Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The plants and trees of Fota

This Bank Holiday weekend marked a much-anticipated return visit to Fota Arboretum in East Cork.

Fota Island was originally the home of the Smith-Barry family and in the ownership of that family since 1177. After the death of the last of the Smith-Barrys in 1975, the Island was sold to University College Cork. Over time, parts of the island has been put to a variety of uses including the unique Fota Wildlife Park. Although financial constraints required parts of the estate to be sold off for a golf course and hotel development, much of Fota remains in public ownership.

Fota House, former seat of the Smith-Barrys and their impressive gardens and arboretum is open to the public and is well worth a visit.

The Irish Heritage Trust took over responsibility for Fota House, Arboretum and Gardens in 2007 and there has been some noticeable improvements in signage and accessibility in that time. The Office of Public Works manage the gardens and arboretum.

Many sources describe the word Fota as coming from the Irish term 'Fód te' meaning warm soil and as such, the gardens are a great spot to relax and enjoy one of the greatest collection of rare and tender trees and shrubs growing outdoors in Ireland and Britain.
Japanese Cedar - a billowing thundercloud

The Smith-Barrys can be credited with the laying-out of the gardens and arboretum. Even up to the last of the Smith-Barrys, a Mrs. Bell, cataloguing and conserving the plant collections were important.

Japanese Cedar
One of the most impressive trees in the collection is a magnificent Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica 'Spiralis') planted in around 1880. The national tree of Japan, this variety has particularly interesting foliage where many of the needles twist themselves around the stems giving a spiral appearance. From a distance, the tree resembles a billowing thundercloud and is about 20 metres high.

There are a few small Monkey Puzzle (Araucaria araucana) trees in the arboretum.


Monkey Puzzle (Araucaria araucana)

Now is also a good time to visit. The Camellia and Magnolia are already in flower and Primroses abound in the wooded areas.

Magnolia 'Big Dude'
Camellia japonica 'Lavinia Maggi'

There is a magnificent Drimys winteri 'Glauca' currently in flower. Native to rain forests of Chile and Argentina, the bark of the plant known as "Winter's Bark" was a well known cure for scurvy.
Drimys winteri 'Glauca'
Drimys winteri 'Glauca'
Also at this time of the year, the azaleas which are dotted around the house are a riot of pinks, reds and purples.

For those who love plants Fota is a must visit. Understandably, the animals in the nearby wildlife park are a huge draw but, and at the risk of spoiling this oasis of calm, the gardens and arboretum deserve to be more visited in their own right.

Fota Garden and Arboretum are open year round and entry is free. There is however a €3 charge for parking. The island can also be accessed by train from Cork's Kent railway station. Charges apply for visiting Fota House and Fota Wildlife Park.

The Fota House Plant and Garden Fair takes place on Sunday 22nd April 2012 in association with Marymount Hospice New Building Fund. For more details, see www.fotahouse.com

1 comments:

triploidtree April 10, 2012 at 4:30 PM  

Everytime I think of Fota arboretum, I remember being brought there on a summer day and there being these HUGE flies. They were bigger than bluebottles and iridescent, but about the same shape as a bluebottle. I'd say I must have been eight years old or something, so they might not have been the size of a horse, but they were certainly big enough.

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