Kilmacurragh Botanic Gardens


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vert bar Recent developments at Kilmacurragh Estate
Last updated: January 7, 2012

The return of Glasnevin to the Kilmacurragh Estate

After 300 years of family ownership, Charles Acton sold the House and Demesne in 1944. His mother, with the aid of Sir Frederick Moore, made several attempts to have Kilmacurragh purchased as a satellite garden of Glasnevin. They were almost successful on several occasions until a recession, the emergency or a change of government dashed their plans. Eventually in 1974, it was acquired by the Land Commission in lieu of taxes, and they in turn gave a portion comprising the house, gardens and Deer Park to the Department of Forestry and Fisheries. The gardens remained as a forestry centre, until sold with the house to a private investor who sold it in turn to the Irish State two years later.

Charles was delighted therefore when in 1996, a 52 acre (21ha) portion of the old demesne comprising of the house, arboretum, entrance drive and woodlands officially became part of the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland. By then the house was in ruins due to a series of disastrous fires in 1978 and 1982 and the following ten years were spent rescuing valuable trees from a crippling tangle of cherry laurel, sycamore and Rhododendron ponticum.

Replanting the gardens

In 2006 a planting plan was drafted for the arboretum and a major programme of replanting soon followed. The gardens are now being replanted using material raised at Glasnevin from various collaborative expeditions to many parts of the globe, most notably China and Chile. This new plan incorporates phytogeographical planting and with this system garden areas have been devoted to the floras of various regions of the world, for example, temperate South America, the Himalaya, China and perhaps most importantly, to our own Irish flora. Outside of Glasnevin/Kilmacurragh expeditions material is also being received from and botanic gardens worldwide, most notably the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Edinburgh and the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens in Hobart.

Not all areas follow this scheme and a number of areas in the arboretum will grow plants from outside these regions with particular emphasis on tender, Australasian and Mediterranean region plants. The restoration of Kilmacurragh’s famous Victorian Double Borders is nearing completion and they will act as our show borders, growing colourful, exotic, exciting plants.

The Fossil Lawn

Thematic planting is found on the “Fossil Lawn” where visitors are introduced to the evolution of gymnosperms, e.g., ancient relicts like the maidenhair tree, the monkey puzzle and the closely related wollemi and kauri pines (all in the Araucariaceae), the redwoods – the coastal and giant redwood from California and their Chinese ally, the dawn redwood or fossil tree from China. The Fossil Lawn will be a fun and fascinating way to see how conifers and other woody gymnosperms have evolved over millions of years.

Beneath these trees tens of thousands of spring bulbs have been re-instated over the past number of years in an effort to restore the original Robinsonian bulb-filled lawns and these now create a colourful picture every year.

Irish grassland and woodland ecosystems

New important projects include the ecological restoration of native woodland and grassland ecosystems and the establishment of a genetic collection of native tree species. Staff at Kilmacurragh have already began gathering a genetic oak collection for Kilmacurragh’s woodlands by the main estate gates and for the proposed David Moore Reserve to the east of the main arboretum.

The restoration of the estate’s large wildflower meadows has also become a priority. Through a series of trials and experiments over the next five years research should show us the best way to successfully restore Irish wildflower meadows and it is planned to publish our experiences and findings, thus making this information available to others who carry out similar restoration projects in the future. These native projects will also provide opportunities for postgraduate students carrying out PhD research in this area. Miles of native hedgerow will also be planted in the coming years and much of this material has been grown from thousands of seeds collected locally and these are germinated and grown on in the garden’s nursery.

Rejuvenating and rescuing the garden’s heritage trees and shrubs

Many of Kilmacurragh’s historic plants are now in old age and in urgent need of propagation. Take for example Rhododendron arboreum ssp. delavayi, which was sent from Kew in 1898 and is the only known living plant raised from seeds collected by the famous French missionary and plant hunter, Père Jean Marie Delavay (1834-1895). The old Kilmacurragh tree flowered in 1904, the first recorded flowering of this species outside its native China. This is just one example, there are dozens of other historically important trees scattered throughout the arboretum and all of known, wild-sourced provenance. Before these trees head into decline and are lost we have linked up with Dr. Gerry Douglas at Kinsealy Research Centre and initiated a propagation programme which to date had good results with many of Hooker’s veteran rhododendrons grown here. Older, more difficult subjects, especially those no longer producing extension growth will be propagated using tissue culture techniques at Kinsealy.

Expeditions to China and Chile

The nursery at Glasnevin is also playing a major role in the supply of plants and has supplied to Kilmacurragh seedlings collected on the 2007 Glasnevin Chile Expedition, many of which have been planted in Kilmacurragh’s South American Garden.

The Chile expedition comprised Glasnevin’s present curator, Paul Maher (expedition leader), Kevin Kenny, Peter Meleady and Seamus O’Brien. The purpose of the trip was to collect seeds of Chilean natives for the new Chilean garden at Kilmacurragh. The expedition visited several areas from the Talca region in the mediterranean Central Valley to the damp temperate rainforests south of Valdivia. From our collections several highly garden worthy plants were introduced for the very first time to Ireland. Future expeditions to South America, including Argentina, are planned in the near future, all with the aim of enriching Kilmacurragh’s living collection. The garden’s mild climate offers great potential in trialing new tender introductions from the warmer regions of the world, particularly from the Southern Hemisphere.

The Chinese Garden, located in the eastern block of the old arboretum is planted with a wide range of trees and shrubs raised from seeds collected by the 2002 and 2004 Glasnevin Central China Expeditions to Hubei and Sichuan Provinces in central and western China. These Glasnevin expeditions, carried out in collaboration with the Wuhan Botanical Gardens and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, retraced the footsteps of Ireland’s most famous exploring botanist, Dr Augustine Henry (1857-1930).

The International Conifer Conservation Programme

Kilmacurragh is also linked to the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh’s conifer conservation programme and acts as an ex-situ conservation site for conifers now threatened with extinction in their native habitats. This includes such rarities as the recently discovered Vietnamese yellow cypress, Xanthocyparis vietnamensis (the first to be planted in Ireland), Pinus armandii var. dabeishanensis from China and threatened South American conifers like the Patagonian cypress Fitzroya cupressoides and Pilgerodendron uviferum.

Education and research at Kilmacurragh

Education has a growing role at Kilmacurragh. In the spring of 2006 an Educational Guide Staff was established and this small, dedicated team organise daily-guided walks, workshops and other educational tours. An garden archive and library was formed in 2007 and a horticultural herbarium was established in 2008.