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For me, and for the gardens at Killruddery, the weather during 2018 and more particularly it’s resultant effects has been most extraordinary. We began the year in a reasonably benign fashion (bar a storm or two), but by late Winter as we all recall we were experiencing some very challenging conditions. Come Spring – a very late one this year, and cool too, we were seeing massive fluctuations in day and night time temperatures, bringing particular problems to the nursery side of our activities. But, surprisingly, the greatest difficulties were probably brought about by the very warm and prolonged dry spell in Summer, causing firstly a halt in growth, followed by scorched, hardened ground, cracks appearing in our clay soil, lawn margins shrinking back from kerbs…the list goes on.

Of course we watered, though in a very targeted fashion. Despite the obvious lack of growth around the gardens – (for example Box hedging here is always clipped twice yearly, sometimes getting a third clipping, this year it was clipped once), and the equally obvious stress on plants generally, we seem to have lost very little, although there are pockets of dead plants here and there. One of the more positive and interesting observations is the new planting (completed around March) near the ticket office, which fared surprisingly well. This area was planted with a good many species tolerant of the open, sunny site we had, and true to type, needed little watering, especially for newly planted material. Roses certainly enjoyed the heat and the dryness, little evidence of some of the usual fungal attacks and good rates of flowering in general. Of course, any watering we did do, was against the backdrop of our reservoir here in Killruddery dropping daily…another cause for concern. Thankfully, now around mid September, we’ve had some rain (not enough…) and things are greener, the pull on water supplies a little less, and I suppose we’ve ‘weathered the storm’ if I may use that phrase. However, for me, it’s something of a lost year in many respects, with growth having been so poor. Also, it saddened me to see the gardens burnt up and browned, looking so far from their best. Every cloud though, has it’s silver lining…it was pointed put to me, that the blue of the Geranium ‘Rozanne’ – flowering away as always, contrasted beautifully with the brown of the grass…

Another positive has to be the early signs from our initial forays into reducing the heights of some of our hedges. This is something that will take several years to complete across the various areas. The purpose of carrying out this work is to encourage some lower growth on some of the very old plants, and to reduce the weight in their upper regions – this reduces vulnerability to wind damage, increases light to lower parts of plants, and hopefully eases or simplifies a punishing maintenance schedule. Our window in which to work on these type of jobs is limited, through consideration to good practice, as well as pressure of other work, be it maintenance or development. It was the intention to make a more significant start on all this last Winter, however due to external factors,we were able to allocate only the briefest of openings, particularly in terms of the deciduous specimens. We did manage to complete one row of Carpinus in the angles – very old plants, some in poor condition. Considering the state of some of the individual specimens, the manner in which the response has occurred is most heartening. Also completed were one side of the Yew hedge bordering the Angles and Elizabeth’s walk. This too is looking pretty good. There would have been much more regrowth but for the very dry summer, and in the medium to long term I feel confident this rejuvenation will be a success. There’s at least 2 or 3 more stages in this hedge, to be completed over 2 or 3 years. Completing jobs of this kind in stages not only makes them more manageable in terms of a work programme, but very importantly, spreads the ‘shock’ on the plants, allowing a degree of recovery before the next onslaught…

Best response of all has come from the Viburnum tinus hedge, bordering the water stops. A funny ol’ hedge…some of the plants within are growing out of the low stone wall here, and a lot of gaps and variable growth throughout. We took a couple of feet off the height, and removed a small amount of lateral growth on the outside of the hedge, provoking a really positive response. The ideal here, (only with a strong, vigorous specimen) would have been to cut the hedge down far harder, even to a foot or two from ground level. This method, timed correctly would ensure a strong, uniform response, however, in our case, we needed to maintain the cover and structure provided by the hedge. Every hedge is different, and at times, a cautious approach is best. Generally speaking though, deciduous specimens should be tackled in Winter (when dormant), evergreens in Spring when coming into growth. In the case of evergreens, feed in advance, watch for watering, and remember to do in stages. In most cases, best advice is to remove the top first, getting light and air to the centre of the specimens in question, tackling the sides in subsequent years.

Right now, it’s seed harvesting season, running roughly from late summer to early Winter, depending on species. With some plants, collecting the seed is very straightforward. Timing is an issue – too early and you’ll get unripe seed, too late and you may find it’s been dispersed already. A good example, that many will relate to is the poppy. We’ve all seen the brown, dried up seed heads, almost like little drumsticks. Shake them and you’ll hear the seed rattle around – this is ready and very simply harvested. Any harvested seed should be cleaned and stored in paper bags or envelopes, ahead of sowing. Making sure it’s well dried before cleaning – I then use sieves, tweezers, the tip of a knife etc. to remove any bits of leaf, seed pod or general debris. This is best done before storing, as any foreign material present may encourage mouldy conditions, thus compromising the viability of the seed. Remember to label seed when collecting.

Also in the Nursery, we’re approaching the end of our time for taking cuttings. Most of the propagation by cuttings that we carry out is done from mid summer, to late summer/ early autumn. I’ve always enjoyed all forms of propagation, generally planning ahead with a couple of years in mind, depending on where in the garden may need some freshening up, or of course a quick cover up of a previous failure… There’s always a bit of time for some experimentation regarding propagation attempts…and the occasional indulgence. Sometimes too, a particular plant that you previously paid little attention to might resonate with you, and prompt a desire to produce afew additional clones. This year, exactly this happened for me with 3 different Philadelphus shrubs, planted many years ago, in a very tucked away spot and somewhat neglected in recent times. They flowered beautifully, and so, I returned to them to collect cuttings. Unfortunately, due to the previously mentioned neglect these specimens had suffered, there was no usuable material at all – the best cutting material is derived from younger shoots and stems with energy and vigour. As a compromise, I’ll take seed instead, and prune the plants pretty hard to encourage a pro

liferation of growth, hopefully usable in 12 months or so as cuttings….again planning ahead…

Soon enough, we’ll be bulb planting. Garden centres, and I suppose some supermarkets are now stocking all the usual suspects. I’ve yet to place my order, buy I’ll have to keep it a little smaller this year, as pressure of work for the coming period is already making time noticeably tighter. I’ll stay with my – some classy (never gaudy!) daffodills, some Allium, and maybe a couple of others…it’s always hard to resist more Erythronium or Cyclamen.

