Restoration of Plant Collections


Around 40 people attended the conference, in a scenic setting on the shores of Lake Killarney. The programme of talks was interspersed with memorable visits to the Gardens at Muckross House with Cormac Foley; and to the diverse collection at Dunloe Castle Gardens with Mary O’Sullivan – an extraordinary collection of specimens in all stages of development, which provoked much discussion.. Talking continued long into the night in the bar at the Lake Hotel, giving rise to many suggestions for future meetings.

Optional field days before and after the conference were much enjoyed. Peter Wyse Jackson led a day full of interest on the Dingle Peninsula, looking at plants as well as some intriguing ancient sites with Bernie, a local naturalist and archaeologist. Steve Waldren and Naomi Kingston took us to the wild arbutus and yew woods at Muckross: despite the midges and being a very ‘soft’ day, it was beautiful – Torc Waterfall was in full spate and we were lucky enough to see the Killarney fern. Our thanks to them all and to Cormac Foley and Donal Synnott for their part in making the conference such a success, and to Dúchas Heritage Service for support.

The following brief report is taken from longer notes supplied by Barry Noyce, Birr Castle.

Irradiating the present: restoring the past – a gathering of Ireland’s cultivars

Dr Charles Nelson

An account of some of the many Irish cultivars and how and where they were raised; with stories of the collectors, nurseries, curators and breeders responsible for cultivars of such genera as Arbutus, Galega, Rosa, Iris, Sorbus, Chrysanthemum, Narcissus, Galanthus, Meconopsis, Myrtus, Cotoneaster, Malus, Azara, Lonicera, Hypericum, Chamaecyparis, Penstemon, Primula and Paeonia.

The Great Gardens of Ireland restoration scheme – problems and successes

Finola Reid, Great Gardens of Ireland Restoration Programme

The work of the scheme was outlined, with reference to a range of gardens differing in age and circumstances. The difficulties in selecting which of the many notable gardens would receive direct support, particularly in the absence of any protective legislation of plants of trees in Irish gardens, were described; and the need for an inventory of plants growing in Irish gardens was highlighted.

Rejuvenation of a historic landscape: arboricultural conservation in Phoenix Park

John McCullen, Superintendent, Phoenix Park, Dublin

An overview of the age and health of the mature plantings in the Park and the decisions faced in planning for their preservation and replanting. The park was the first in Ireland to be designated as a National Historic Park and some of the trees are 150–200 years old. Of the 750 trees in the central avenue, at least 100 need replacing and this will hopefully become one of the Park’s millennium projects.

Restoring a scientific collection, at Killmacurragh

Donal Synnott and Paul Norton

The grounds were laid out in the eighteenth century, using oaks, yew and a beech avenue and later introductions included the monkey puzzle. In the late nineteenth century, the arboretum had the reputation for containing the best conifer collection in Ireland, and it includes many Southern Hemisphere plantings. The collection was devastated by the storm on  Christmas eve 1997. The extensive and painstaking restoration work in progress was described.

Retelling the story: using history for a garden’s future

Pam Smith, Director, University of Birmingham Botanic Garden

The context of themes that could be used for restoration in gardens was considered with reference to restoration of Riverside Park in Chester-le-Street, County Durham, based on the designer, mathematician and astronomer Thomas Wright; and restoration in progress at the University of Birmingham Botanic Garden at Winterbourne, originally an Edwardian Arts and Crafts garden now being used as the base for various botanical and garden history courses.

Preparations for moving the Palm House collections at Glasnevin

Dr Matthew Jebb. Taxonomist, National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin

The problems to be faced in moving the plants while the nineteenth-century Palm House is restored were considered, with the use of scaled drawings of the existing house, the ‘holding’ house (which is less than half the size) and of the plants that need to be moved. In addition to shortage of storage space, other problems to be overcome will be rooting of the larger specimens into the ground and the actual physical moving of large specimens. The theme and design of replanting in the restored house will also need careful planning.

Restoration at Fota Arboretum

Cormac Foley

The history of the gardens and grounds and the plant collection was outlined. Many of the specimens at Fota were planted very soon after initial introduction from the wild, notably; Magnolia campbellii – introduced in 1865, planted at Fota in 1872, Sequoia and Sequoiadendron spp. and other South American species. The gardens are also noted for their Pieris collection.

‘Collectors’ numbers: a resource for restoration or a lost cause?

Dr Charles Nelson

Collectors’ numbers have only been in use since the start of the twentieth century; until then, the only numbering that seems to have been used was the planting date. Collectors’ numbers can be a useful tool in building up background information about collections that require restoration, and it was suggested that a national register of collectors’ would be very useful in such work.

Past records for future planting

Melissa Simpson, Horticultural Taxonomist for the National Trust

There is much work yet to be done in making full records for collections in National Trust gardens, a prerequisite for conservation. For each property, a ‘statement of significance’ is prepared, leading to a conservation plan which ultimately is incorporated into an overall management plan. The head gardener, taxonomist and garden historian work closely together in the preparation of this document, considering different types of information. Plant information is entered on a database, and ephemeral plantings (often as these plantings are the first to die out in times of neglect) are recorded as well as woody collections. Plant records are an essential tool: their careful analysis can be used to justify additional funding, resources or even staff.

Pragmatic decisions in restoration.

Mike Snowden, Head Gardener, Rowallane

With reference to the ‘spirit’ of the garden and the holistic approach, practical examples of the restoration work being carried out at Rowallane were described. The value (as well as the maintenance implications) of holding the NCCPG National Collection of hybrid penstemons was considered. As a result of the initial landscaping and subsequent method of maintenance, the wild flora inside the garden is better conserved that that outside the estate, where it  has been subjected to modern conventional farming techniques. Everything that can be in the garden is recycled, including the waste paper generated by the regional offices based at Rowallane!

Decision-making and choices in regeneration of a Victorian tree collection

Michael Lear, Curator, National Arboretum Castlewellan

The spirit of the garden will have influenced the planting.  Analysis of records kept over time will reveal what is actually happening in garden. and this can be important for assessing management effectiveness. A system of assessment for woody species was described, including following criteria rarity, uniqueness of specimen, provenance and age, arboricultural condition’ landscape importance and distinctiveness. A brief outline was given of the history of the arboretum and gardens at Castlewellan and the important introductions made by the Annesley family had made. Planting in the garden was informal within a formal Victorian layout  The importance of keeping records was stressed, particularly historical, when new hybrids or cultivars were discovered.

Planning and decision-making

Bernard Payne, Chairman of PlantNet, and Peter Wyse-Jackson, BGCI

This workshop dealt with the practical steps in how an individual garden or group of gardens might go about putting together a business plan with a view to obtaining funding. Strategic planning can explode the myth of how complicated such a plan may be. However, goals must be reasonable and attainable, consultation reports must have used specific consultation, and additional back-up information (vital both for the projects’ own needs and to demonstrate that the proposal has been properly researched) should be included in as many appendices as it takes. Identification of potential sponsors or funding and what they want from your project is crucial. Ensure that the proposal is attractive to them, but, in turn, be sure that there is some common ground between your project and the sponsor.