Valley Regional Park to the tranquil beauty of Colin Glen, Belfast contains an abundance of beautiful parkland and forest parks, all of which are in close proximity to Belfast city centre.
Parks and Gardens are an integral part of Belfast’s heritage, and home to an abundance of local wildlife and popular places for a picnic, a stroll or a jog. Numerous events take place throughout including festivals such as Rose Week and special activities such as bird watching evenings and great beast hunts.
Belfast has over forty public parks. The Forest of Belfast is a partnership between government and local groups, set up in 1992 to manage and conserve the city’s parks and open spaces. They have commissioned more than 30 public sculptures since 1993. In 2006, the City Council set aside 8 million to continue this work. The Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club was founded in 1863 and is administered by National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland.
Especially prized is the iron and glass hothouse known as the Palm House – a splendid example of Victorian workmanship. The Palm House is a companion to the great glasshouses at Kew Gardens in London and the Botanic Gardens in Dublin, all of which were designed by Charles Lanyon. The Belfast version is a little diminutive in comparison with the great buildings at Kew, but has the same grace of design and contains an enormous variety of tropical plants. The gardens also contain rose beds, beautifully maintained herbaceous borders and a children’s playground. The summer months see show jumping and free performances by brass bands
History of Botanical Gardens in Belfast
First established in 1828, the gardens have been enjoyed as a public park by the people of Belfast since 1895. There is an extensive rose garden and long herbaceous borders and the tree enthusiast can seek out the rare oaks planted in the 1880s, including the hornbeam-leafed oak. Situated near Queens University Belfast, the Botanic Gardens is an important part of Belfasts Victorian heritage and a popular meeting place for residents, students and tourists.
Designed by Charles Lanyon ,The Palm House is one of the earliest examples of a curvilinear cast iron glasshouse. Its construction was initiated by the Belfast Botanical and Horticultural Society in the 1830s. The two wings were completed in 1840, and were built by Richard Turner of Dublin, who later built the Great Palm House at Kew Gardens. Over the years, the Palm House has acquired a reputation for good plant collections.
The cool wing houses all year round displays of colour and scent using plants such as geranium, fuchsia, begonia and built displays. Construction of the Palm House began in 1839, and the Tropical Ravine, or Fernery, completed in 1889, is a fine example of horticultural Victoriana. The plants grow in a sunken glen overlooked by a balcony. The stove wing and dome area contain a range of temperate and tropical plants with particular emphasis on species of economic value.
At the Tropical Ravine, the Ulster History Circle have erected a Blue Plaque dedicated to Charles McKimm 1848-1907. McKimm came to the Royal Botanic Gardens in 1874, and was eventually appointed as Head Gardener. His enthusiasm caused many improvements to be made and the gardens were transofrmed. Belfast Corporation purchased the Gardens and renamed it the Belfast Botanical Gardens Park. In 1903 McKimm was appointed to a newly created post of General Superintendent of Parks for Belfast.
The Palm House in Belfasts Botanical Gardens
It contains two important buildings, the Palm House and the Tropical Ravine, as well as a children’s playground, a bowling green, walking routes, a rose garden and assorted tropical plants, mature trees and flower beds.
The park is often used for events, as well as band recitals, concerts and opera performances.
The gardens’ most notable feature is the Palm House conservatory. The foundation stone was laid by the Marquess of Donegall in 1839 and work was completed in 1840. It is one of the earliest examples of a curvilinear cast iron glasshouses in the world. Designed by Charles Lanyon and built byRichard Turner, Belfast’s Palm House predates the glasshouses at Kew and the Irish National Botanic gardens at Glasnevin. Turner went on to build both of these glasshouses.
The Palm House consists of two wings, the cool wing and the tropical wing which contains the dome. Lanyon altered his original plans to increase the height of the dome, allowing for much taller plants. In the past these have included an 11 metre tall Globe Spear Lily. Thelily, which is native to Australia, finally bloomed in March 2005 after a 23 year wait. The Palm House also features a 400 year old Xanthorrhoea.