Of course, sitting here this morning, lots of wind outside right now, it’s impossible to overlook one of the more mundane, and repetitive of annual tasks. Leaf collection can be a nice burst of physical activity, or it can be the greatest nuisance…I suppose it’s a matter of outlook. I would reiterate the usefulness of leaves in terms of composting – they are of course excellent in the compost heap, and are one of the very few materials that can on their own make great compost, without any other constituents. Also remember to avoid the danger of damp leaves piling up on paved areas – a definite slip hazard.

In fact, speaking hazards, as I complete this entry, I see various items flying past the office window…a tree has come down in the nursery, crushing a large number of pots and plants grown for a specific area…our plans for today are in tatters, similar to the tear in the roof of the tunnel, flapping loudly in the breeze….

Oh well… at least things are never too predictable here at Killruddery…

Daragh Farren

Head Gardener

September 2018


As I write, we’re approaching mid June, and Killruddery is dried up and in places looking more than a little sunburnt. The last number of months have brought some acute and impactful weather of varying kinds. Well documented are the fury of Ophelia and Emma etc. The ‘longest Winter ever’ has been discussed ad nausea, and of course Spring this year seemed to take forever to properly arrive. The Spring temperatures did seem really low for a long time, lots of chilly days through March and April, and real dips in the night time temperatures. For me, here in our nursery, I feel those low day temperatures and night time fluctuations were hugely unhelpful with seed germination. We have a polythene tunnel and a very simple warm bench, but a lot of my results this year were less than I hoped for. I had a lot of (for me) new material I had gained access to, and much of it would be considered challenging regarding germination rates, but I can’t help feeling (with some exciting exceptions) a degree of disappointment.

As for the present…well, Summer is certainly underway…and it’s very hard to be critical of warm, sunny days. However, I personally would love to see some pretty serious rainfall, and ground conditions currently, are such that a reasonably significant ‘rainfall event’ may be needed to allow proper soil penetration. We haven’t seen rain here for quite some time now, as highlighted by our yellowing, stunted grass…

On a slightly more upbeat note, our largest planting job this year is settling nicely, and hopefully despite the arid conditions is managing to successfully establish. Located outside the ticket shop/ garden entrance, its very different in style to other planting we have round the garden. It’s a very open site, and receives considerable sunshine. There have certainly been some failures, and afew groups of plants have been more almost entirely eaten – rabbits the culprits I think. However, with a variety of ornamental thistles, a number of grasses, and afew reliable dry area perennials, I’m for the most part fairly pleased. We’ve done almost no watering whatever here so far, although that may have to change soon.

On the subject of watering – (and of course, in some parts of the country it may well be considered irresponsible to use mains water in the garden), the approach taken can make a big difference to the effectiveness of your efforts. Something akin to a mere dribble of water is of little use to plants under stress. In fact, an amount of water that fails to properly penetrate the root zone of the plant in question, will firstly do little to address the plants immediate needs, but will also potentially encourage a more shallow rooting action from the plant. Also, time of day can make an enormous difference. It’s clearly best to water when evaporation is not a factor – watering in early morning or later in the evening will allow far greater levels of penetration and absorption. Automated irrigation systems for example, are generally set to operate sometime in the very late night/ early morning.

We did squeeze in a couple of other smaller bits of planting. Some underplanting in a couple of areas, and a small, tucked away spot where the path behind the Rock, toward the top of the Rockwood begins. This is an especially sheltered location, although still receiving good light. There’s also the likelihood of moisture run off from the rock (not lately!). Here we’ve planted a couple of nicely proportioned Camellias, and a couple of my personal favourite Primulas – P. capitata and P. vialii – neither of which, particularly the latter would be known as long lived subjects, but beautiful plants, especially when in a reasonable sized drift. We’ve also added some Mysotidium hortensia, Cautleya spicata, Arisarum proboscidium – the mouse plant, kids love it, a real curiosity and a favourite of mine. Also some beautiful Meconopsis – M. paniculata and M. grandis and a couple of Veratrum. So, all in all not a huge area, and a little off the beaten track, but a pocket of planting in a spot offering a very particular set of conditions. I would say watch this space, it could end up being an area for experimentation…

Of course Summer is the time of high levels of maintenance throughout the garden. Although at present grass growth has greatly slowed, differing aspects of lawn maintenance – mowing, edging, and feeding etc. are important tasks. We’ve usedseaweed feeds sporadically in recent years, but I plan to increase their use during 2018. We’re going for a low rate application, used fairly regularly, and I’m hoping we’ll see some good results. I can already see it will be very difficult to gauge this year – the benefits of seaweed feeding will be seen best over a period of months, provided the frequency is kept up, but there is tremendous stress on turf at present, making all these tasks more difficult to complete, and most likely less effective.

Weed growth doesn’t seem to stop (or slow…) in times of dryness, and although it can seem an unending and thankless task, it is important, and if you can get just a little ahead of the worst, it will pay dividends…remember the old saying – one years weed, seven years seed… Dealing with excessive weed growth allows your cultivated plants a better share of light, moisture, food and space, and of course allows them to display far better.

Soon the schools will break for the Summer holidays. Lots of local families, members and one off visitors will I hope be planning some pleasant, lazy days in Killruddery, perhaps enjoying coffee or an ice cream. Many such visitors might remember our much loved (but for many, too short lived) playground area. Lots of you will be aware that for safety reasons, it was necessary to remove it. Our young members are of course hugely important to us, and while we are not set to replace the former play ground area, we will have a nice surprise for our youngest of members and their families. We’re very excited and should be able to tell you all much more around the time the school holidays are getting properly underway.

In the meantime…we have a rain dance to perfect…

How did we ever manage without you tube…?

Daragh Farren – Head Gardener – June 2018

Coming to write this, another frosty morning at the end of March, I worry I maybe tempting fate to so much as whisper about Spring. It feels like we’ve had the longest of Winters, so many cold mornings, more snow than we’re (hopefully) likely to see for a considerable time, and some suggestion amongst those who know, that there is certainly more cold weather to come. Gardens, plants and landscapes are resilient, and a scenario where no proper Winter cold occurs leads to it’s own difficulties. It is true that a proper burst of Winter weather will reduce populations of various pests and pathogens – rodents, aphids, slugs and snails etc., like fungal type diseases, don’t enjoy these periods.

