Castlewellan National Arboretum, County Down

Irish gardens, for the most part, make their impact with trees. They provide the essential elements of overall design and give diversity at all scales and in all seasons. The mild and moist climate of Ireland is also remark ably favourable to their growth and undoubtedly there is no better place to appreciate this than in the National Arboretum at Castlewellan - home of an outstanding collection of mature trees and shrubs.

The arboretum was established by the fifth Earl of Annesley (1831-1909) who inherited Castlewellan demesne from his brother in 1874. This lush allotment was originally confined to the Walled Garden area, a short distance north east of a huge baronial castle that had been built between 1856 and 1859 with glorious prospects of the park and the Mourne Mountains. In 1967 the demesne together with the arboretum were purchased from the late Gerald Annesley by the Forest Service and two years later opened as a Forest Park. The arboretum, which originally covered no more than fifteen acres, has since been considerably expanded and now covers more than one hundred.

The hub of the collection is the Walled Garden, now called the Annesley Garden. It is divided by a wall into two portions: the Upper Garden, originally built in 1740 to cultivate kitchen produce, and to the south east the larger Lower Garden - laid out in the 1850s as a pleasure ground with terraces, a fountain and ornamen tal trees. The two areas are united by a formal axis running down through the centre, which in the Upper Garden is lined with herbaceous borders backed with clipped yew hedges.

The main entrance brings the visitor into the Lower Garden, passing the old gardener's house on the left. The path here has some striking Chilean fire-bushes (Embothrium coccineum 'Longifolium'), rhododendrons and maples. The path to the right passes a large Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Squarrosa' first introduced from Japan in 1862 and now a popular cultivar. As in many old arboreta, the family Chamaecyparis is well-represented and there are over forty varieties here. Further down the path and flanking a flight of steps stand the oldest trees in the garden - a pair of Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) planted in 1856 no less than three years after the species was first introduced from Sierra Nevada. Close by an extremely large Monterey cypress, Cupressus macrocarpa 'Lutea', is hard to miss; this is the mother tree of Cupressus x Cupressocyparis leylandii 'Castlewellan Gold', one of the best-known but perhaps least endearing trees in this arboretum. It was discovered in 1962 by the then head gardener John Keown after extracting and sowing seeds from a cone-laden branch. Millions of these trees now grace (or disgrace) the gardens of the world, not least in Ireland where they are commonly associated with brash bungalows.

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