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mecanopsis betonicifolia

Over the last 2 or 3 weeks, it really has felt as if summer has arrived. At time of writing, schools are not yet on holidays, state exams are underway (seeming to guarantee good weather…) and while things have of course been busy from a visitor’s point of view, particularly at weekends, the real peaks will come in the long, lazy days of the school holidays. The work programme in the garden has however been in full swing, everything growing faster than we can mobilize ourselves about the place. It’s almost as if you can hear the grass and weeds growing with ever more vigour and it feels that regardless of how well we organise ourselves, we’re permanently playing catch up – to be expected of course at this, easily the most intense few weeks of growth in any garden. The rate of growth this year has been compounded by the coolness of our spring, particularly at night – some really cool night’s right through May. Plants, grass all desperate to grow… there is what amounts almost to an explosion of pent up energy, resulting in a rapid acceleration in maintenance requirements.

For once, we’ve (mostly) been aided by the weather. Few days of rain making our routine maintenance any more challenging than it need be, by and large a pretty reasonable start to the early Summer.

Obviously as mentioned, merely trying to keep up with regular tasks is the priority at this time of year. Visitors are daily, weddings and other events take place frequently – the garden really must look as good as possible, while also allowing the visitors and those attending events to enjoy some relative peace and tranquillity. Grass cutting is of course a big job here at Killruddery, many areas at present being mowed twice weekly, the remainder once a week. Lawn edges, may not the first thing that might come to mind, but will quickly draw the eye if allowed to become scruffy, and are of particular importance in a formal garden. Weed control too, is obviously a big drain on our time (perhaps should be given more time some may say….). These tasks, along with watering, strimming, maintenance of paths and gravel form a significant part of our week about now. There is also the slightly less frequent, but still regular maintenance to be considered – hedge cutting, re-edging as opposed to edge trimming, nursery work etc.

Trachycarpus Fortune

Of course, we always try to find some time to make some tweaks and additions to the garden. This year has seen some small, but key areas of replanting. In the front courtyard, some very small and awkward beds have been improved by the addition of some beautifully proportioned Camellia ‘Donation’, under planted with Primula pulverulenta – simple, quite seasonal, but a nice combination in a difficult but high profile location. The front courtyard has also seen the addition of some Box – Buxus sempervirens, some Liriope muscari and some Jasminum polyanthum. Moving into the terrace area of the garden, we’ve removed some very ordinary shrubby material that was serving to greatly impede pedestrian progress around the Orangery lawn area. Some small alpine perennials will soon be added to the flagstone area outside the library windows, some clearing having been completed here.

The Orangery border too has received some attention. This area was a little tired and scruffy (I know the feeling…) and really is a key location. It deserved a little better. To date, a mere 3 plants have been added, the entire border having been cleared and well dug. Good sized Trachycarpus fortunei (pictured right) will bring the right tone to this bed, combining nicely with the stone work here, and in keeping with the love of Palm like plants of the era (the Orangery is a Victorian building – 1852). Further planting will take place here, with some nice material on order. We’ll keep it simple, a narrow colour palette, paying close attention to form and texture.

Recent visitors will have noticed our Sylvan theatre looking a little worse for wear. Currently undergoing some rejuvenation, we’ve taken a slice from the outside of the hedge, all the way round. A number of years ago, I removed a very significant amount of material from the inside of the theatre. Timed well, (around April) Bay – Laurus nobilis has great regenerative properties. However, the individual plants were pretty slow to show the kind of signs I was watching for in this case. I had delayed the work a little, mainly because of the low temperatures that persisted well into spring, but with a real reluctance on the part of Mother Nature to permit much of a rise in the mercury, any meaningful progress in terms of new buds and shoots was painfully slow. Although I wouldn’t say I was overly concerned, I will concede that I was pleasantly relieved to see the kind of signs I‘ve been waiting several weeks for over the last 10 days or so. We’re now in the process of installing a fence on the inside edge of the hedge, hopefully to provide physical protection against branches being damaged or the hedge being pulled out of shape. Following cutting, the hedge should re grow fuller and a little more densely, and will, in a relatively short time, disguise the fence, which will do its job, providing a spine like protection for many years to come.

Davidia involocrata

Many of our other hedges have also received their first trim of the year. We have Box hedging in 4 different locations, most receiving 2 and sometimes 3 cuts a year – remember, regular cutting of hedges encourages the dense production of lateral growth, giving a strong, healthy hedge for years to come. Good, appropriate hedging plants really respond to the correct treatment, in the medium and long term. The most high profile Box hedging in the garden is in 2 separate areas near the Tearooms. The Parterre – another of our Victorian features, is the area with the Roses, surrounded by the Yew, which has also received a first clipping. These hedges have been restored in recent years, having grown hugely out of shape over a period of decades. The restoration programme for the Box was 3 years, the Yew 4 years. All in all the process was pretty successful, leaving the hedges much closer to how the original design would have had them. Of course, if I’d known how sore the maintenance of the low hedge could be on the back….perhaps I would have thought twice.