Soil structure will benefit greatly too from proper exposure to frost. It was at one time traditional to roughly dig over areas to be replanted early in the Winter, leaving the exposed, roughly turned soil to the actions of the inevitable pending cold weather.

But, these benefits of Winter weather are just that….beneficial during winter. The later these conditions occur, the greater the inconvenience, and potentially the greater the damage to emerging growth. True to say that a layer of snow will insulate many plants, almost as if being ‘tucked in’ against the elements. Many low growing perennial or bulbous plants will be pretty unscathed by the snow events, though maybe in some cases a bit ‘squished’. Woody plants may have branches broken due to weight of snow, and ground conditions have at times been really poor, making simple moving around more challenging. One of the most noticeable things for me is damage to some woody plants that although not considered to be ‘fully hardy’ – (defined in general terms as a plant that will survive -15c) would rarely (at least on the east coast) suffer much damage. I’m thinking of for example Hoheria sexostyla, Myrtus luma, Eupatorium ligustrinum and some Solanums among others. It’s hardly surprising really, particularly considering their origins, but worth noting that it’s damage of a kind I’ve very seldom seen. Other plants that are showing signs of having suffered badly include Hydrangeas, Abutilons, Agapanthus and others. I expect most (not all) to recover and hopefully, as April begins, a more seasonal pattern will emerge…

Amidst all the weather related disruption, and some season long hires that have impinged a little on our work, we have got a reasonable amount done over recent months. The most noticeable work completed in the garden from the point of view of our visitors (apart from new toilets), will perhaps be the additional planting close to the ticket office/ entrance. I mentioned this in the last entry, but we’ve done some more work here, and I feel it’s looking interesting already. The planting we did in November is pretty informal. It’s an open, exposed and at times quite sunny (not lately…) site, very different from the previous areas planted near the car park, which are populated mostly with shade tolerant, woodland type plants. In the newer area, we’ve used afew different grasses, some thistle like plants, and afew reliable, flowering sun lovers. I think, looking over the area, afew of the constituents have succumbed to the attention of Mr Jack Frost, but nothing we can’t address. As we moved across the area, we wanted to separate the planting from the path to the entrance, opting to use Box hedging. I’m a big fan of Buxus, I love the structure and definition it brings. In this instance, I felt it would really delineate the path, and also the ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’ sign. Unfortunately, the implementation of this idea was a lot more work than might have been anticipated, due to enormous amounts of buried rock and assorted debris needing to be removed, and a certain amount of regrading and reshaping the terrain, in order that the necessary relation between the 2 rows of hedging be achieved.

I’m pretty pleased with the result, and it’s testament to those who worked on it, as it truly was heavy work, all done by hand.

In the last few days, we’ve completed the last bit of planting here for now, continuing with a theme similar in terms of plant use. There’s more cutting and tidying to do in the vicinity…as with so many things, it’s a work in progress…

Something that we probably are nicely on target with is mulching. I seem to mention it often, but that indicates the importance of the task and the benefits it brings. At time of writing, we’ve got round almost all areas that we might have wished to. We tend to sprinkle a small amount of general fertiliser about the base of plants prior to mulching. This year we had pelleted chicken manure to hand – smelly old stuff but it helps. Mulch goes on top, aiming for no less than 5 cm (2 inches). There are some plants that might not enjoy material placed right on their crowns, so generally we take a little care placing in and around small plants. Things like self sown Hellebore seedlings might be visible so at times there is some finesse required, but it is quite a physical job, and very rewarding.

We’re seeing some of our Spring bulbs well on their way to flowering now. Of course, some of the earlier bulbs have been doing their thing for afew weeks at this stage. The newly planted Frittilaria meleagris I mentioned last time, and the Narcissus ‘Stainless’ are progressing nicely. I’m also looking forward to seeing our planting of Narcissus ‘Minnow’ – the very first flower was visible last week. Erythronium, one of my favourites are about to flower around the Rockwood…some of the Cyclamen have flowered beautifully for weeks and weeks at this stage, and some of the real show piece bulbs like Eremurus himalaicus and Fritillaria imperialis are showing well. A year with a good amount of cold weather, is often a good year for Spring bulbs. Our snowdrops in particular have been good this year, serving as a reminder to lift and divide some of the better clumps over the next while. This is easily the best way to increase snowdrops, which possess none of the ease and reliability of some Spring bulbs when planted in dry form.

Seed sowing is something I never tire of. My enthusiasm for growing from seed is constant, and something I look forward to every year. I acquire any interesting new seed I can annually, through various means, memberships and associations, as well as harvesting a selection each year. I had an especially interesting collection of possibilities ready to sow this year. Quite a number of subjects I’d never tried before, many of which I felt would not be too easily germinated. I did several days of sowing around mid February, and I’ve most certainly not been helped by the amount of very cold weather that followed. I’ve seen very few signs by which to feel encouraged in a lot of cases, and would have hoped for more. But, it’s certainly not too late, and there are some stirrings. I’ll sow many more soon, and while my overall success or otherwise this year remains to be seen, I guess it’s all part of the fun. Perhaps if I sow afew ‘sure things’ that I can be certain of producing a good crop from, I’ll break my duck and get on a good roll…

Finally, we have some hedge restoration work coming up soon. Hard, rejuvinative cutting of evergreens is best done in late March and especially during April. This reflects the generally speaking less durable nature of many evergreens as opposed to (also generally speaking) tougher and fully dormant deciduous subjects, which can often be tackled in Winter. The theory is, that the material you cut hard – maybe reducing height dramatically or removing a side, is best done when regrowth and recovery can commence quickly. It’s sometimes helpful also to give a general feed a couple of weeks before cutting, or maybe even a light liquid feed shortly afterwards.

