Birr Castle Demesne is one Europe’s great gardens. Many rare species from all over the world will grow here in Ireland and experts are amazed and surprised at the great geographical range of trees that we can grow.
Three generations of Earls of Rosse have been interested in trees, although some of the great oaks in the park go back hundreds of years earlier. The Carroll oak was certainly planted before the Parsons family came here in 1620.
The present Earl, Brendan Parsons, 7th Earl of Rosse, has been involved in plant hunting himself and collecting for the past 30 years. His father before him, the 6th Earl was also a great planter and collector, and many of the rarest trees such as the rare Carrearea date back to his plantings in the 1920s. (photo of Carrearea calycina drawing).Among many older plantings, he also started the collection of beautiful birches (photo of Betula ermanii) and of the many nothofagus, or Southern hemisphere beech.
Michael, the 6th Earl also started the great collection of magnolias, finding that, although the garden is mostly on limey soil, magnolias do indeed grow well here, especially in the River Garden. On his honeymoon, after his marriage to Anne Messell, from Nymans garden in Sussex, they visited China. Here they made contact with Professor Hu of the Fan Institute of Biology in Beijing and subscribed to Chinese plant hunting expeditions. This contact was the beginning of our continual co-operation between Birr and China in the botanical field. Trees, especially from Western China, flourish here. Seeds of the first metasequoia to be discovered came to Birr in the 1940s and there is now a fine tree from this date.
Michael’s son the 7th Earl and his wife Alison have visited many countries on plant collecting expeditions, especially northern Pakistan from where, among others, we have an excellent young specimens of Abies pindrow. Also seeds have been brought from Mongolia and of course China, especially Yunnan.
Several plants and trees grown here are named after family members such as the tree peony Paeonia ‘Anne Rosse’ which was raised at Nymans the home of the late Anne, Countess of Rosse. Also Magnolias, such as the Magnolia ‘Leonard Messell’.