As previously mentioned, something that will really smarten up any garden is careful attention to lawn, border and path edges. Keeping them neatly clipped is a great help, but once or twice a year, tackling the natural ‘creep’ of the turf, will, I assure you, prove to be time well spent. Using a half moon, and a carefully laid line – unless you’re following a kerb or suchlike, you ‘slice’ the excess away, leaving the area looking very sharp and cared for. This is an especially important job in a formal setting, but is worth doing in any scenario. We try to get around all the key areas before our opening time each year, and in fact, we’re almost ready to do this job again.
The restoration of our Irish Yew continues also. Signs here are really good, and I feel greatly encouraged by the manner of the response to the 2 heavy (but scrupulously careful) prunings over the last 2 years. Overall, of course much less material was removed this year compared with 2015. There was a little more effort to bring the trees in somewhat – hopefully over the coming years it will be possible to ‘pinch’ the trees inward more and more, aiming toward that fastigiate shape that was the original intention.

Seedlings in tunnel 2016

In the Spring blog, I mentioned seed sowing, something that’s a feature of every Spring and to a lesser degree every Autumn here at Killruddery. I’ve always loved nursery work and propagation in general, and would admit to indulging myself a little at times, experimenting here and there with plants that may have earned a reputation as a difficult subject, trying non text book approaches to particularly stubborn individual. There are times certainly, that success can be achieved when you least expect it, and indeed, times when some material, you’ve been reliably informed ‘would root in your ear’ can evade all your propagtionary efforts for years at a time. Propagation has provided me with immense satisfaction over the years, and I can never see myself tiring of it. This has been a great year for our seed programme – an abundance of notable successes, and a great quantity of the usual kind of material. We’ve had good germination with a number of subjects I’ve struggled with over the years – a broad, varied range of Mecanopsis – the Himalayan Poppy,– potentially tricky to germinate and fussy as regards growing on (for me at least), being most notable. Others worth a mention include Berkheya purpurea – not especially difficult but a plant I have a real fondness for, Araujia sericifera, Baptisia australis. Of course, having achieved these levels of germination, across a range of subjects, we now need to find time to complete the transplanting of what looks to be thousands of seedlings… This is one problem we will find a solution to…

Finally, I recently had a surprise on an otherwise run of the mill mid May morning. While in the angles, I noticed for the first time, our Davidia involocrata (pictured above left) in flower. This tree – also known as the Pocket handkerchief tree, The Ghost tree or The Dove tree, is a real beauty. The flowers themselves are nothing of note – dark, spherical, fairly small, and of limited impact. The at times jaw dropping beauty of this tree comes it’s true, with the flowers, but in fact the impressive aspect to this somewhat unusual specimen are the white tissue like bracts that accompany each flower. A well grown, mature specimen will produce an abundance of flowers and bracts, giving the appearance of a tree with innumerable small, white pocket handkerchiefs pinned to it – it’s spectacular. Our tree had reached a considerable age, and although a degree of maturity is required before any Davidia will flower, I had arrived at the view that our specimen may never manage it. And so, on a beautiful, but pretty normal morning, as I went about my work, ruminating on the usual obstacles and considerations of a busy week, this 27 year old managed to show me that as well as I know this wonderful garden, it continues to retain the ability to stop me in my tracks…

I have been struggling recently with a growing awareness of the amount of time my kids spend switched onto monitors or arguing to be allowed to watch or play sometimes to the detriment of my addled head. The truth is despite my good intentions, my kids have slipped into a screen addiction that is hard to bust. Don’t get me wrong, there are times where other, often outdoor, activities win out hands over feet to screens, however, they have to be compelling. Kids have to get a whiff of the added value to getting their small behinds out that door, or into the kitchen to bake, or to turning the whole of our sitting room into a den (my pet hate) for the whole day.

Family Photo For Blog.jpeg Sisters; Cristiona, myself, Anna, Mary Emma, early one morning in Donegal, 1985, photograph by Uncle Tony Beal


I spent my early childhood nestled in a glen under one of the hills of Donegal, with an ever growing family that would amount to nine children, two adults, usually about 3 goats, a dog, several farm cats and kittens, tons of chickens, ducks and various vegetables and fresh fish coming in off my fathers fishing boat. Our wider community in that rural landscape was several pairs of elderly people living in thatched or recently tiled cottages, sheep farmers, who tended many a pink or turquoise tufted mountain sheep.

Deep in my psyche, natural habitat for me is out and about on rocks, moss and heather, with the distant sound of falling water, running streams, calling lambs, answering sheep, clucking hens, and quacking ducks echoing round the hills… and lots of siblings calling or should I say shouting.

Fast forward 30 years and I am bringing up my own family. Having never had television (parental choice) or, of course like all of us, all the screens that we have today, I am amazed and sometimes dismayed by the fatal attraction my kids have to screens. I thought I would bring up my kids out and about in nature. I suppose I day-dreamed of lolling about in the forest, nursing my littlest while the others scrambled about on trees and rocks. My family’s reality is so different from that dream. Me: “Good morning darlings”. Note dream: They are going to wolf down their breakfast (happily) and grab whatever bows and arrows or other prop that their little imaginations have fixed on for a day in the great outdoors of their imagination. Note reality: “I don’t want to eat that, there’s nooooothing in the house I want to eat…Can we have our screen time now?”

book cover for blog


I’ve recently come across a book here in the many bookshelves of Killruddery House. It was published in 1911 and its called Three Hundred Games and Pastimes by E.V. Lucas and E.Lucas. I feel inspired (mostly by the gorgeous cover!). The challenge is on; how many activities can I carefully slip into their periphery over the next year, that will be a catalyst for no screen time.