In our case, we’ve just completed the lowering of the Viburnum hedge near the water stops. It’s not a good hedge – no density, top heavy, lacking in vigour. The absolute correct approach would be to cut down very hard, close enough to ground level, but it’s felt we need to retain cover here, so were going from approximately 2.5 metres, to a little less than 2m. I’m hopeful that this will be sufficient to provoke a reaction from the hedge, causing a busting of growth from the lower regions of the plants within.

We have other hedge/ rejuvinative work planned…but I think I’ll save that for next time….

Daragh Farren

Head Gardener

March 2018

Its early December…I can hardly believe how fast 2017 has zipped by, I feel barely out of ‘Summer mode’ – by the way, I’m in a not yet warmed up office, it’s twenty past seven in the morning, it’s dark and it’s minus 2 degrees outside my window (not much more in here…)…go figure…

It seems as the years go by, they proceed faster and faster. Of course, being busy, being productive and feeling you’re achieving progress and getting to things you doubted you might manage will all contribute to a feeling of time passing quickly. I remember when completing my time in The National Botanic Gardens, one of our lecturers key pieces of parting advice was that if we find ourselves in a job where we realise we spend time watching the clock – move on… Probably sound advice, to which I can happily say I do not relate.

It’s not been plain sailing this year, we’ve certainly had our challenges – storm damage occurring in the garden was I think the biggest single ‘spanner in the works’. It wasn’t nearly as extensive as it might have been, but at a time when we were still open, and had a lot of other work scheduled, a period of 4 weeks or so of clean up is impossible to absorb, and it certainly had a knock on effect. There was also one or two of our larger events which, though highlights of our year at Killruddery, had on their conclusion considerable impact on our work programme. These things though are all part and parcel of managing a large heritage garden, open to the public, and hosting lots of events of different kinds, and of course we welcome these various and diverse activities. Navigating our way through these sometimes demanding circumstances, and producing a good end product, while hopefully making some time for our developmental or remedial works brings a great degree of personal and professional accomplishment and satisfaction, and in fact the ‘juggling’ nature of things, while at times difficult, is ultimately a very gratifying part of our jobs.

One of the tasks that got ‘shunted’ a little, was our annual bulb planting efforts. This year, we planted about 3,500 bulbs. The biggest consideration is the citing of plantings – it must seem as though with all our space, finding a good position for almost anything would be easy. It’s not though – with most bulbs (most plants) the conditions in a particular (localised) spot possess subtle characteristics that can be the difference between a plant thriving as opposed to surviving, enduring for many years, or limping along and eventually fading. I will certainly admit to often ‘pushing the boundaries’ a little in terms of citing a plant in a spot where conditions may not be 100% ideal, or where practical concerns – soil, fine for 10 months of the year but perhaps a bit too dry in high Summer – (in our situation we may not be able to guarantee watering) maybe an issue. A certain spot maybe just right for a particular botanical must have, but ends up being exposed to hazards of the two legged variety, maybe receiving traffic from back of house type activities during certain events. We of course must be mindful of our own activities re maintenance, moving our own machinery around the garden, simple mowing etc. Nothing is quite as straightforward as it might seem to be, the broader macro considerations always come to the fore – which by the way, doesn’t mean we always get it right…(ssshhh…)

So, having failed in the the past with for example the snakes head lilly – Fritillaria meleagris – a really beautiful, small spring bulb, I wanted to try again. One of their key requirements is to avoid drying out too much, they’re a really easy, obliging, trouble free plant, happy to seed around and bulk a little in a few short years if they’re well positioned. My previous attempt bore poor results, planted under some Lime trees, in a (usually) not too dry spot, the moisture levels as it transpired were insufficient, and flowering was sparse and poor. This time, we’ve tried a location I hope will prove more hospitable…I suspect a broken water pipe of old in this area might help…well…you work with what you’ve got.

As I mentioned in previous ‘installments’, you can scarcely go wrong with the real reliables, my own favourite being daffodils. I don’t like them too loud or fussy, split coronas and fully double cultivars leave me cold…this year I opted for the classic dwarf, multi headed Narcissus ‘Minnow’ and a really beautiful one, new to me, Narcissus ‘Stainless’. This one is white and perfect, with ‘bulbs the size of apples’ as one staff member remarked. I look forward to seeing it, massed beneath one or two of our high(ish) profile trees. There are others too, but visitors will need to remember to drop by in the new year to see the Spring bulbs at their best. Many of the varieties I choose are selected with our opening times in mind, plenty of later daffodil varieties, erythronium, bluebells etc. There are some bulbs about that appear much earlier, I suppose planted for those living and working in Killruddery…and of course for their own botanical merits…

Winter of 2017 will be the first of, I estimate 4, maybe 5 winters, when we will hope to complete the lowering of the hedges in the Angles. Anyone who has visited Killruddery is sure to know this part of the garden. Some, who are so inclined, may have wondered about the maintenance or even the age and overall health of the hedges. The height throughout the Angles is about 10 – 11 foot – roughly 3.3 metres in modern parlance. They were at one time considerably higher, but to aid maintenance and try to improve general health, we are beginning the process of reducing the height to about 8 foot – close to 2.5 metres. Making them less top heavy, and a little more manageable for ongoing maintenance, should help things. A significant amount of work, and an enormous amount of material being generated, but overdue, and a very worthwhile task. This work will be carried out on the deciduous hedges during December and January – a small enough window. Hopefully, time will allow similar remedial work to be carried out on the Yew in the angles during March/April. We will also continue our use of young, bare root material to bolster the hedges, and I hope, plug some gaps, both here and at the Beech hedge pond.

Similar to around this time last year, and indeed the year before, we’ve recently completed the latest part of the planting of the car park area. Car park area 3 – A working title, is quite different in character from the first and second areas. Much more open, receiving more sunshine and exposure in general, this is the area closest to our ticket office, and will be passed by pretty much all our visitors. The soil here was poor, some previously completed operations had left the area covered in subsoil (the stuff usually beneath topsoil, lacking in fertility and devoid of hospitable or useful structure), and we firstly needed to incorporate about 60 tonnes of topsoil, and perhaps 20 – 30 tonnes of well rotted manure. Ideally, one would have a lot more preparation time, but as seems inevitable, lots of other things going on, not necessarily in our department, meant this job, though well flagged, ended up being ‘squished’ into an opportune opening at some point where a number of different schedules/ interests/ parties intersected (or more importantly didn’t…) allowing a window of opportunity to magically appear. So, with more or less all (Garden department) hands on deck, we managed to get the job mostly done over a couple of days– there’s a smallish corner yet to be planted and no doubt a tweak or two will be needed. The style of the planting is ‘looser’, using taller plants, involving a greater emphasis on texture and movement. I hope it will mature nicely…as always, time will tell.

