A bright sun and a sweeping avenue lined with deep red Himalayan rhododendrons (Rhodendron ferrugineum) in full flower set the scene of a memorable visit for the IBIOLI members to the Botanic Gardens KiIlmacurragh, East Wicklow, on the 18th of April 2015.
Arriving at the car park, busy with patrons, we were warmly greeted by Myles Reid from OPW who became our guide for the next 2+ hours. Members of the Institute of Biology, their friends and families and members of the public were gathering to explore and experience the magnificent spring floral displays. Not only were we going to see and imbibe the magnificence of these spring displays, there were additional treats in store for us all.
Myles, our guide, expertly unveiled the history of Kilmacurragh, explained the significance of the underlying geology, the soil type and, in particular, the aspect of this garden gem neatly tucked away just a short distance from the bustling N11.
As he walked us through the grounds, pointing out the old Wexford-Dublin road traversed by people such as Oliver Cromwell, he expertly interwove some of the various planting regimes with the rather sad personal family history of the owners, the Acton family, and the impact of the First World War; Acton brother followed by Acton brother both gave their lives as British army volunteers.
As a consequence, the estate of approximately 6000 acres accumulated major debts; it was eventually offered to the Irish State and today the 50 acres of it that we traversed are under the management of the OPW, specifically the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin.
Myles explained that the garden’s planning and development is based on Geographical themes. These include China, South America, Himalaya, and Australia. Future plans include a focus on Ireland with a simulated Burren area, a Peatland area, and other specialist biomes each placing a particular focus on native Irish plant species. He pointed out a major planted-up scheme completed 3 weeks earlier of 3,500 native oak and Ash species.
We traversed wild flower grassland that in a few weeks time will offer a rich display of naturally occurring wild flowers; the grassland area is under-sown with Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) that acts as a semi-parasite on grass roots thereby suppressing grass growth and, thus allowing the naturally occurring wild flowers to flourish.
We traversed all the geographic areas and noted those various shrub and tree species associated with each particular area. Various adaptations were pointed out, such as that seen on the Monkey Puzzle.
We witnessed Robinsonian style garden design (read about William Robinson at www.howbertandmays.ie) and saw the seed-pods of the giant Himalayan Lilly (Cardiocrinum giganteum) that flowers only once in seven years.
As we watched the brown trout rise for flies in the lake, traversed the pathways that previously were the “canals” that supplied water to the lake, Myles casually held us spellbound as we competed to identify the knotted clump of green growth located in the canopy of one of the taller beech trees; it was a fine example of mistletoe (Viscum alba), an obligate semi parasite on this beech tree.
Over two hours had sneaked by and never noticed by the participants. Thanks to Myles, the OPW and the professional input of the Botanic gardens in making this location a place to stroll, to learn and enjoy free of charge. We all thoroughly enjoyed the experience.