Emerald Isle

Donald Hare takes us on a guided tour round some of Ireland's wonderful gardens.
Donald R. Hare, Glendower, Dalkey, N. Ireland
Chamaerops No. 7, published online 23-10-2002

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Left: Phoenix canariensis. Perhaps the northernmost.
Right: Dicksonia antarctica - hardy to -10°C?.

Here's a short tour of Irish Gardens where palms other than our good friend Trachycarpus fortunei can be found growing. Starting in Northern Ireland at Mount Stewart Gardens, which is situated on the shores of Strangford Lough, just a short drive from Belfast. Here, Chamaerops humilis can be seen as a single trunk form, about five metres or so high and there are a number of them in a sheltered part of the garden. Also in this area, a number of very fine Cordyline indivisa can be seen along with the tree fern Dicksonia antarctica from Tasmania, which with its New Zealand cousin Dicksonia fibrosa are probably the hardiest tree ferns presently grown out of doors in these islands. I have found both to be fairly cold tolerant on the east coast if given adequate shelter from north and east winds which will always burn their fronds.

There is a fine collection of trees and shrubs including a number of Eucalyptus species, Metrosideros from New Zealand, Acacia, and the rare Gevuina avellana from Chile, plus many more very interesting plants.

About -8°c has been recorded here.

We move south to the Cork harbour area and we find Fota Island. The Arboretum covers some twelve acres. Along with many rare temperate trees and shrubs, is a pair of Phoenix canariensis. These are between six and seven metres high and were planted around the turn of the century and have withstood many cold winters, the worst of which being in January 1987. Accompanied by southeasterly winds, temperatures fell to -7°C and all but the centre fronds were burned brown. However, they are almost back to their pre January 1987 state now. I wonder if they are the most northerly growing in Europe? Phoenix reclinata is said to have grown here, but in all my visits I have never found any trace of it. A number of Chamaerops humilis, in its dwarf form, can be seen throughout the garden, as well as many fine specimens of Trachycarpus fortunei.

Some of the shrubs worth a mention are Banksia grandis, Telopea truncata, Melaleuca squarrosa, Kunzea baxteri, and Isopogon.

Sadly Fota Gardens are now looking rather neglected and with the destruction of some its great trees, somewhat vandalised. Its future remains uncertain after the island was recently taken over by developers.

The last garden that I will mention is Rossdohan Island on the Kenmare Estuary in the far south west of Ireland. The garden covers about eighty acres. Like Flota it is connected to the mainland by a causeway. Here can be seen one of the largest collections of Southern Hemisphere plants growing outside, in Ireland. They are only to be surpassed by Tresco. Acacia, Banksia, Stenocarpus, Schefflera and Metrosideros can all be found, and also one of the most extensive collections of tree ferns growing outdoors, in the whole of Europe.

The palms found here are mainly Trachycarpus fortunei and some young Phoenix canariensis. They also had a young Juania australis, when I was last there some years ago. It was about seven years old and had come from a German source. I have not been able to find out if it survived the winter of 1987 because the owner has since died. I understand that the Phoenix canariensis only had the tips of their fronds burned, so maybe, it also managed to survive. Rhopalostylis sapida at one time grew on a nearby island but has long since disappeared.

Other plants worth a mention at Rossdohan, are the tallest Acacia melanoxylon (Black Wattle), Clethra arborea (Lily of the Valley Tree) and Cyathea dealbata (Silver Tree Fern) in the British Isles. In addition, there are Ficus religiosa (Peepul Tree) from India, and from Australasia, Araucaria bidwillii, Cordyline indivisa, Cordyline stricta and Cordyline australis in a variety of colours.

Unfortunately, I can't report ever having seen a mature Butia or Jubaea in Ireland, however, I think that both might do well in very mild costal areas and should certainly be tried.

* * *

For those of you who would like to try growing a Tree Fern outdoors but who do not live in mild areas, may I offer some advice? Plant your fern in a shady sheltered site. Before heavy frosts arrive, say late October or early November, place straw bales around the plant and build them up above the fronds. Cover the structure with clear plastic or polythene and secure this to stout wooden pegs driven into the ground, or simply weigh the plastic down with heavy blocks. On very cold nights pop an old blanket over the top. On mild nights remove the plastic cover. It is not pretty but it works. For those who live in milder areas where frost is not severe, wrapping the trunk with sacking or an old rug and folding the fern fronds over the crown is normally good enough protection against the winter's icy grip. Again, remove on mild days.

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