So, as the year comes to an end, I feel we conclude on a positive note. A short time ago I felt we were quite behind on a lot of our targets, but a few good weeks have made all the difference, and back on track, we can soon begin our annual couple of days whereby we carry out our clean up and clean out of our work areas, sheds, machines etc.

By the end of this couple of days, our sheds, canteen, office, all our machines, tractors, mowers, buggies etc. will be as clean as they ever can be. We will cleanse, grease, polish, and oil, and attempt to bestow on our various equipment, on which we so heavily rely, a sense of care and attention…as if in gratitude for another hard working year.

The staff of the Garden at Killruddery – Ken, David, Vincent and I, would like to take this opportunity to wish all our visitors, regular and otherwise, our suppliers and partners, and all friends of Killruddery a happy and peaceful Christmas, and a bright, hopeful and exciting new year, and of course to extend our thanks for a great 2017.

Daragh Farren – December 2017

Darragh Farren

Killruddery Head Gardener

Right now, Summer feels like a long time ago. For me, it passed in a blur, as it does most years, but this year, very definitely it feels as though it really flew by. We were of course pretty busy here in the Garden Department, but I think coped reasonably well with the demands of high season.

We had the usual incidents of a machine breaking down from time to time, occasional flurries of unseasonal weather, the scheduling of various events to navigate, but I feel this year, we had our work running fairly smoothly.
Summer is of course largely about maintenance, keeping lawn areas mowed and clipped, edges looking sharp, watching for watering, keeping on top of weed and pest control, ensuring nice crisp hedges and numerous other weekly/ bi weekly tasks. In summer, apart from at the very peak of maintenance time, you attempt to find little bits of time for non routine work, a pocket of planting here of there, a little bit of regeneration or freshening up in someplace or other…
I would be tentative enough about doing much planting during the summer months – anything planted at this time needs particularly careful monitoring, and so, planting tends to be minimal enough through summer, and takes place in key, easy to watch areas.

We did however get a couple of pockets of Meconopsis (M.grandis, M.betonicifolia) planted in early summer, as well as squeezing a small number randomly through some things like hostas, hellebores etc, allowing them to peep through foliage, producing their superbly striking blues. A few bit and pieces went in along the Venus walk too, woodland perennials mostly.
Like any garden, we have some problem spots where we’ve struggled to establish planting, and I dare say we have more than most. One such area is located above the old pump for the Rock, behind a large Rhododendron. It’s a bit dry, pretty shady, not especially large, but is in it’s own way a high profile spot, passed by many visitors. We have now planted this area with Strobilanthes, a sub shrub native to Asia. Not a particularly showy plant, but possessing of a certain charm, producing it’s slightly salvia like purple flowers late in the season. I’ve found it to be an adaptable plant, easily propagated by cuttings and asking little in terms of maintenance. I hope it will survive here… I feel somewhat hopeful, but time will tell.

At time of writing, the first of the Autumn colours have well and truly begun. A nice day in Autumn can really show the beauty of this time of year, and, when they fall all those leaves are of course of great value to your compost heap. Autumn of 2016 was a particular spectacle – we had some low temperatures, which really activated the pigments involved in producing good autumn foliage, and many dry, bright days, without many high winds, all of which conspired to allow a lasting, and very beautiful display.


Autumn foliage colour is a very variable thing. Sometimes, a plant that is known for it’s autumn foliage, may not produce the display you would hope for. Climactic conditions (as mentioned above) and in particular high rainfall, and environmental factors can be at play – for example higher nitrogen or high rainfall levels may inhibit pigment production, good sunlight will help produce vibrant colour. In fact, it’s speculated by some, that climate change will lead to much more spectacular autumn colour in a climate like ours – warmer, drier summers leading to greater sugar levels, leading to enhanced colour. Of course, the counter speculation is that this may be to an extent offset by milder, damper winters…

Genetic factors can enter the equation also. For example a group of plants raised from seed will have variation within their number. Some members will quite simply show over a period of years, that they produce superior colour to some of their ‘siblings’. Of course, knowing that sexual plant production – (seed), produces variation, and vegetative propagation (using a piece of a plant – cutting, division etc.) produces an identical clone to the parent plant, one should select the best performing subjects within a group, and if possible, use perhaps cuttings to raise new material.

We of course, hope for a beautiful autumnal display, while waiting with rakes, blowers, collectors to gather as many leaves as we can for composting. Leaves are one of the very few materials that will produce a really good end product without the addition of any other ingredient. A mass of only grass clippings becomes a sodden, smelly mess, toxic too. A mass of only leaves will produce a dark, friable, healthy compost. It’s also advisable to collect leaves for reasons of plant/garden husbandry – a wet, thick mat of leaves spending weeks on a lawn may kill and will certainly weaken grass, while excessive amounts of leaves entering a pond for example, may lead to a build up of decomposing organic material, promoting an unhealthy environment for plants and fish. Paths too will be more likely to become treacherous underfoot if a layer of soggy leaves adheres to the surface, particularly in the case of paving slabs or concrete.

Our bulb planting will as usual take place over the autumn period. I always buy through an Irish supplier, a wide array being easily available each year. I always feel that with the really reliable spring bulbs – there’s nothing more reliable than a daffodil…you will get some of the best value for money you can spend on your garden. Daffodils are virtually impossible to fail with…ok, so they could rot if damaged pre planting, or if they’re in an overly damp area, but by and large, they have an enviably low failure rate. Some of the lesser known bulbs you might see in a catalogue will have much more exacting requirements, and may not be for the out and out novice, but the trusty daffodil is always a good bet. I personally tend to favour ones that are a little more muted than some, leaning toward varieties with paler colouring or perhaps an elongated trumpet and more interesting structure. There are some really good multi headed options available too, and a range of flowering times and stem heights – these are the kind of considerations you might allow for when making your choices. Many bulbs will bulk up pretty quickly, producing little offsets or babies after a couple of years in the ground. Depending on bulb type and variety, the length of time till flowering size maybe achieved varies quite a bit from perhaps 2 or 3 years, to maybe 6 or 7. Best practice is to, perhaps every 3 or so years, dig up and divide your clumps, replanting without delay – maybe the simplest bit of plant propagation any of us could do. Do this after flowering has finished, or before bulb growth begins – i.e. by late summer/early autumn.

