Irish Garden Odyssey: Kilmacurragh

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Back to my trip to Ireland, day 4 saw us arrive at Kilmacurragh, Kilbride, Co Wicklow.  I have skipped ahead a little as I wanted to show you something other than private gardens.

Kilmacurragh is the outpost for the Dublin Botanic Garden, just as Kew has Wakehurst Place.  It allows the botanic garden to grow plants it doesn’t have the right environment for in Dublin. The garden was one of the most important private gardens in Ireland due to the extensive plant collections made by its owners, the Acton family, from the 1750s to the First World War.  However, like many family estates at this time it suffered from the deaths of three heirs in quick succession and large inheritance tax payments. Eventually the property was bought by the National Botanic Gardens in 1996 and in 2006 the redevelopment of the garden, led by Head Gardener, Seamus O’Brien, started.  The gardens, and those in Dublin, have benefitted from a positive approach by the Irish government and have been lucky in receiving significant levels of funding in recent years; a pity this approach is not matched elsewhere.

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As with most of the other gardens we visited we had the benefit of being shown around by Seamus.  This adds so much to a visit as you learn about individual plants, you have a context to place them and the garden in and you hear all sorts of interesting facts and stories that bring the place alive – something that was really missing from our unguided visit to Mt Usher the day before.

The house in the top photo was destroyed by fires in 1978 and 1982 but now funding has become available for the roof to be replaced which will allow the building to be used as a visitor centre and presumably provide opportunities for further fund-raising.

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One of the collections Kilmacurragh is known for is its collection of rhododendrons collected by Joseph Hooker.  You can see how huge they have grown from the photograph above, I can imagine they are stunning when in flower.

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This is one of the last ones to flower.  I did right its name down but my phonetic scrawl is illegible but it is some sort of hybrid beginning with g!!  Whatever its name, for someone who finds the plant hunter stories fascinating, it was a real thrill to see plants that were actually collected by someone I had read about.

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The plants at Kilmacurragh really demonstrate the benefits of Ireland’s damper climate. I was captivated by the light on these ferns until I walked a few steps further and spotted the giant lilies (Cardiocrinum giganteum)

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There are several clumps throughout the shady part of the long borders and last year, to mark the centenary of the First World War and the men from the estate who lost their lives in it, they planted enough bulbs to have 100 flowering.  I wish I had seen that it must have been breath-taking and heavenly to smell.

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I loved the long herbaceous border.  It is a beautiful mixture of foliage and flowers with plants repeated to give rhythm but many of the plants aren’t those you would expect to see in a long border as hidden away are some wonderful meconopsis paniculata poppies, echiums, white willowherb, astibles, geraniums, and various calmagrostis – wonderful.

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From the long border we headed out into the arboretum again and saw many delights which to be honest I don’t think I appreciated as much as I should have since my tree knowledge is limited.  However, I do know the tree above is vast and very old, possibly dating back to the time of Janet Acton, in the 1870s

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However, I do know that this tree is a Magnolia rostrata and a fairly new addition showing that the collection of plants, particularly trees is continuing.  Future plans include the creation of areas specifically for plants of China, Chile and the Himilaya.  There are even plants that have been bred in the garden by Seamus and named for it such as the Cornus capitata ‘Kilmacurragh Rose’ which was named recently (below).

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But while you are marvelling at the flowers on this new introduction you are aware that just behind you is the original main road through the area down which Oliver Cromwell’s troops marched in the 17th century bringing with them Thomas Acton. Thomas was given the land, in lieu of pay.  His son, Thomas II had the derelict St Mochorog’s Abbey torn down and the stone reused to build the house you see in the top picture in the Queen Anne style.

The old road down which Oliver Cromwell marched
The old road down which Oliver Cromwell marched

We saw how the gardens have been clearing the area of the road and opening up the site with a view to reinstating various historical references around the site.

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But the history is evidenced even further back as the pond above is the original 7th century fish stew which provided for the monastery, established around a hermitage founded by St Mochorog, of British royal birth.

