Irish Garden Plant Society AGM weekend in Newcastle 19/20 May


The Irish Garden Plant Society (IGPS) is a group of very keen gardeners and Irish plant enthusiasts from across the whole of Ireland.  This Group was formed almost 40 years ago with the following aims:


Each year the regions get together and hold an AGM weekend at various venues throughout Ireland, this year it was Ulster’s turn and there was a particular interest in seeing the Annesley garden at Castlewellan.  This is the first time the Group has been in this area of Northern Ireland and the Northern region was keen to ensure a warm welcome, and interesting programme.

Regional committee members at Burrendale Hotel

In view of the great history of plant breeding in this area, with the Daisy Hill and Slieve Donard nurseries , sadly no longer operational, but leaving a legacy of many plant varieties, a visit here was likely to be popular.   And so it turned out, almost 100 members booked in to the weekend, and a packed and interesting programme was devised by the Northern Committee.   Members came from the Munster and Leinster regions, some from as far away as Cork.  Guests stayed at the Burrendale Hotel where the AGM and dinner took place.  They were very well looked after at the Burrendale, all of the feedback in relation to the accommodation and catering has been excellent, thanks must go to Fiona O’Hare and her team.

All AGM attendees in the Annesley walled garden Castlewellan

The weather was beautiful,  the first real warm sunshine of the year and made the first visit which was to the Annesley garden and arboretum at Castlewellan a real joy.  After a brief history of the Annesley family by Robert Trotter, local man and IGPS regional committee member, 2 buses took the Groups to the gardens and were met by Guides, Alwyn Sinnamon who is the Head Gardener and Seamus O’Brien who had travelled from Wicklow to assist in this event.  Alwyn is dedicated to this special garden, Seamus is a renowned plant hunter and author and is also curator of the Kilmacurragh Botanical Garden in Wicklow.  Seamus has a particular interest in the arboretum due to the many very special tree species and to the history that goes alongside.  Members were  also introduced to some  of the team of volunteers, those very important and special people who are  the Arboretum Regeneration Castlewellan (ARC) and who tirelessly work in the arboretum and keep it looking beautiful for all to enjoy; indeed, thanks must always go to this group.  A gift of a tree for the arboretum was presented to the Forestry Manager, Gareth Casement by Ann James outgoing vice Chair of the Society.


Members were greatly impressed by the variety of planting and the history and the wonderful setting.  This, together with the recent prestigious award by the international Dendrological Society and the recent filming in the garden of several scenes in the BBC’s Sunday night classic serial of the Wilkie Collins novel, the “Woman in White” made for a special visit.


After lunch in McGinns at Castlewellan members walked to Sam Harrison’s magnificent private garden just inside the forest park.  Sam is known to most people locally and he is really a legend when it comes to his knowledge of trees and overall horticultural experience.   This very special and personal garden was enjoyed by all.  As ever, Sam was very welcoming and spent a great deal of time with members explaining the history of his own garden. There are  so many facets to this garden, it is a relaxing space to spend a sunny afternoon.

Ann James making a presentation to Gareth Casement, Manager Forestry service at Castlewellan Arboretum


This year the owners and head gardeners of all of the Gardens on the visit joined IGPS members for dinner that evening at the Burrendale.  The dinner was great fun with raffles and auctions of plants, all Irish cultivars or plants with Irish connections.


On Sunday morning members travelled to Rostrevor via the beautiful mountain road from Hilltown, views of Carlingford Lough from here are indeed a sight to behold.  The group were guests at the privately owned Ballyedmond Castle for morning coffee and guided walks round this spectacular garden.   After lunch another lovely and different experience was the visit to Bessbrook to the smaller but very specially planted garden of Hilary and William McKelvey.  Hilary is a renowned plantswoman and specialises in Alpine species with many varieties growing in her well tended  and fascinating garden, a complete contrast to the other gardens.  Her knowledge and enthusiasm as well as her warm personality ensured a delightful visit.  Hilary’s garden is open under the Ulster Gardens Scheme. Following afternoon tea. in Bessbrook, farewells were said and the group dispersed back to their regions.

Seamus O’Brien with Alwyn Cinnamon, head gardener at Castlewellan with recent award from International Dendrological Society


It was a real privilege to be a part of the organisation of this event, the Northern committee worked hard to ensure a great visit, it has been a joy to promote all that is good about this part of Co Down, members from far afield felt welcome and thoroughly enjoyed what is on offer here.


New members to IGPS are always welcome, for more information visit the IGPS website or Facebook Page, a must for all gardeners!


Jenny Constable