Here are the rules

I’ll not be a puritan; some screen time is ok, surely, like 30 minutes a day (?)

Games I come up with will leave most of the development to my littles themselves.

I should have time to join in or to loll about near by, as most suitable and as suits their and my energy.

Some of the games should be so compelling that they begin to do them themselves, without my instigation, cause lets face it…I have got things to do!

If they are already on it, I won’t force them to play my game (fat chance)!

Here are some presumptions:

If my kids got outside and run about more, they would pick less and have a heartier appetite? Sauerkraut and white fish? (Ha!)

All kids, even my little rotters, feel very much themselves swinging from trees, rolling over rocks splashing in puddles, playing, pretending something is really something else for hours at a time with siblings and other kids or sometimes even on their own.

Fionnuala Aston Ardee, Killruddery House.
29 April 2016.

Killruddery Long Ponds 1

The latter part of winter, as always brought some welcome sights around the garden. Eranthus humilis – The Winter aconite, planted last autumn have been flowering beautifully in recent weeks beneath a Cercis siliquastrum in the Rhodie Rood. Usually, when we choose plants for the gardens here at Killruddery, we have our visitors in mind. These plants though, competing with snowdrops as the first flower of the New Year, are too early for most visitors to see. It’s a plant I’ve had a fondness for for many years, but was not growing here at all. Known to have a high failure rate when planted in its dry form (as with snowdrops) it’s not easy to find ‘in the green’.

Choosing a site for these winter flowering corms is tricky – moisture is a necessity, they also need sunshine and reasonable fertility and extended dry periods even in Summer will ‘do for them’. That said, when they’re happy, they can over the years naturalize quite spectacularly, as will be witnessed by visitors to the National Botanic Gardens in January and February. It’s nice to see them perform here at Killruddery, and hopefully we’ll increase the colony in time to come. Other spring bulbs have been probably a little ahead of most years and for sure the progression of some of the woodier plants seems advanced, our Prostranthera rotundifolia, for example – The Australian Mint Bush, were in flower at the start of February – several weeks earlier than usual.

20160208_095028This Winter, being particularly dull and dreary (and mild), with lots of wind and rain bringing poor ground conditions led to the loss of a number of large trees – always disappointing. For a number of reasons, from a garden and plant point of view, cold weather is important in winter. Soil structure benefits from frost, overwintering pest and disease numbers are reduced, and plants are forced into a proper ‘rest period’. Taking a glass half full overview though, at least we didn’t lose many plants in the nursery!

Like many people, I’d probably say that my favourite season in the garden is spring. Everything seems fresh and vibrant, full of possibility and potential. Colour is great – lawns look lush, the canopies developing on various trees doing so at varying rates, all look so promising. Look out for example for Birch trees coming into bud, Horse Chestnuts too.

Some of my other favourite signs of Spring are the fronds of all kinds of ferns unfurling – ensure you cut away last year’s leaves in order to properly see this annual spectacle – subtle and unceremonious, ferns, for me, a restful and relaxing group of plants, go ahead and ‘do their thing’. Any readers that are familiar with Sedum spectabile, also known as ‘The ice plant’, couldn’t fail to notice the plump, juicy, life filled buds pushing up from the crown of the plant. What could look more filled with vitality? A couple of years ago, we planted some Frittilaria imperiallis and Eremurus hymiliacus in the south border and one or two other spots. I noticed the emerging shoots in early February – now they seem to progress daily, almost before your eyes. They were a sure sign that regardless of what stage we were at with our late winter/ early spring work schedule, Mother nature, as always, knew precisely what she was doing….Spring was here.

Crocus in Garden SethOne of the most important jobs we’ve worked on in recent weeks is around the haha, located at the end of the ponds. The incorporation of a haha – for all intents and purposes a fairly deep ditch like excavation, in a garden setting, has a dual function – preventing livestock from entering the garden, and, hopefully to provide an unbroken view, allowing the garden in question to ‘borrow’ from the view beyond. In our case, we have the Deer park area and the extensive double Lime Avenue stretching out beyond the garden. The view to these was still there, but unbroken, it certainly was not. Considering the view in question runs from the house, over the long ponds and beyond, it’s a crucial one, down the entire central axis of the garden. Monsieur Bonet, having painstakingly set out this beautiful vista in the 1680’s, would no doubt not be too impressed with its appearance over recent years. The dangers are obvious, and many of are visitors are of tender years, and much exuberance. So, borne of necessity, several years ago we erected a fence across this whole area – making it safe, but preventing any maintenance of this most important area and view. Huge briars, tangled Ivy, scutch grass, Ash saplings, Willow and various others had colonised the entire side wall and top of the haha, compromising the integrity of the feature. We will of course reinstate the fence, but hopefully with our significant efforts in this area, combined with a tweaking of the installation of the fence, we will manage to keep this view closer to what it should be.

