JFK Arboretum, County Wexford

A good tree collection is always instructive for the gardener but the J. F. Kennedy Arboretum is particularly enlightening - a marvellous place to learn about and admire the diversity of trees throughout the year. The scale of planting here is on a vast scale, covering 623 acres on the southern slopes of Slieve Coillte, a prominent hill overlooking the Kennedy ancestral home at Dunganstown. Although a very modern venture, for planting began here only in 1964, its ever increasing collection of over 4,500 species of trees and shrubs from the temperate regions, ranging from conifers to flowering shrubs, is now becoming one of the most comprehensive of its kind in the world.

First-time visitors to the arboretum are best to begin at the reception centre, a rather inapposite municipal building lying close to the main car park. Here maps showing the location of different species in the collection can be inspected and a route planned. The layout reflects the underlying function of the arboretum as a research institution. Around 150 acres are divided into 250 forest plots, each devoted to a particular tree species and grouped together geographically. The remaining area of 310 acres is occupied by the plant collection which is laid out in botanical sequence with three examples of every species represented. Each plant is recorded on a grid system, has its own record card and is well labelled. There are two botanical circuits, one of Gymnospermae (conifers), the other of Angiospermae (broadleaves); the groups have been cleverly interwoven to improve the appearance of the collection by providing colour throughout the year.

Visitors should anticipate a walk of at least two miles around the main circular route, while demon dendrologists may find themselves trekking ten miles or more. Taking the principal arboretum road eastwards from the visitor centre, enthusiasts should inspect the Phenological Garden on the left where the relationship between climate and biological phenomena, such as plant flowering, is researched. Further along, the eucalyptus collection on the other side of the walk has yet to be completed; it includes some fine varieties: E. cordata with its smooth white bark and E. nirens, the silver-top gum.

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