Given that throughout our trip we received a potted history of Ireland from our tour leader, Noel Kingsbury, this garden managed to encompass Irish history in one site and I haven’t included all the stories about the various uprisings and their impact on the estate. For me, a plant nut and a lover of history with a fascinating for early medieval Irish history, this was a special garden for us to visit.

My Garden This Weekend – 8th March 2015

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What a wonderful weekend it has been.  Saturday was bright and sunny and warm enough for gardening in a T-shirt and for sitting and contemplating with a cuppa.  Luckily I bothered to check the weather forecast for a change and focussed all my energies on outside gardening jobs leaving Sunday for seed sowing and potting up which can be done under cover.

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I have dug out the cane domes and placed them over the new peonies that were planted over the last few weeks.  This will help me remember where they are until they put in an appearance and I also think the domes are rather charming.  I have added an Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’ to the border, you can just see it in the top left corner.  I had been looking for one having seen it in ‘The Layered Garden’ but having secured one at the local HPS group I started to wonder why I had been attracted to the plant.  It is rather a strange combination with yellow streaks on the foliage and pinky new growth – it was christened the ‘ugly plant’.  However, when I planted it out I was won over again as it works very well with the pink hellebores so maybe my first instinct was right – I knew where I wanted to plant it before I bought it.

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I am pleased with this bit of border now especially when the sun lights up the hellebores.  This border is ‘done’ for the time being while I wait to see how the plants fill out and then the plan is to try to add a little late summer colour.

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I’m thrilled that the Hepatica noblis are flowering although I have to admit that they were only bought last month – the test will be to see if they reappearing next year.  I have bought a couple more and I am planting them over the other side of the garden so hopefully at least one group will establish.  However, I also have some hepatica seeds germinating in the cold frame which were sown as fresh seeds last April.

2015_03080015I got myself in a bit of a pickle the other week when I finally got round to doing a soil test and discovered my soil was alkaline, which wasn’t great given I had just bought two small rhododendrons.  I have been dithering around about them and decided to plant them up in pots and display them by the shed.  Once they have flowered and it gets warmer in this part of the garden I will move them into the shadier part of the garden and make sure they are watered well so they produce buds for next year.

I haven’t been very good at using pots in the garden for some years now.  I used to be really good at baskets and summer bedding in pots but I seem to have lost the knack and I do actually prefer the more mono planted pots but with several grouped together.  So the plan is to do more of this to create seasonal displays.

Finally I found enough energy to remove an unnamed and unloved shrub growing near the compost bins which has never really done much and had got battered when the tree surgeons were throwing the large willow logs around.  It came out fairly easily which was perhaps part of its problem.

I had come up with a scheme for this small area the other week when I was having a tea break – its to the right of the bench.  After adding lots of green waste compost I planted white Digitalis, Epimedium perralchicum ‘Wisley’, some lily of the valley, and a Polypodium cambricum ‘Oakleyae’.  I also replanted some self-sown Pulmonaria.  There is a gap left in the middle of the planting for a Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ which is growing elsewhere but has needed a new home; I just need to wait for it to put in an appearance so I know where it is.

 

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It’s only a small area but it is a start to the style of planting I am trying to adopt with lots of texture and contrast and hopefully not much soil showing once the plants get going.  I plan to add some white honesty next year so I will need to remember to show honesty and white digitalis on an annual basis although I may get lucky and they might start to self sow.

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Sunday was grey and damp so I used the time to sort out the greenhouse.  The pots of bulbs which have finished flowering were moved out to the cold frames – I am regretting, a little, getting the plunge staging (not in the photo) as I haven’t enjoyed the pots of bulbs this winter and I want to plant them out in the garden.  I am toying with getting some sort of warming cable system for them to create a propagation unit but I am waiting to see how I get on this season before I invest more funds in something I might change my mind about.  There is a sorry tale associated with the empty space but I will share that later in the week when I join in the monthly greenhouse meme.

However, I am happy to say that my seed sowing mojo has returned with gusto and I have sowed quite a few packets today.  I found myself really enjoying the process.  I had forgotten how much I love that sense of anticipation. I also potted up a dozen aquilegia and dianthus and 3 primrose digitalis; some of them might even be good enough in a few weeks to sell at the local HPS group – wouldn’t that be good.