The Rockwood too, has had some much needed attention. We always have a good bit of cleaning and maintenance work in this area over winter and spring, but for various reasons, we’ve managed less time here this year than in other years. We lost a small number of sizeable trees in this area, and in a tight, difficult to access location; this is never easily dealt with. There was also a lot of edging that required replacing, again, more than in recent years. We hope also to look at some replacement plants in one or two beds, but things in general, look healthy and happy. More time due to be spent here in the coming weeks. Remember, a woodland garden is at its most interesting throughout spring.

SWoodland Anemone CU4 12pring pruning continues at this time, as well as cutting back any herbaceous perennials whose old material we left uncut for additional winter protection. In the next few days, our Nepeta ‘Walkers low’ planted in the parterre, close to the tearooms will be cut back. This year, we left all the 2015 growth on the plant, whereas last year we tidied them up in I suppose late autumn. We lost a small number of plants last year and I’m hoping that leaving the dead material on the plants over the winter will have provided a little extra protection. Of course, often it’s prolonged dampness that will kill plants, in which case the change of tactic maybe futile… The Roses here got their first proper pruning a couple of weeks ago. Planted in March 2015, Rosa ‘Queen of Sweden’ had a good first year. Wind rock had affected them somewhat, but they now look primed and ready to go for a productive, floriferous year.

Also traditional around this time of year is mulching. We’ve scaled back a little in some areas this year, mainly to allow time for other work to take place. The cumulative effect of (almost) annual mulching is extremely noticeable in many of our planted areas. The regularity and extent to which mulching should be carried out depends on a number of factors, primarily what you’re growing and the existing ground conditions. We use either well rotted manure or a much lighter, quite rich, largely leaf mould based garden compost. The compost, being a lighter, more open material, is more suitable for use around particular plants. A most important consideration is that the material you use, be well broken down. In general, particularly in a heavily planted area, a mulch added to the surface is sufficient – trying to fork it into the soil too much can disturb barely visible emerging plants, and is unnecessary. A well applied mulch will not only feed soil, suppress weeds, and conserve water, but also acts as a perfect foil to show your planting at its best.

20160229_092557We have our nursery work also; lots of seeds have been sown, many having been harvested here at Killruddery. Also, as is the case almost every year, I’ve sown quite afew seeds that I know there’s a significant chance might struggle to germinate at all. Tricky subjects, some of which I’ve tried for years with little success, but of course, the day they germinate will be a great day, whether in 2016 or not.

At this time of year, there are so many different jobs that need time and effort, and that’s before growth has really got going. Very soon, the weather will improve. Light intensity, temperatures and photo period will all increase, weed control, lawn care – mowing, edging, aerating, feeding, hedge cutting, nursery work and numerous other things will all vie and jostle for position and priority….there will scarcely be enough hours in the day.
And most days… there’s nowhere I’d rather be.

Daragh Farren
Head Gardener, Killruddery
March 2016

Concerns about the Gardens’ ecology in the face of weird weather.

Long Ponds in the RainThe mercurial weather pattern we have been experiencing since last spring has played havoc with the plants, trees, birds and wild animals.

Emerging from a very pleasant and early spring, the month of May until mid June hit us like winter preventing the hatching of insects and destroying young hatches of birds. Hedgehogs which emerged in April from hibernation must also have suffered. The magnificent blossoms on the magnolias and arboretum rhododendrons were all destroyed by the May deluges and the apple blossom on the trees in the walled garden did not escape either. Some butterflies emerged but were short lived and hardly a butterfly has been seen on their favourite shrubs last summer and autumn.

I don’t have to tell you that the months of July and August alternated between warm sunny days and heavy showers which finally died out giving us nearly eight weeks of no rain in September and October. Then the ground became so hard and dry that the water table dropped to such and extent that we had to turn off the fountains from lack of water pressure.

Bee on flower (Jane Freil) internet readyThe wind storms and heavy rain have resulted in the loss of mature trees in the gardens and surrounding landscape by up rooting, stripping and dismembering of their limbs and others having their trunks just snapped off. Big old trees over time allow water in through small holes and splits in their branches and trunks. Eventually over 80 to 100 years more water and particles of soil and humus get inside and rot the wood so that the trees become vulnerable in a big storm. The winter storms of 2013, 2014 and 2015 have all contributed to these losses. Over the past 4 years we have planted some 15,000 trees but I probably should try and plant more deciduous trees, however these require really good fencing to keep out the farm animals and wild deer so it becomes very expensive. Regular garden visitors will have noticed our yew trees becoming discoloured, no longer a lustrous dark green, dying back and shredding their foilage. In March 2011 the Department of Agriculture officials came to take biopsies from the yew trees. I was of the opinion that these sick trees had a bad pathogen called ‘Phytophera ramorum’. However I understand that the results were inconclusive and that these trees did not have phytophera. Of course they are over 250 years old but I think that the combination of heavy loam soil and heavy summer rainfalls since the year 2000 have a possible health impact on the yews. Sadly we continue to fell the dead ones.
Tree Trunk and Branches Farm
We have had an incredibly mild winter which is very helpful when it comes to heating bills but nature does not like this weather. A good hard frost over the winter months kills the bacteria in the soil and cleans everything ready for the spring. We already have daffodils about to burst into flower and the birds seem to think it is already time to think about courting and building nests. I fear the same disastrous May and June as last year which will be destructive to all plants animals and birds.

