What was lost, is found

Now that we live in an era of instant gardening - where it is possible to buy anything from a fully-planted hanging basket to a semi-mature woodland - the prospect of growing shrubs and trees from cuttings just seems too darn slow sometimes. So, when you come upon an avenue of rhododendrons, grown from cuttings about 150 years ago, you stop dead in your tracks in admiration for the far-sighted person who put them there.

The Broad Walk at Kilmacurragh House in Co Wicklow is that avenue, and Janet Acton, then in her twenties, was that person. The crimson-flowered Rhododendron arboreum shrubs - now full-sized trees - were all rooted from cuttings (no mean feat: rhodos are usually propagated from seed or by layering) and interspersed with slim Irish yews. A century-and-a-half later, the tunnel of trees is a stirring sight in springtime, when all along its length the clusters of carmine flowers are mirrored by a wash of fallen blossom coursing along the ground. Janet Acton and her younger brother Thomas set about making the great garden in the gently undulating acres around the elegant Queen Anne house near Rathdrum, built by an earlier Thomas Acton in 1697. The acid soil and the sheltered position made it ideal for rhododendrons and the exotic conifers and other trees that were being introduced into Europe at that time. Dozens of these "new" species were planted, including fine specimens of the Tasmanian Cedars - Athrotaxis cupressoides and A. laxifolia - and the aromatic Chilean Laurel, Laurelia sempervirens. The latest Himalayan rhododendrons were there also, forming one of the best collections of the time.

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