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March 2012

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What a puzzle!

Shirley got an unexpected gift in the post.

A little package arrived through the letterbox last Christmas. It was a tiny seedling monkey puzzle tree, no bigger than 10 cm tall, but with the promise of one day becoming a gigantic wonder of a tree. This charming little scrap came as a present from Woodstock Gardens in Co. Kilkenny, home of one of the longest and most majestic monkey puzzle avenues in Europe. It was one of several scores of baby trees, grown from seed collected from the Kilkenny monkey puzzles.

The Woodstock trees were themselves grown from seed brought directly from their native Chile in the middle of the 1800s. They were not part of the first, famous batch of seeds brought to Europe by the plant hunter Archibold Menzies in a matchbox. Menzies had been offered these as a delicacy at a state dinner in Chile but preferred to pocket the seeds and bring them home for planting, thus introducing these quirky giants to Europe. Nevertheless, the seeds planted in Kilkenny arrived not long after the original batch, and so the resulting trees are well cloaked in both pedigree and romance.

The seedlings, like mine, that found themselves being passed around the country last winter are the babies of these notable trees. John Delaney, head gardener at Woodstock, hopes they will be planted to provide specimen trees for future generations in a wide range of gardens around the country - a symbolic gesture in the important business of making sure that the regeneration of important plants is kept up in our great gardens.

His action arose from a call made by several important Irish gardeners at a talk in the Botanic Gardens recently. The call was that there be a great increase in the sharing of plants between State-owned gardens, led by the National Botanic Gardens and other public gardens, such as Glenveagh Castle, Kilmacurragh, Malahide Castle and the like, and the large number of privately owned gardens being run by owners on small budgets.

Most of the great plant collections in Irish gardens exist, at least partly, because of the plants shared by the owners of those gardens from the beginning of the nineteenth century. At the meeting, the call to spread more plants among private gardens was answered positively by Dr Matthew Jebb, Director of the Botanics. John Delaney, in letting loose his army of tiny Araucaria araucana trees, was making a welcome gesture.

 

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