I hope I am proved wrong and that the coming spring and summer will be good weather conditions for all the ecology of living organisms that make up this Garden and Estate.

Jack Meath

Garden Trees lawn misty WS5 11Look at garden magazines, newspaper columns etc at this time of year and you’ll see pages and pages discussing the pleasures of sitting by a warm fire, perusing seed lists and making lofty plans for the year ahead.

Unsurprisingly, the garden department at Killruddery doesn’t do much relaxing by the fire. This winter, as always, is not without its challenges, but is proving to be a hugely fruitful period for work, with some significant undertakings more or less completed.

From a visitor point of view, the most obvious is probably the work completed in the car park area. It may be, that even if you’re a regular attendee to our weekly market, what with the almost constant wind and rain, you’ve moved through the car park with hood up, head down, and a pinched, squinting expression about your features and been almost unaware of what’s been happening in this area – I certainly couldn’t blame you…

hunterThe garden department inherited responsibility for this area a couple of years back, the brief being to lightly landscape the woods around the upper car park in a way that enhanced the appearance while still maintaining its character as a native woodland. We began by raising the tree canopies a little, and over a long drawn out period, reducing the population of weeds, and the residual weed seed bank. There were some challenging aspects to this, not least of all shoehorning it into a pretty tight schedule. During the couple of years of general cleaning up, we propagated some material specifically with this area in mind, building up a stock of some hopefully pretty tough customers that would manage ok out there. Ground preparation for the initial area of planting was carried out during autumn – much debris was removed, masonry, old beds, bits of long moribund machinery etc, and a planting plan undertaken. Admittedly, by the time planting was commencing, I had deviated a little from my intention of planting with especially tough, durable material that would stand up to any amount of abuse and or neglect, and we planted with a greater mix of material than I would have originally been considering. The soil is particularly inhospitable, very heavy and sticky in places, some of the worst I’ve encountered in years, and I have no doubt whatever, that some of our plants will fail, but still, we tried to incorporate some interesting specimens, along with some easily recognizable and largely reliable material. Many visitors will notice old favorites like Geraniums – including the RHS ‘plant of the century’ (I kid you not) Geranium ‘Rozanne’, Ostespermums, Foxgloves (a bi coloured cultivar called ‘Pams choice’), the much loved Verbena bonariensis, Hydrangea macrophylla and many others. Those who like to spot something just a little less run of the mill can look out for Xanthoceras sorbifolium, Halesia carlina, Strobilanthes violacea, Leptospermum scoparium, Mellaluca alternifolia among others.
Hardy nursery stock planted even late in autumn will require much less attention than material planted at other times, due to a readiness to take full advantage of the new season, their roots settling in their new location, and putting on some growth in the warm autumn soil before the onset of winter. It’s a tough spot for many of these plants, and it was starting to feel a little like a job we were never going to get to, so we’re pleased it’s done, and hopeful, bar some inevitable replacements that most of these plants will manage ok, providing a little interest to the many visitors that use the car park. The hope is, that over the next couple of years, we will extend the planting here.

Long Ponds in the RainAnother piece of work being completed almost as I speak, will be less obvious to visitors, but something else that I’m particularly pleased to see finished. The area of the walled garden where we operate – not an area seen by the public, had developed something of a ‘gap’…. screening was needed, both for practical and aesthetic reasons and what better than a hedge. As readers may know, bare root season is by far the best time to plant a hedge. This period runs from about November to March, and coincides with the period in which plants are dormant. Bare root stock provided by nurseries is field grown, and generally lifted to order. The production cost of plants supplied in this fashion is a fraction of that of container grown stock, which the casual, domestic gardener is probably more familiar with. The reduced costs are passed on to the consumer, and relatively speaking you will pay very small sums depending on varieties and quantities. The bare root stock will be well ‘settled’ in situ by the time the growing season is underway, and will progress faster, and more strongly than if the same hedge had been planted with containerised stock. We chose Hawthorn, feeling it to be appropriate for the location and (of course being native) for the benefits it will provide ecologically. When planting bare root material, avoid times when the ground is frozen or waterlogged; never allow the roots to become exposed to desiccating winds as you work- keep the plants in a bucket or bin with water, or at least in plastic bags, as you proceed. A light root pruning may be helpful depending on your plants and finally, as daft and counter intuitive as it may seem, it’s worth, after planting, snipping off (at a node) a third to half of the upper growth of the young plants, thus encouraging the production of lateral shoots, which remember, is what a good hedge is all about. Keep an eye on your plants for wind rock, they may be especially susceptible based on time of year, and absence of rootball, but this too should reduce when you prune the upper growth.

