Castlewellan Arboretum and Annesley Garden has received a prestigious award in recognition of its tree collection.
The International Dendrology Society (IDS) presented an IDS Plaque to Forest Service, who now own and maintain the garden as part of Castlewellan Forest Park.
Speaking at the presentation, Forest Service Chief Executive John Joe O’Boyle said: “This is truly a prestigious honour which recognises the unique nature of the Castlewellan Arboretum and Annesley Garden.
“It is a place of unquestionable beauty in all seasons and particularly at this time of year as the blooms are emerging.
“It is also a place of great history, as many of the trees here are more than a century old and have grown through world wars, momentous events and times of great upheaval.
“The arboretum and gardens also have great scientific value as the specimens here represent a horticultural collection of unequalled diversity.’’
Hundreds of species exist in the garden, including examples from across the world and local plants such as the Castlewellan Gold.
It also boasts over 30 champion trees, which are considered leading examples of their species.
Mr O’Boyle added: “Yet for all this unique environment does to stimulate the senses, it is also a place of calm and stillness. You don’t need to know the background or be a botanist to appreciate the splendour of Castlewellan Arboretum and Annesley Garden.”
Dendrology is the scientific study of trees and the IDS is a globally-recognised organisation made up of leading experts in the field.
As well as visiting Castlewellan, IDS are holding their council meeting in Northern Ireland.
Mr O’Boyle continued: “I welcome members of the International Dendrology Society here today and am pleased to accept this plaque on behalf of Forest Service.
“This award recognises the generations of care and attention which have gone into the gardens since its establishment in 1750, and particularly through the efforts of Hugh Annesley, the Fifth Earl Annesley creating here in Castlewellan something that has been much enjoyed by many through the decades.
“Today, these gardens and the wider Forest Park thrive on partnership.
“Our work in Forest Service is supported by many organisations, and the community around us, all of whom have a part to play.
“The partnership here at Castlewellan between Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and Forest Service has opened up exciting new leisure and recreation opportunities with over 300,000 visitors coming to the park on an annual basis.
“I have no doubt the partnership will develop further and the enjoyment of visitors will continue for many years to come.”
Thomas Pakenham, vice-president of the IDS for Ireland, said how delighted the society was to be able to present a plaque to Castlewellan.
He said: “In the 60 years since our foundation, we have only presented 16 plaques. This is the first given to an Irish garden or arboretum.
“It demonstrates that this is a place that registers high on the global scale, a unique place to inspire the senses as well as a place for education and research.”
In its citation, the IDS praised Castlewellan as: “One of the most remarkable tree collections not only in Ireland but in the whole of Europe. Just a few miles from the Irish sea, sheltered by the mountains and surrounding woodland, Castlewellan Arboretum and Annesley garden contain a truly extraordinary number of trees of great rarity, beauty and size.”