Head Gardener’s Blog Spring 2019


Spring is an exciting and busy time in Killruddery. Lots of planning underway in the various departments, events for the year ahead being organised and finalised and above all, preparations for our opening for the new season. We were fortunate enough with our Winter weather, experiencing few extremes of any kind, and although cumulatively over the weeks and months we’ve had a fair degree of wind, we’ve had little in the way of especially high or damaging gales. Quite a contrast to the first few months of last year, and frankly, it’s hard to argue with the view that we were due a lucky break.

We’ve had a few really good months in the garden since we closed last Autumn, and in fact probably achieved more than I thought we might. A lot of our Autumn and Winter programme may seem a little mundane to many, but it really is an enormously important time for us. We have all the usual maintenance related tasks to get through – pruning, mulching, re edging, an occasional mow here and there, and the general upkeep tasks that are ever present.

However, as vital as these things are – and they truly are, Autumn and Winter offers us an opportunity to spend some time tending to project type work, or remedial work on various aspects of the garden. Killruddery is of course a beautiful, old heritage garden, packed with history and also populated by a fair number of old plants. Occasional remedial work is fundamental to these kinds of plants and features enduring – an important part of what we do here in the gardens at Killruddery. Over the last few months, we properly began to carry out some of this kind of work on a lot of our hedges – so far we’ve made a start on some of the deciduous specimens in the Angles – (a significant feature of the 17th century design of the garden) by, in a nutshell, reducing their height. This must be carried out with care – each cut matters, and with some delicate plant material within, there is a considerable degree of finesse required. The process went really well, and already I feel I can see a response from what’s been completed so far. We won’t return to this task before December next, and in the meantime will carry out some monitoring and gentle feeding in the area.

The on going saga of the Florence Yews – (the 8 ageing specimens flanking the path from above the ticket office, to the Orangery) is entering year 5. At time of writing, I have completed this years work on 6 of the 8. On examination, I ended up removing quite a bit more material than I would have anticipated – testament to the progress of these specimens moving in an encouraging direction. There’s plenty of new growth on the interior of the plants, and of course more needs to be coaxed, while also removing heavier stems toward the outside of the specimens, all the while trying to as best as possible, retain the general shape of the trees. I’m pleased enough with the overall trajectory. The trees were in appalling condition when the work began, and while the individuals prospects vary, the improvement are huge. 

Maybe more noticeable to regular visitors, will be the work carried out in the Western Wilderness. This is the area of woodland below the long ponds, and is another of the old surviving features of the Baroque design of the garden. The idea, back in the day, was to create a grid pattern or formation with Lime trees. The pattern is very visible in many areas, though there are lots of empty spaces, and lots of very sizeable interlopers that have arrived over the years, decades, centuries… We realised last year, that we’d turned our backs for a little too long here… the area had received very little attention, allowing a colonisation of things like briar, ivy, laurel etc. in areas that had been under slightly better control, and a general accumulation of dead wood and debris. The work completed here is just a drop in the ocean of what we’d like to do, but in the limited window we’ve had, very good progress has been achieved – opening up the area somewhat, some key removals of individual specimens, and about 35 or so young Limes planted to try and begin the task of replacing some of the long gone originals. We hope to spend more time here over the coming year.

One of the things I personally look forward to each year is seed sowing during Spring. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to acquire some interesting seed types each year, due to one or two memberships of associations/ organisations. Just like most people who have an interest in plants, I have a hankering to try unusual subjects. It’s been a slow start this year, but I’m hoping to get into it properly over the next week or two. Again, small adjustments in various practices will likely be implemented – always chasing awinning formula, and always with some exciting results, and no doubt afew disappointments. I’m increasing my use of grit this year, particularly on the surface of seed trays. I’m hoping as a result to slightly reduce watering and weed growth, and have less disruption especially to small seeds during watering. Large seeds will get a sprinkling of grit after sowing, while small ones will be sown onto a gritty surface, and watered in, helping the seeds to ‘settle’. That’s my main seed sowing tweak this year…we’ll see how it goes.

We have some planting to complete soon – mostly around the car park, but also a few pockets around the garden. Most of the material we’ll use is in the nursery already, but in a few cases I’d like to see a little more root growth before we plant, but I think it will go ahead shortly. We also lost some small areas of planting last Summer, nothing major, but various replacements will be required here and there.

It’s also my intention that we’ll continue our increased use of seaweed as a lawn feed this year. We upped it last year, despite the lengthy period where grass growth stopped, and I feel it was really beneficial. Feeding, mowing, weed control and maintenance in general will ramp up over the next very short while – work that’s so important to the presentation of the garden for our daily visitors, and the many events over the season.

There have been other successes too and other works will hopefully go ahead, and in fact, looking around the garden, it’s hard to imagine it’s the same place that was burnt, bronzed and desiccated during much of last Summer. As always we’ll alter and adjust some of our practices, continually seeking better outcomes and an efficient use of time.

Some things are always a feature of this time of year, regardless of how well or otherwise the preceding few months have gone, something universal for anyone interested in plants and gardens – hope, optimism, expectation, even excitement – not bad components to your work day by any measure.

Daragh Farren

Head Gardener