The storms that batter the country, – another one whipping up as I sit writing…., have had some impacts on our trees. We have lost a couple of significant specimens, and I fear for sure that we will lose more. However, so far it could have been much worse, and of course we are mindful of those who have more significant concerns as far as inclement winter weather is concerned. High wind, coupled with saturated ground can lead to otherwise reasonably sound trees uprooting, whereas trees with damaged or weak spots – (may be a gradual reaction and degradation as a result of something having occurred literally decades previously), will tend to snap. We get a certain amount every year, and while it can be upsetting and damaging and of course time consuming, you try to take the view that a natural cycle is at work….

We’re still unable to answer the age old conundrum of a tree falling where no one can hear it….

Woodland Anemone CU4 12A certain amount of weed control, a very occasional bit of mowing, and some nursery work are all still a feature at this time of year, slightly altered just now by the mildness of the weather, almost like an extended growing season. One other significant body of work has been completed though. The long ponds, forming the central axis of the garden, and so synonymous with Killruddery, are bordered by long, straight paths either side. Being a formal garden, lines and symmetry are of the utmost importance, and path edges play a significant role in these things. Once in a while, the (literally) painful job of re-edging paths is necessary. Unfortunately, this is one of those jobs where no machine can make ia whole lot easier, and although in parts a hand held machine is used, this is a laborious task at best. There is some volume to it also; each path is roughly 265 metres long, with three of the four path edges requiring re-cutting…

At this time of year, before the Christmas break, we like to give our machinery the kind of cleaning it no doubt deserves to receive with far greater regularity than is the case. A proper power wash, greasing, perhaps some oil on doors and the other various and many moving parts, a tightened nut or bolt… We might even add a little polish on some of the paintwork, perhaps even a little touch up here and there….all that a hard working machine might want for Christmas or at the end of a productive year. Our various buildings and sheds are due a cleanup also, the canteen here is less than hygienic, and I look around my own office mildly daunted…

Still, the garden’s doing okay…
Happy Christmas and a happy new year from Daragh, Ken and Dave in the Garden department.

December 2015

Killruddery in the Snow

Garden Autmunal Trees WS5 11

Here at Killruddery, we close for weekdays at the end of September, and indeed, during September, most of the days are somewhat quieter than throughout the summer, the return of young families to school bringing a noticeable change in atmosphere. The garden crew here doesn’t get much time to enjoy the more peaceful ambience though, early autumn in particular, is a hugely important time for various turf care tasks.

In Killruddery, we have what’s called a ‘heavy clay soil’. All soils have different characteristics, and, as with most things, some are good, some not so much. Heavy clay soils tend to have reasonable fertility, have low leaching levels (holds onto nutrient), suffer badly in wet weather, and crucially, are especially prone to compaction. Thankfully, our visitor numbers have really improved in recent years, lots more events going on too. But, a garden like Killruddery, dating to the late 1600’s was never intended for much traffic, pedestrian or otherwise. Add to that our heavy clay, and special measures are needed.

During September, grass growth often accelerates a little from levels of July or August for example. This is mostly attributable to two simple and obvious factors – soil temperatures remaining quite high, and the increase in water table levels which usually occurs. This September for example was not especially warm, September grass growth wasn’t strong compared to September 2014, which in turn was unusually strong. Autumn grass growth allows a lawn to recover from various operations that are at times necessary.

Garden Trees lawn misty WS5 11Hollow coring is a laborious, time consuming, and at times exhausting undertaking. It is however, the ideal process to begin to properly address some of the issues becoming all the time more noticeable around the garden. A hollow coring machine has a series of drum mounted tines that remove a small core of soil from the lawn area, to a depth of perhaps 2 inches. The cores or plugs of soil are deposited on the lawn as the machine moves along. The cores require raking up (very tedious but essential! Ideally, mow the lawn closely prior to starting to make cores much easier to collect). You can then leave the resultant holes open, greatly alleviating the level of compaction on the soil surface, or better still, you can incorporate sand over the area, working it into the individual holes, thereby keeping them open much longer. This is preferable, but in itself is a time consuming exercise. We managed in a two week hire period, to get around all the areas we targeted, and hopefully, from next spring the benefits will be noticeable.

The other turf care operation we undertook throughout September is scarification. This terms refers to the removal from a lawn area, of dead material (moss, dead grass etc) that naturally accumulates over time. This allows better water penetration, air circulation, nutrient uptake, leading to improved tillering (how grass plants ‘thicken up’), better sward (or texture) and colour, and an overall improvement in vigour. If done well, and timed correctly, scarification is one of the absolute best things you can do for your lawn, the results can be astounding. Key here is timing, and maybe even moderation – we over scarified an area here once and quite literally, it took years to recover…

Scarification is carried out in autumn or spring, and can be done mechanically or using a wire rake. In the case of a machine, the height setting is adjustable and the user needs to get used to it quickly, erring on the side of caution. A series of teeth spin at high speed, remove huge amounts of dead material (and some grass), which is perfect for your compost heap. The manual method, with the rake requires plenty of energy and a good deal of enthusiasm1 You’ll be amazed at how much dead material your lawn yields and the results can be very impressive. Your lawn can look a little battered for a week or two afterward, in fact, I would say that if It doesn’t look somewhat ‘bedraggled’, you should probably start again!

