Head Gardener’s Blog – Winter 2018

17/12/2018

Head Gardeners Diary – Winter 2018

As 2018 nears it’s end, it’s been a year to remember. Every year is different in many jobs I suppose, but in Killruddery, each year most definitely has it’s ‘quirks’ and I think I could say nowhere more so than in the gardens. I recall as a student in the Botanic Gardens, joking with others about the monotony of some jobs – same thing for 12 months of every year, and the ‘boredom’ of a horticultural environment – continuously changing monotony 12 months of the year… No boredom here of course – (if only we had the time), but certainly constant evolution. The influences of work projects, weather, visitor events and so many other factors constantly conspire to create an ever changing set of routines and practices, ebbs and flows. For sure, 2018 has held it’s share of such times – and in hindsight, as trying as things were at certain points – crazy weather of every kind, busy events taking a huge toll on a stressed garden etc. etc., we can definitely say we’ve learned a lot, juggled, sifted and altered where needed many of our practices and priorities. And, as weary as at times we felt, the latter part of December sees the garden looking pretty much as well as I’ve seen it at this time of year. Very often, things can look really tired – I’m referring to the garden rather than staff, though true for both… The colour can be lacking, there is often an accumulation of scars and injuries evident, and things can look somewhat anemic for want of a better description.

This year, we had really good Autumn colour. Low temperatures in Autumn can be good for leaf colour (though will hurry leaf drop), but we didn’t really see many. However, the hot Summer temperatures led to a greater production of the various sugars etc. that conspire to produce the yellows, reds and oranges that will make for a dazzling Autumn display. This, coupled with a mostly calm, not very windy Autumn meant that things were very beautiful round Killruddery for a long period leading toward Winter. Heading into Winter, the ground was in reasonable condition, aiding our work and efficiency about the garden, allowing good progress. But, I think what I notice more than anything, is the colour of the lawns around the garden. Here in Killruddery, we have a large amount of grass – well in excess of 20 acres. Any visitor can appreciate the views and openness of some parts of the garden – the grass is the foil for all and therefore of great importance. This year, more than any I can remember, our December grass is an exquisite shade of green. Amazing, considering a few months ago it was copper brown and desiccated. There are quite a few areas where that damage persists, but overall the look is one of health, vigor and lushness. This year, we increased our use of seaweed feeds dramatically – a gentle, benign way to feed the ground – though very time heavy compared with granular type feeds as repeated applications are needed. The Autumn and Winter conditions have not been harsh, but it seems to me, that the increased use of Seaweed has provided great and enduring benefits.

Of course, speaking of Autumn colour, we don’t gaze into the tree canopies quite as much as maybe we should, our focus tending to be more on ground level for most of the day. The biggest single job we’ve worked on since closing for the season is the next and final area of the car park. Last March, we planted the area closest to the ticket office, and the area under preparation now is likely to complete 5 or so years of development work around the car parks.

We had a couple of options here, in terms of our approach to this work. During 2017 we fully re shaped and re landscaped here, in preparation for planting the Box hedge bordering the path, and the planting of the area opposite. At the time it was pretty tough work, and despite the amount of masonry type debris contained within the soil, we were reluctant to alter the levels too much although needing to address the fertility and general hospitality of the soil as far as any future planting maybe concerned. We ruled out the addition of topsoil – it would complicate matters, and decided instead to dig out and remove the debris by hand, with the intention of then adding organic material. I will admit, there were occasions I felt my ears burn – it really was tough work…huge amounts of material removed, loaded and trailered away. But, it got done, testament to the dedication, grit and brawn of some of the crew here. Subsequently, the addition of organic material, a large enough job in itself, seemed pretty easy, and was completed relatively uneventfully. Now, with some finishing touches in the area, and a few final tweaks and we should be ready to plant in Spring.

We managed also to address a range of other small but important jobs that had been on ‘the list’ for awhile. Little things like the removal of a couple of failing trees, including a pair of the Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ on Elizabeth’s walk. We’re unsure what caused these specimens to die – it occurred slowly but very apparently over the course of a couple of years, the trees gradually but noticeably weakening – fewer and smaller leaves being unmistakable signs of great stress. Sourcing the plants took a little while, but we have 2 replacements in situ now – very wee by comparison to their neighbours but of course laden with potential.

 

 

Paulownia pollarded mid AprilAnother gradually weakening specimen was the Foxglove tree – Paulownia tomentosa in the angles. In all my many years here, this tree has been weak and stunted, holding and accumulating much dead wood and showing obvious signs of stress and die back. We finally removed it a few weeks back,and will replace like for like. The replacement is in the nursery, picked out from a batch of 3 year old or so trees, grown on site from seed. Hopefully it will prosper… One of the best approaches to Paulownia is to cut very hard in Spring, which sees the tree respond extremely vigorously, making huge growth in the year following and leads to the production of truly massive foliage. I would advise not doing this in the first year after planting, but favour this approach from year 2. The effect is spectacular.

Paulowina Autumn following pollard

 

We have some ambitious and varied plans for our time after Christmas, including our usual maintenance related undertakings such as pruning, mulching, a small bit of bare root planting etc., as well as some bits of project type work – the slow slow task of lowering some of the several kilometers of hedges in the garden will continue, while we also have a considerable list to get through in the Western Wilderness – an area that has certainly fallen off our radar a little over the last few years. There has been a general accumulation of deadwood and related debris, while the once under (reasonable) control colonies of laurel and briars have really taken off and prospered while our focus was elsewhere…proof positive that if you turn your back for a year or three, mother nature will quickly take advantage and remind you who’s boss.

So, in conclusion, it’s been a fast year, then I suppose they all are. Looking back, certainly it had it’s ups and downs as will always be the case, however, we end the year with the garden looking pretty sharp, a full schedule for January onward, and a batch of hopes and plans for the very short few weeks before we open again later in Spring…

Boredom….monotony….tedium…not a chance…

A sincere thanks to all our visitors, partners and customers for 2018, wishing all a Happy and peaceful Christmas and a great new year from the Garden Department.

Daragh Farren

Head Gardener