If you are into trees or if horticulture is your thing then Kilmacurragh is probably already in your letter to Santa. However, this book, written by Megan O’Beirne, is much more than the story of some of Ireland’s champion trees and equally marvellous and exquisite plant samples from exotic parts of the world. It is the story of the place they are nurtured in and the fascinating characters that made Kilmacurragh a world-enviable arboretum and a jewel of Ireland’s botanical treasures.
It is such a rewarding read, helped by O’Beirne’s enchanting and informative storytelling capabilities, that the pages turn by themselves. In parts, one is caught one minute by the endeavours of plant hunters and in the next by the very history of Ireland. This ranges from the brutality of Cromwell through to the Famine and the roles the former owners played in our history – albeit from their “colonial bubble”, as Megan describes it.
Thanks to this book, we get to witness a little of what so many of the ancient trees at Kilmacurragh were witness to. We can follow the Acton family as we might a Downton Abbey drama or we can sink our teeth into the nuts and bolts of how these old demesnes really operated.
Today, Kilmacurragh is a sister site to the National Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin, Dublin, and is quite important to students of horticulture and lovers of great gardens. The milder climate, somewhat higher rainfall and the deeper, more acidic soils of Co Wicklow help provide a more beneficial situation for growing plants from the Himalayas and the Southern Hemisphere than the BOTs in Dublin could possibly achieve.
Anyone can visit this heritage arboretum in east Co Wicklow and see for themselves its prized collection of trees and shrubs. Many of the trees are deliciously illustrated and photographed in this hardback – with 250 high-quality colour photographs. Many of them are taken by Megan O’Beirne, a visual artist of repute herself.
You could go on a plant safari through the grounds and search for Chinese gooseberries among ancient Irish oaks. Or you could try and locate the lilies of Augustine Henry that rub shoulders with specimen orchids gathered by William Lobb and plants found by Joseph Hooker.
You may even decide to go visit and experience for yourself what inspired the author to dedicate five years of her life to produce this work and tell its tale. The great advantage of the book is you will know what’s what when you get there.
Kilmacurragh: sourced in the wild - The moulding of a heritage arboretum by Megan O’Beirne is published by Systems Publishing (ISBN: 978-1-905404-21-6 Hardback) and is available from all good booksellers. Price range: €26-€28.
Kilmacurragh gardens, Kilbride, Co Wicklow, are open to the public. Winter: 27 October to mid-Feb: Mon-Sun from 9:00-16:30. Summer: mid-Feb to October: Mon-Sun from 09:00-18:00. Tours also available by calling 040-448844