Another autumn job is of course planting spring bulbs. This year we’ve added a further 1000 English bluebells to the area bordering Elizabeths walk, 1000 Frittilaria imperiallis – small flower, nodding head with a check board pattern of utter perfection on the outside of the (usually) reddish/ purple petals, planted in one of the large angles overlooking the long ponds. Here we’ve also added a number of Narcissus ‘Thalia’ from the nursery. In addition, we’ve planted 400 – 500 white Irises through a border of grasses, which when in flower in June or July, should hover nicely over the foliage of the Anamanthele. There have been others too; including (very soon) 75kg of Narcissus ‘Actea’ but hopefully all our visitors will see these varieties in all their splendor late next spring.Garden Bluebells and Wild Garlic MS5 11

Traditionally, autumn is a good time to plant hardy nursery stock. Ground moisture levels are up, and planting material is often settled and ready to really take off by spring, thus ensuring a good first seasons growing. Material planted during autumn requires much less ‘minding’ in its first year or two than material planted in spring or later. We hope very soon to begin planting in the car park nearest to the ticket office. We’re currently struggling to get the ground preparation completed. It’s proven to be a challenging area, very weedy, and extremely poor soil, full of rocks, rusty metal, wire and all kinds of other debris. In fact, the amount of actual soil is in places worryingly low. We’ll take what measures we must, and hopefully, we can commence planting in the coming weeks. Much of the material we’ll use will come from our own nursery, where propagation has been carried out with this area in mind.

Some planting we have completed consists mainly of several hundred Primula. One area has had a large number of Primula Japonica ‘Postford white’ added beneath a group of Hydrangea Villosa. All Primula Japonica cultivars are pretty tough, adequate moisture being their most important requirement. These plants are best when massed in large groups, preferably several dozen at least. When happy, they’ll seed around, or if you prefer, they’re an ideal candidate for some seed harvesting – primula are among the easiest of plants to take seed from. Some visitors will have noticed our mass plantings of Primula planted around the Arbutus unedo, located on the tiered lawns leading away from the house. This year we had Primula Poissonii (a favourite of mine and really performing well here) and slightly less successfully Primula Prolifera – the best yellow flowered Primula. We’ve now added Primula Pulverulenta, another tough growing species with a reddish pink flower that as long as moisture is sufficient, should do fairly well here. All the Primula we’ve planted this autumn have been grown in our Killruddery nursery, from seed harvested here. Seed would have been sown in either early spring 2014 or early spring 2015 depending on variety.

Of course, autumn wouldn’t be the same without the yellow, oranges and reds associated with the season. Autumn colour comes from chemicals and compounds contained in leaves, the colour intensity being affected by chiefly by the climatic conditions (soil, pH etc also have an influence). Leaf fall has been slow this year, leading to some good autumn displays as leaves have been held longer than is often the case. Leaf collection is highly recommended, after all, you wouldn’t allow a wet dark blanket cover your garden through the winter, and allowing thick wet leaf cover, will have much the same effect. We collect a lot of our leaves here mechanically, though there’s plenty of areas where it’s necessary to break out the rakes. Leaves are the perfect ingredient for a compost heap, breaking down quickly, with no risk of the sodden, smelly mess that excessive amounts of lawn clippings can lead to, and will make perfect compost in a year or less.

Daragh Farren – November 2015




Garden Man on Bench under Tree WS5 11It’s fair to say, that our summer so far, has been something of a mixed bag. June was particularly dry (as low as 30% of average June rainfall in places) and fairly sunny (above average in terms of hours), but not with especially high temperatures. July saw a return of some wetter spells, a reduction in sunshine, and some quite low night time temperatures. So, from a garden point of view, it hasn’t been too bad. During our very dry June, the lawn areas suffered badly, colour was very poor, growth obviously suffered considerably, and the usual de compaction work we would like to have carried out was not possible. De compaction in broad terms, refers to various techniques used to alleviate the symptoms of hard or compacted ground in an effort to improve growing conditions by allowing greater water and nutrient uptake, and allow greater levels of air to reach the root zone. It’s a huge part of turf maintenance, but is inadvisable in times of drought or low water table, as the roots will not recover from the slitting (or plugging) action, leading to increased stress on the many individual plants that comprise a lawn.

By early July, some considerable rainfall had occurred, allowing a significant programme of spiking and slitting to be carried out. The change in weather, some timely actions and a small amount of feeding in select areas, has ensured the return of a respectable appearance to most of our lawns, so important to Killruddery as the foil for almost the entire garden. So far this year, I would say grass growth rates have been low.