Other reliable spring bulbs that may well feature in my soon to be placed order are things like Cyclamen – very beautiful, pretty tough, and depending on species choice lots of different flowering times, Erythronium – look this one up, they’re fairly reliable and are excellent in a woodland type setting, Fritillaria – I’ll probably go for some F. meleagris but may also treat myself to some of the larger (and sometimes a little pricey) F. imperialis. I probably won’t be able to resist some Eranthis hymalis while I’m at it…the winter aconite will vie with the better known snowdrop as first flower of the new year.

Our Autumn work will also include some of the usual turf care operations, and vital tasks such as mulching. Already we’ve been highlighting some of our many specimen trees, particularly in the angles, by making more generous circles in the turf beneath – in a nutshell, removing the turf close to the trunk. This is something that really shows the tree off beautifully, but in addition, is advisable in order to avoid damage when mowing and to aid establishment and continued health, reducing competition for available nutrient and water, much of which will be absorbed by grass growing close to the base of an immature tree. Mulching is then more effective, and should be applied roughly equal to the spread of the outside of the canopy. Avoid piling organic matter against the base of the trunk – this can encourage disease and sometimes suckering.

Within a couple of days, as I write, we will close for weekdays, leaving just the weekends in October. It’s been a good open season for the garden, and on behalf of my staff – Ken, David and Vincent, and I, we’d like to thank you for visiting and hope you enjoyed your time here. Each year we try to improve the garden, getting it more right on some occasions than others, but always in the hope that our visitors, regular and otherwise get a little pleasure, peace or whatever they need on a particular day or visit, and hopefully leaving each time with a little more of an appreciation of what makes Killruddery the special place it is.

Daragh Farren – September 2017

Usually, in the production of this seasonal blog, we aim to provide a small insight into some of the work carried out here in the gardens at Killruddery – the (sometimes mundane) aspects of regular maintenance, the less usual development or rejuvenation works that are carried out, perhaps new planting completed, some of the techniques we employ, and of course the complications we may encounter.  

 For the visitor to Killruddery, be they first timers from far away, unlikely to return for some time, or some of our very regular and familiar faces, it must be difficult to imagine what a place you enjoy during your leisure time is like as a workplace.

In an effort to give some small approximate idea of the kind of day to day occurrences that might crop up, this entry will hope to bring some light to what a particular day in my own role may entail.

What time do you start/finish your day?

We begin work, year round at 7.30, our finishing time is either 3.30 or 6.30 depending on the day.  There is no such thing as a typical day.  Of course we have peak times, obvious to most, but we never have quiet times, and never have anything other than a long list of jobs to do.  It’s true to say that some of the items that feature on this list are a little aspirational on my part, and some items can take literally years to get to.  A big part of my job, and one of the most crucial aspects of this department – there are 4 of us in total, is quite simply, being organised.  In essence, this is of course very simple, and if we manage it well, it mostly is…

What is the closest to a typical day that you can describe?

I would have a clear idea of what work I would want us to achieve over any period of a few weeks at a time.  For some parts of the year, a lot of time is spent on weekly or bi weekly maintenance, all the fairly routine stuff.  In many ways, as long as nothing unforeseen crops up (unforeseen things crop up all the time….pretty much every week…) this is work that we’re all well used to and familiar with and will progress without many difficulties.  The remaining time in any given period, and whether or not we can be clever and creative about how we complete our routine tasks, decides what additional works maybe possible.  And so, being organised, looking for efficiencies, and generally using our time well, and honing or altering our work practices – we do that to some degree every year, is  hugely important.  The first few minutes of every day, is spent organising and discussing amongst ourselves the general shape of the day, and what needs to happen.  Everyone has input….but, as I often say, this garden is not a democracy…

There is a lot of checking and monitoring too.  Recent plantings require regular scrutiny – look for signs of pest or disease, physical damage, and whether watering is required.  Other than with newly planted material (first year or so) we try to avoid watering.  We’ve got a fair bit of relatively recent additions about the gardens just now – the car park area of course, Thirty 1 metre or so Bay plants added at the Sylvan Theatre, some Primula, oddments in the Rockwood, Elizabeth’s walk and even a new tree or two.  The early months are crucial to plants that you hope will have a long life in the gardens, and if the correct plant choices have been made, contribute as best they can.  

What plants are your favourites?

While I’m up in the Rockwood, I won’t miss a chance to wander in the direction of some of my own favourites – Mysotidium hortensia, Dodocatheon media, some of the Primula, and a couple of young Magnolias, putting on their first reasonable show of flowers this year – Magnolias will often take a few years to flower well. I’m personally fond of and proud of the Rockwood, as it represents the largest area of new development in the garden in many years, really the only entirely new area added in generations.  It went from an area of heavy over growth to a reasonable and sizeable woodland garden over the course of a few years, and still is tweaked a little each year.

Another couple of favourites to check in with on my way back to the walled garden would certainly include the recently planted Meconopsis grandis and M. villosareferred to commonly to Himalayan poppies.  This group of plants, not true poppies, have a reputation for being tough to grow, requiring careful citing, and are difficult to produce in the nursery.  We seem (I’m happy to say) to have cracked it over the last couple of years after many many attempts I have a good number of different species and cultivars in the nursery awaiting homes around the garden, and more seedlings germinated this year.  It’s sometimes challenging to arrive at a decision as to where particular plants might end up, but for sure I’ll look to get more Meconopsis planted in the near future. While I’m at this spot, I’ll say a quick hello to another favourite, Polygonatum verticiliatum, a subtle plant, with a relaxed feel – this is most certainly a plant I intend to acquire in greater numbers, and plant in more locations.  I think it’s a beauty, a real plant lovers plant, though, these things are entirely subjective I suppose…

What’s your favourite part of the job?

