Orchard Visit: Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow

During a recent short stay in Bray, the seaside resort south of Dublin, Jo and I spent a couple of days exploring local gardens. As ever, I was on the lookout for fruit trees, but wasn’t holding out much hope of finding any at the first venue on our mini-tour, the very stately Powerscourt Estate in the hills of County Wicklow.

Powerscourt’s acres of gardens are set out on a suitably grand scale, their historical legacy front and centre, with statuary from the continent dotted around the formal areas. There’s a terraced hillside with a central walkway leading down to a fountain-featuring lake, a Japanese garden, and miles of woodland walks. The once massive walled kitchen garden is rather a shadow of its former glory; although it does include a suitably impressive and extremely tasteful long border that takes up roughly the central fifth of the area, there’s no productive food growing going on, at least in the public spaces.

However, wandering around the bottom end of hedge that defines the long border, we entered another large section of the walled garden. It was just a large lawn space, but with a rather nice selection of very mature fruit trees growing along the west-facing wall.

Strolling along the line of trees I spotted a fair few pears, as well as apples and plums. I later chatted to a gardener who confirmed, as I rather suspected, that as the trees are most likely well over a hundred years old, none of the varieties or cultivars are known. They do all still fruit well though, so they must be enjoying the benefits of their sheltered position.

It looks like it could be a good year for the Powerscourt trees, as there were plenty of fruitlets developing nicely.

Whenever I visit a property with a fruit-growing history, I always like to delve into the Ordnance Survey archives at the National Library of Scotland, to see if they hold any clues to how fruit trees might have been grown there in the past. The NLS archive of maps that cover Ireland are more limited than for the rest of the UK, but I did find two that I could take screenshots from. I also checked the Irish Townland and Historical Interactive Map Viewer, which includes the same two map sets.

Here’s the relevant detail from OS map for c. 1840, showing the walled garden area (centre left) laid out in a series of rectangles, each of which could well have been bordered by fruit trees or bushes, with crops growing in the centre of each rectangle, if the symbols on the map are anything to go by.

Zooming in and boosting the contrast to bring up the map symbols, it looks as though the west, north and east facing walls might once have been lined with fruit trees, and there could have been sections of trees in front of the glasshouse ranges as well. Unless of course, these symbols are just meant to represent some form of organised planting, which could just as easily refer to other food crops. I’m quite intrigued by the suggestion of a planted area behind the glasshouses, in the top-left section of the image, as well. Perhaps this was the propagation area for the main garden, or the head gardener’s private garden?

The other available map is the series that was surveyed from 1888-1915 and sadly doesn’t convey as much detail, showing a general area for the kitchen garden, still laid out in the same rectangles but no clear idea as to the planting within. There is still a hint that the areas in front of the glasshouses – which now seem to have been extended into the orangery that exists today, and the area behind them built on as well, may still have contained trees though?

All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Powerscourt; a very grand remnant and reminder of a bygone era, and the fruit trees at the end were an unexpected bonus. We can heartily recommend the on-site café for lunch as well; the food was a bit pricey, but very generously portioned, so we came away quite satisfied.

Next up and posting in the next week or so, notes on orchard visits to two more gardens with more substantial orchard offerings: the Airfields Estate in the suburbs or Dublin and Kilruddery House and Gardens outside Bray.

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  1. this is the perfect setting to rediscover ‘lost’ varieties. are all the trees different varieties? if so it’s a collection orchard and there was probably mail conversation with other estates and castles about scionwood exchanges. maybe even written lists somewhere. the archives of those estates can hold a treasure of information.

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