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Journal American Rhododendron Society

Current Editor:
Dr. Glen Jamieson ars.editor@gmail.com


Volume 51, Number 3
Summer 1997

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Ardnamona: One of Three Hidden Treasures in Ireland
Robert E. George
Issaquah, Washington

        Our second trip to Ireland, in 1996, started out rainy and wet, but we did not allow the cold or wet weather to put a halt to our garden visiting plans. From Shannon we headed north and planned a tour which would cover the northern gardens of Ireland and overlap a few gardens we visited on our previous trip, south of Dublin (ARS Journal, Summer 1994).
        The title "Ardnamona: One of three Hidden Treasures in Ireland" expresses my feeling that this is one of three gardens which are just so different from the average castle or estate garden that they deserve special recognition. The other two are Howth and Kilmacurra.
        Ardnamona is located on the shores of Lough Eske, in County Donegal, the Republic of Ireland. The manor house was started in the 1830s. The garden was startled shortly thereafter. The first rhododendrons were planted in the 1840s, so the literature states. The early literature describes the area as "romantic and picturesque with an appealing beauty which clings around one's heart and for which it is difficult to find words..."
        The history of the garden is more or less known. The Wray family, who built Ardnamona House and lived at Ardnamona until 1870, planted a magnificent Conifer Garden which gives shelter to the rhododendrons. John Townsend Trench, who married Leonora Wray in 1865, was the architect of the Glenveagh Castle, and many of the original rhododendrons at Glenveagh came from Ardnamona. The main rhododendron plantings date from the occupancy of Sir Arthur and Lady Wallace in the 1880s and '90s. Mrs. Hazel West was the last gardener occupant at Ardnamona. Then from the mid 1950s on to 1990 little attention was paid to the gardens, which meant that they became wild and naturalized. In 1990 Amabel and Kieran Clarke became the new owners, their main objective being the restoration and conservation of the gardens. In 1991 Ardnamona Garden was designated a National Heritage Garden. This allowed for funding which has enabled essential conservation work to be carried out by students and others associated with the National Botanic Gardens. It was interesting to talk with Mr. Clarke, as he is a master piano technician. He became interested in rhododendrons and the garden, as most of us have, as a second vocation. He and his wife Amabel have restored the house as a guest house.

Trunk of R. arboreum
Trunk of R. arboreum
Photo by Robert E. George

        A visit to Ardnamona is like a stepping into the past, when gardens were large and designed on a grand scale. Plantings were designed to present a view to Lough Eske and to give the viewer a feeling of being immersed in the garden, so as to become one with the plantings. It is a real find for the garden traveler, as very few gardens can really give the viewer just that feeling. The collection of tree rhododendrons is one of the best this visitor has ever seen. There were huge trees of R. grande, R. sinogrande, R. griffithianum, R. falconeri, and groves of R. arboreum. Being early in the season, we were privileged to see them in full bloom, and they were just terrific! There were examples of other wonderful trees in the garden such as monkey puzzle, Pacific Coast redwood, Wellingtonia, and dawn redwood.

R. arboreum
R. arboreum
Photo by Robert E. George

        The clearing of the undergrowth, along with the wild R. ponticum, has been an ongoing challenge. One of the strong points of having all the R. ponticum, even though it is a big job getting rid of it, was that it provided shade and wind shelter for the other plants.

R. niveum
R. niveum
Photo by Robert E. George

        This being our second visit to Ireland, we again reflect upon what we have seen and the gardens we have visited, and we still marvel at the beauty which is in this world if only we open our eyes to see it. The gardens we have seen are all unique and wonderful in their own ways, but as noted earlier, these three gardens were just special, because of their wildness and naturalization.

Bob George, a member of the Cascade Chapter, is past president of the San Mateo, Monterey, De Anza and Cascade chapters.


Volume 51, Number 3
Summer 1997

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