Nursery work and plant production is one of my favourite parts of my job, something I’ve always loved.  This year, I’ve decided to begin growing some shrubs and maybe trees in the nursery to larger sizes.  Although plants will generally establish more readily when young, there’s a need sometimes to have larger specimens to hand.  With our increased footfall, establishing or rejuvenating areas of planting has potentially one or two added complications.  Because of this slightly different approach, I’m in the process of potting selected specimens on, and altering very slightly some aspects of the layout of the nursery.  We’ve also had another great year of seed sowing, and so right now I’m feeling pressure of something of a back log of nursery work.  When time presents over these weeks, I need to put a lot of effort into this area.  Its always a bit of a juggling act at this time of year, but I hope that later today, and certainly this week will see some time allocated to this.

How about your least favourite?

There’s lots of machinery here in Killruddery…most regular visitors have I’m sure on many occasions had their tranquillity/ peace shattered by some of our many work vehicles intruding in whatever part of the garden they may be enjoying.  Good machinery is obviously essential, particularly considering the scale and kind of garden we have here, and we clearly could not manage without the fairly extensive range of equipment we have on site.  Of course, the drawback is that machinery doesn’t always co operate…occasionally things become moody and erratic…things will break…parts will wear out…occasionally inexplicable events will occur…things an insurance company may describe as an ‘act of God’…  All part and parcel, but dealing with machinery problems is probably the part of my job I like least.  We do well by and large, routine maintenance, careful operation by skilled users, and general care and attention means that we don’t suffer more than our fair share of problems, and it’s an area that we’ve improved on over recent years.  It does happen though, and only a couple of weeks ago two of our most important machines were out of action at the same time  – most unhelpful at this time of year.  This morning though, we had a problem with one of our ride on mowers and when almost reaching the point of giving up, hit upon the necessary adjustment, (involving a solenoid valve and a no.14 spanner).  It’s greatly satisfying to resolve these things without calling in a pro, and we do get the occasional result in this area.  Still though…worst part of this job… 

Alongside the frustration of machinery difficulties, there’s plenty of satisfaction in managing and working in a fine garden such as Killruddery.  Achieving our usual tasks to the correct standard is always gratifying, and to boot, we have the pleasure once in awhile of getting through a project that may have been ‘bubbling’ away for a considerable time.  

What are your future plans for the gardens?

I hope next week, that we will put the finishing touches to the realignment and replanting of the Ribbon garden.  This is a really challenging area, one of the most irritating parts of the garden over a period of years, as I feel to date, I’ve not really got it right.  It’s subject to a lot of foot traffic, severe compaction both of turf and beds has conspired to create tremendous difficulty.  These are ongoing issues, and it will be necessary for us to manage this as best we can, but there were other problems here too.  For years I’ve been looking at the alignment of the beds, urns and granite in this area, the lines all wrong, the layout so askew as to be embarrassing.  All the years spent looking, while simultaneously trying to ignore…  Over the last while, we set about re-cutting all the beds, re aligning the various features, and making widths and positioning of the key aspects consistent and (mostly) correct.  This is now finished, and today we begin digging the area.  Organic material will be incorporated and then our new plants will go in.  We’ll plant formally, using a line to achieve correct positioning.  We have over 200 Geranium ‘Rozanne’ ready to go, enough for everyone who worked on this technically challenging task to sate themselves on the more obviously pleasant concluding component.

How much of a challenge is it to maintain the gardens, particularly with our famous Irish weather?

All jobs have their high and low points I’m sure.  Thankfully more ups than downs in this job.  Challenges are many, pressure a constant, and the drive and desire to achieve our best ever present. Naturally, things like weather bring a variable over which we can hope to have little influence, but we can to a good degree, forward plan.  Correct equipment and sufficient skill throughout our team, ensures that at short notice, having consulted a weather forecast, we can tear up our existing plans, and mobilise to quickly complete particular jobs that perhaps in a couple of hours will be impossible.  There’s always an amount of indoor work, machinery cleaning and maintenance, nursery work etc., and some sheltered areas of the garden where certain work maybe carried out even in especially poor conditions.  Whatever the weather, there are things to be done, and while our wonderful, temperate climate is bound to cause difficulties at times, mostly, good planning and a lengthy ‘wet work’ list allow us to muddle through.

I’m immensely proud of the gardens here at Killruddery, immensely proud of the estate too, and the part that my department and I play.  It really is an honour to be in some way a custodian of these fabulous, and relevant gardens, and to have a role to play in this wonderful piece of heritage and history that is Killruddery. The professionalism of our colleagues outside the garden department is awe inducing, and regularly I see them in action and am reminded of their talent and dedication, in aspects of Killruddery about which I have no skills or knowledge.  They’re inspiring, and frankly its easy to bring your best to this job, whatever that might be.  Due to the more personal nature of this particular blog, I’ll take the opportunity to thank my own 3 close colleagues – Ken, David and Colm. I guide and organise, occasionally grumble and moan, but these 3 guys are the ones on the ground day in day out, the guys that implement my various whims and notions.  They do so with utmost commitment and pride in their work and in ‘their’ garden, and (mostly) in good humour and with minimal griping.  And 3 finer colleagues I could not have.

Daragh Farren – May 2017

Head Gardeners blog – Spring 2017

As I write, sitting in my (way too cold) office, here in the walled garden at Killruddery, there is a distinctly un-Spring like feel to the day. Wind is increasing, driven rain pounding the windows, and there’s a sky, grey and disagreeable.

We have little room for complaint as far as the weather maybe concerned, not that that will stop us. But it has been the most gentle of Winters, few days of really cold weather, rainfall levels a fraction of their usual, particularly on the east coast, and a really decent amount of work completed in the garden in the first few weeks of the year. There is of course, more than enough time for Mother Nature to impose herself, reminding us who’s really in charge, and it’d be a foolish Head Gardener that might fail to have a list to hand, of important wet weather work. There is always work of that kind – nursery tasks, machinery maintenance, to name but a couple. Personally though, I have not known a Winter with so little inclement weather, and so many days where the ground (and general) conditions were conducive to achieving so much. Lets hope we don’t pay a high price later in the Spring or Summer.

