Very early in the 1860s, some rhododendron seedlings arrived at Kilmacurragh, sent to Thomas Acton by Dr David Moore, Curator of the National (then Royal) Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin. The seedlings were a result of a cross between two of Joseph Hooker’s Sikkim rhododendrons: Rhododendron arboreum subsp. cinnamomeum (white) with Rhododendron campanulatum, a beautiful plant that shows great variability in the wild, with its flowers ranging from rose to lavender-blue to almost white.

Rhododendron 'Thomas Acton' kilmacurragh rhs national botanic gardens

The flower of Rhododendron ‘Thomas Acton’ in bloom in Kilmacurragh in March 2020, photo by Seamus O’Brien

Following David Moore’s death in June 1879, his son Sir Frederick Moore succeeded him as Curator at Glasnevin and also took up the role of garden advisor at Kilmacurragh. Together, Thomas Acton and Frederick Moore created the finest private plant collection on the island of Ireland and the gardens became a place of pilgrimage for visiting plantsmen.

In 1880, Sir Frederick Moore named the new rhododendron in honour of Thomas. And just a few weeks ago, 160 years after the cross was made, Rhododendron ‘Thomas Acton’ was formally registered with the Royal Horticultural Society by Séamus O’Brien, Head Gardener at Kilmacurragh.

thomas acton registration certificate rhs

Officially registered after 160 years

The original plant–now a stocky tree–is still in Kilmacurragh and has been in bloom throughout March, covered in beautiful flowers that are white with a flush of pink.

Watercolour painting Lynn Stringer Rhododendron Thomas Acton Kilmacurragh

Watercolour painting by Irish botanical artist Lynn Stringer of the original Rhododendron ‘Thomas Acton’, growing still in Kilmacurragh.