Because of its historical significance as the spot where a famous conversation took place, there has been much interest in the media recently regarding the felling of a tree on the corner of Leeson Street and Appian Way in Dublin 2. For many who passed it every day its loss will probably have more of an impact on their consciousness than its presence. And so it is with the trees that grow on the grounds of Trinity College; they are possibly not sufficiently appreciated until they are to be cut down, moved, or simply pointed out. A case in point is a Sorbus (‘Joseph Rock’) in Library Square, which was felled in January 2016 as it was nearing the end of its life. A superb view of its striking autumn leaves had previously been afforded to the lucky few who had access to a second-floor window of the west end of the Old Library.
Much thoughtful planning and expertise is required for the maintenance of the 600 or so trees on campus, which are looked after by the College’s Grounds and Garden staff in consultation with the Grounds and Gardens Advisory Committee. It is this team who ensure that the grounds always look their best for the students, staff and visitors who walk through campus every day.
Records in the College Archives demonstrate that College authorities have long shown a healthy interest in the grounds and gardens of the Trinity. There are documents from as far back as the seventeenth century that refer to gardens, gardeners, trees and plants. For example, a document from the Bursar’s office dated February 1705 relating to the College garden account refers to £4-2-0 due to Philip Walker for cherry, ‘abele’ and poplar trees. Other financial documents testify to the variety of trees and plants that have been planted over the years, including hollies, hornbeams, beech trees, elms, firs, sycamores, limes, oaks, poplars, honeysuckle, lilac and sweet briar, and make reference to the diverse locations – including Liverpool, Edinburgh and Jamaica – from which trees, plants and seeds were imported over the years.
There has clearly been a structured approach to the landscaping of the grounds from an early period. A document from 1708 refers to a payment of £7-2-10 for 500 beech trees for the Physics Garden hedge, and another from 1717 refers to money owed to Nathaniel Hall for ‘[t]horns for ye long walk’. Such records help to give some idea of the appearance of the campus over the years; there are reference to elms planted ‘at the front of College’, to a ‘large elm’ in ‘front court’, and to black Italian poplars and beeches for hedges in the Botanic Garden.
From the names of some of the gardeners and suppliers, it would appear that they were born for their profession: in 1717 Joseph Twigge supplied elms and firs for the grounds; John Greenwood received £2-6-6 for beech trees and shrubs in 1811, and, according to a late seventeenth-century job application (complete with testimonials), a certain John Greene was seeking work as a College gardener.
While the majority of the records in the College Archives relating to TCD grounds and gardens are of a financial nature, there are also some photographs, maps and plans directly or indirectly relating to gardens and greenery.
Photographs ostensibly of buildings and other features on campus inevitably include trees and grass as background or foreground to the subject, and therefore are an important source for the study of the botanical history of the college over the last 150 years.
The ‘TCD MUN P 4’ series contains financial documents known as ‘Bursar’s vouchers’, which relate to money owed to staff, tradesmen and merchants for labour and goods. They date from the early 17th to the mid 19th century, and many relate to gardening activities.
The ‘TCD MUN MC’ series within the College Archives contains maps, plans, photographs, postcards and drawings of the College and its environs. The subjects of the photographs and drawings include buildings and other architectural features, sculptures and open spaces within the College. They also include trees; you just have to look out for them …
Jeffrey, David (ed.), Trees of Trinity College Dublin [with notes by D.A. Webb] (Dublin, 1993)
‘The Team Behind Trinity’s Trees’: Trinity News and Events. (22 September 2014).