One of the things we were very much aided in, was moving large amounts (probably close to 100 tonnes) of manure into the Rockwood. The logistics of mulching the Rockwood aren’t especially easy. We require sizeable amounts of material in the general area, though the layout of, and access around the area makes it challenging. Most years, any significant amount of machinery movement around the Rockwood leads to a rapid degradation of the path surfaces, and is in fact unsafe. Manure is of course a heavy material, a little not going a long way. Therefore, it’s a labour intensive and challenging activity in any year, though at least this year, the robust conditions under wheel, allowed an amount of distribution to be completed before application actually began. Even a small amount of rain quickly and comprehensively alters matters in this area, so it was hugely helpful to be able to get material in situ at the right time, ready to be applied. I think it entirely likely, that we will be waiting a long long time for another year in which this task in particular might go so smoothly.

Mulching is very much a job traditional to this time of year. As most readers with even a passing interest in plants know that there are considerable benefits to incorporating bulky organic material to the soil. Primarily for me, I look on it as a soil conditioner, improving fertility, allowing plants to feed more efficiently, of course magically, having an ‘opening up’ effect on heavy soils, while providing a more even texture and balance to light soils, reducing leaching and enabling improved nutrient and water retention and uptake. It really is probably the best single activity you can do to improve soil in planted areas. We use manure in most areas, but in some, depending on what we might be growing, we use a much lighter garden compost, from our own bays here in the walled garden. We’re through quite afew areas by now, Parterre, South Border, Knot garden and Venus walk all completed, as well as areas beneath some of our younger specimen trees. In the coming weeks, the Rockwood will be completed, and a number of other areas will receive similar treatment. It is worth keeping in mind, that large scale addition of manure over time, can in some cases lead to a lowering of the soils pH – acidity levels. This can be counteracted using applications of lime, but is useful at least to be aware of.

Spring time sees a number of routine pruning jobs requiring attention. We’ve already reduced the height of our Roses, particularly the Rosa ‘Queen of Sweden’ at the parterre. This was done in late December, prior to the proper pruning they will receive in probably late February. This is in an effort to reduce wind rock, something roses are susceptible to, and something which is known to promote sucker production from the grafted root stocks. Any hardy shrubs in need of pruning have by and large been completed during say January, slightly more delicate subjects will be left until much closer to (hopefully) proper Spring time and more reliable weather. If pruned too early, the risk exists of young, tender growth being encouraged, and later damaged should a cold, inclement spell occur. Grasses too, are best cut back a little closer to Spring proper, late February or early March being fairly ideal. In most cases, the entire clump is clipped to afew inches from ground level, taking just afew weeks to produce a fine, lush, fresh display of foliage. Around the same time as many of these subjects are pruned, a light dressing of a compound, general fertiliser will be applied.

Less an annual routine – (though this will be the third year) will be the continued pruning of the Irish Yews, two of which are close to the ticket office, the remaining six closer to the Orangery. This is a delicate enough job… A gargantuan amount of work in the first year, its a much less substantial (in terms of material removed) matter this year and last. At this point, it’s a question of pinching the trees in, little by little. The kind of considerations include overall shape and vigour in different parts of each individual specimen, the number, location and strength of available shoots, stems or branches in each. What to retain or remove, be it due to direction of growth, making space for shoots I want to promote, crossing branches etc. It’s a process that needs careful judgement, each cut at this point is important, and is a decision in itself. It’s slow, and something that will continue for some time to come, but it’s gone reasonably well so far, and we feel the trees are progressing, though the prospective outcome for some is better than for others.

Most of the planting work we had lined up was completed in a really productive Autumn period. The single biggest area was the second side of the upper car park, with a large number of bare root hedging plants also getting used, as well as bulb planting. We have some smaller areas to be done in the next while, mostly underplanting in key spots, some areas where we might want to bulk up groups of plants, and one or two small areas that need a little refreshing, most of these in the Rockwood. It’s very early days, but our Autumn planting is all holding up well. I was a little surprised to see the Colchicum giganteum flowering. Planted on November 17th, they were in flower right after Christmas, and still, early February, are providing colour. They would have been expected to flower around September or October next, and hopefully we can still look forward to that. I really don’t know whether their show is a response to the mild Winter, but either way, they continue to look good, providing a visible splash of colour from some distance away, beneath the canopy of Anthony’s Liriodendron tulipifera.

I’ve always really enjoyed all forms of propagation and nursery work in general. For me, producing new plants endures as one of my favourite aspects of our work here at Killruddery. Many of the subjects we grow quite frequently are easy enough – various different Primula (a personal favourite), some grasses, scaboisa, some cultivated forms of Foxgloves to name a few. Each year though, we also try things that have previously proved to be stubborn or downright uncooperative. Last year I had a bumper year, several genera that I had previously had at best limited success with producing decent results, and so, feeling buoyed, am hoping in due course to be able to report some similar outcomes later this year. Anyone can have a go at seed sowing. We use a normal potting compost, sieved to give a really fine, soft, smooth media, perfect for tiny roots to push through. Adding a little perlite helps keep the compost open, and assists with some water retention. There’s numerous very easy subjects widely available – favourites like sweet pea, nasturtium, verbascum and viola are almost foolproof and great for a beginner, even allowing for little or no extra equipment of facilities. Have a go, I (almost) guarantee you’ll get an enormous feeling of accomplishment from even the most modest of triumphs.

Many other tasks are important around now – the usual aeration around lawn areas, some early mowing has taken place, more is certainly due. Lawn feeding will happen in late Spring, weed control will become increasingly necessary, lots more seeds to be sown too. Some potting and division in the nursery, and a lot of urgent work along the avenue, both turf repairs and some tree work. Lots more areas to be cleaned up before growth really ramps up.

With all that ahead, along with the various hiccups and bumps that occur, the return of our visiting members and the resumption of the many planned events and functions and it’s a good thing we’ve enjoyed a nice quiet, restful Winter…..as if!

Daragh Farren, Head Gardener – February 2017