The slightly wetter conditions are helpful too, to our Irish Yews, located at the steps to the Orangery, and close to the ticket office. Regular visitors (and probably almost everyone else) will notice the stark appearance of these trees this year. These 8 Yews are an integral part of this area of the garden, providing structure and definition to a very high profile position. Roughly 170 years old, time has not been especially kind to them, rendering their shape some way off the conical, fastigiate habit for which they were planted. Their overall condition varied somewhat, but all had badly lost their shape over time. Furthermore, attempts over the years to pull them in, using very tight, heavy wire, was extremely ill advised. Yew possesses terrific properties of regeneration, and as long as sufficient live material (there was huge amounts of dead wood) remained in the right spots, these trees would have a chance. The result of several weeks of careful and painstaking pruning, mostly with hand saws, is so far, producing very welcome signs. I estimate this remedial work taking at least 5 years, the hope being that each year, the re growth that we hope to see, will allow further careful pruning around the outside of the specimens, thereby gradually over the years, ‘pulling’ the shape of the trees ever tighter. Very much an ongoing project, the next big prune will take place March/ April 2016.

Garden lavender ECU5 11Those visitors looking for some colour will I hope, find something to enjoy in various parts of the garden. Our newly planted Roses at the parterre – R. ‘Queen of Sweden’ have gotten off to a great start. A floribunda rose, with double soft pink flowers borne in clusters, we’re getting a pretty good show for their first year. This is a rose with a beautifully shaped flower, good uniformity and excellent disease and pest resistance. We have not had to carry out any pest or disease control yet this year, and all specimens are growing strongly. Remember, when plating roses, ground preparation is of the utmost importance, as are sighting, and adequate planting depth (so many roses are planted too shallow). An extra tip when planting roses is to add a little mycorrizal fungi (various products easily available) thereby promoting increased nutrient and water uptake, and quicker establishment of your young plants.

The Rockwood too is looking colourful. At time of writing our blue Hydrangea macrophylla are putting on a really good show. These of course were pink flowered when planted, the blue colour developing over just a few years due to the low pH (high acidity) of the soil particularly in the upper parts of the garden. A group of the same hydrangea, planted below the Beech hedge, 4 or 5 years earlier than any of those in the Rockwood, barely have a blue hint at all, indicating a very sharp difference in pH over a relatively small distance. Also in the Rockwood at present, we have Geraniums, Francoa, Lysimachia, Astilbes, Thalictrum, Anemone, Zantedeschia, Ligularia, Astrantia and a couple of the later flowering Primula species such as P.vialii and P. poissonii along with a few others.

Beech Hedge Parterre 2Another area of new planting can be seen along the Venus Walk, by the Western Wilderness. This is a challenging area as far as young plants are concerned. At times, very deep shade, with some areas of adequate moisture, and some areas being very dry. I expect planting here to establish and develop very slowly, and there will be groups of plants for which the conditions will prove overly inhospitable. These areas will be replanted with something with slightly greater adaptability/ durability, and some rejigging will certainly be needed. Some of the plants used here include Rodgersia, Cimifuga, Dicentra, Hostas, Aquilegia, Geraniums, Epimedium, Mecanopsis, Trachyestemon, and Dianella. The end of this planting closest to the Beech hedge is older, and is progressing much better. Conditions at this end are far more favorable, featuring dappled rather than deep shade. This area was planted around April of 2014, and will give the visitor an idea of the kind of growth you can expect with woodland type plants over the first 2 growing seasons.

One of the nursery jobs that gets underway around this time of year, is propagation by cuttings. A great proportion of the plants used in the garden are produced in our own nursery here in Killruddery. Over the next few weeks, the appropriate material for taking semi ripe stem cuttings is usually fairly abundant, depending of course on the species in question. Propagation has long been a love of mine. I defy anyone, with even the vaguest interest in plants, not to feel a sense of accomplishment and achievement when they for example, produce their first plants from cuttings taken some months previously, or for someone who is well practiced at plant propagation, to successfully persuade a rare treasure or plant known to be a challenging subject to root. Once the appropriate stem material has been selected and properly prepared, the cuttings, having been dipped in a fungicide, are inserted into small pots, trays or cells filled with a moistened, standard potting compost, with some added grit or vermiculite, and placed in the poly tunnel or cold frame, under plastic. The plastic creates a humid environment, hopefully preventing the cuttings from shriveling up and dying while the process first of callusing, and secondly of the production of roots occurs. The stem itself has a small reserve of food that will sustain the cutting during this period, which can be as quick as perhaps 15 or 16 days for some specimens, or may take many weeks in other cases. There are many ornamental garden plants that can be increased in this way, no special expertise or equipment required. Swap a roll of polythene for a plastic bag, and tunnel or cold frame for a side passage or sheltered area of your garden at home. We overwinter our rooted cuttings, and generally aim to pot up through spring.

There are still of course, all the numerous everyday jobs to do round a garden like Killruddery. We’re hoping over the next little while to pay some attention to some of the weedier areas about the garden…hopefully they haven’t been too obvious, though perhaps that’s wishful thinking on my part…the lawn maintenance here is a big undertaking, we’ve hedge cutting to take care of too, and many other essential tasks…

In fact, as I sit finishing this, I’m sure I’ve just seen an almost flock like cloud of willow herb seeds pass my window on the breeze….better give chase…

Daragh Farren

August 2015

garden staff