It is easy to say that the Antrim coast, rocky and windswept, is not good for trees. But turn off the East Antrim coast road and as soon as the glens provide shelter there are wonderful trees and stretches of woodland. Glenarm, Glenariff, are famous for their woods; the roads inland towards Ballymena are lined with trees.
One loop off the coast road leads past St. MacNissi’s College, the school housed in Garron Tower at Garron Point.
Among the trees is one, planted in 1857, which is now a real champion. Right beside the boundary wall of the school, overhanging the road, is a eucalyptus, Eucalyptus globulus a blue gum from Australia. The full size of the trunk 26’10” round can only be fully appreciated from below, within the grounds, where its massive bole divides about 2 metres from the ground into two trunk-size branches.
Then a vast canopy of branches reaches up and out in all directions, over the road and the wall. The bark is multi-coloured, with strips hanging off it, the long greyish leaves are spaced out, but this is typical of the species: the tree is full of new growth. It produces flowers and sets seed regularly, and new trees have been grown from the fertile seeds.
The whole tree is redolent of the tangy fragrance typical of eucalyptus.
Naturally resistant to drought, it has survived harsh Antrim winters, but the greatest threat came when it was suggested the tree was damaging the wall and road and should be felled.
Fortunately the school bursar appreciated its worth, stood up for it, and the tree was saved.
In its native Australia, an old tree like this might well have fallen victim to storms, lightning, and forest fires.
Sheltered by its land of adoption, the tree has reached maturity and a size seldom seen anywhere.
The house and its introduced trees owe their existence to Lady Londonderry whose main home in Northern Ireland was Mount Stewart in Co. Down. She built Garron Tower as a holiday home, inspired by romantic castles of the Rhine in Germany. Choosing a surprisingly sheltered location, with good soil, the house was constructed and surrounded by landscaped gardens with specimen trees.