Fionnuala Ardee's Blog Head Gardener
Head Gardener

Head Gardener Series

Our Head Gardener Daragh Farren has a wealth of knowledge and almost 20 years of caring for this garden so beautifully. Here he answers – on a monthly basis – 10 questions:

Head Guide Barbara Cafferky

This week we have begun with our own Head Guide Barbara Cafferky who recalled questions she gets asked alot about the Gardens;

BC: How large are formal gardens, how many acres of grass, how long are the hedges, and most popular, how many garden staff?

Killruddery Garden Team

DF: The landscaped gardens are approximately 50 acres. In the Formal section we have over 20 acres of grass and about 5 km of hedges. Including myself there are four gardeners in the formal gardens…there are two more working in the Walled Garden and we contract in some parts of the hedge maintenance.

BC: Why is it called the Wilderness?

DF: When the area known as the Western Wilderness was originally laid out, it was planted only with Lime trees, in a strict, grid like fashion. Many years subsequent, it was heavily planted with Laurel to act as cover for pheasants. Most of these are now removed and the grid pattern has become somewhat more visible. In the last two years, we’ve planted about forty young Limes, following the grid formation, replacing lost specimens. Various other species have colonised parts of the area, and there are a couple of interesting Podocarpus located to the edges, along with some Luma apiculata. In general, we aim to sympathetically maintain this area in a manner that shows the original design, as is our overall approach to our 17th century formal garden. The name, comes from its purposeful introduction of designed wilderness which was imposed in an allocated composition within the laid out gardens formality, though that’s more true nowadays than it might have been in the earlier eras of Killruddery.

BC: Name the tall purple/ blue plants on the left hand side of the lower parterre, the area to the left of the gates through which we enter the Formal Gardens?

Echium Pininana in all it’s glory

DF: These are Echium pininana. They are biennial, meaning their life cycle is completed in 2 years – they die after flowering, but seed prolifically. It’s native to the canary islands, and is loved by bees. A bit of a ‘marmite’ plant – a lot of people really like it, but some definitely don’t – I’ve known it to invoke strong sentiment one way or the other. Old Lady Meath sadly disliked them strongly, while the current generation adore them. I have it in my own garden…I love this plant.

BC: When was the Sylvan Theatre made and by who?

DF: The Sylvan Theatre was one of Bonet’s original features.

BC: How large is the Walled Garden?

DF: The Walled garden is just over four acres. We are slowly regenerating this space. With some two acres currently under Vegetable, Fruit or Cut Flower Production for our Visitor Cafes and Farm Shop, some space occupied by a 20th C farm shed, some chickens, a nursery field for young animals and there is a picnic and play area here.

The Sylvan Theatre

BC: What do we know of M. Bonet?

DF: We know bits and pieces, and can guess at

other aspects of his life. We know Bonet was a Frenchman, a student of the renowned Andre le Notre at Versailles. He was commissioned to create a formal garden at Killruddery in 1664, a process he completed over several years. It’s likely that he came and went a little over the years of the construction of the garden, in an overseeing type capacity. We don’t know whether he had a family.

BC: When were the ornate Victorian beds of the area now known as the Ribbon garden removed and why?

DF: The area now referred to as the ‘Ribbon Garden’, used to be much more ornate in it’s design, featuring detailed Victorian style carpet bedding schemes and an elaborate centrepiece. This was most likely removed and replaced with the less detailed layout of today around the 1930/ 1940’s. It is said that the then Earl (Jack’s Grandfather, Anthony’s Great Grandfather) was of a very different personality to his father and he and his wife much preferred the more natural, less grand design we see today.

BC: People ask me about The Rock, it’s history, it’s irrigation system….

DF: The Rock is of course a natural feature of the garden, and at times contained collections of alpine plants. The current Earls Grandfather and wife Lady Aileen Meath were keen on alpine plants and spent much of their retirement years collecting, propagating and planting a collection of plants on the Rock. He also enjoyed dabbling in some engineering/physics related tasks and as well as creating the clock in the tower in the forecourt, built a ‘ram’ which pushed water to the top of the rock, protecting the young alpine plants from drying out. In addition, he made a lime pit, in which lime was burned, and the ashes were used to reduce the acidic nature of the soil on the rock.

BC: I find the Gingko tree fascinating, its age and origins, please tell us more?

DF: The Gingko in the Rhodie Rood area was most likely planted by the current Earls grandparents – so, probably dates to around 1930’s. That’s a guess. Gingkos are considered to be the most unchanged plants we have today – almost a living fossil, unevolved for thousands of years. Classified as a conifer despite having leaves rather than needles, and of course being deciduous (great Autumn colour) rather than evergreen as is the case with almost all conifers. Gingko are native to Asia, and almost all Gingko throughout Europe, are male trees. The female trees at times emit a very strong, foul smell, likened to (amongst other things) dirty gym socks.

BC: Our Arbutus unedo, Strawberry tree, probably planted around 1800 is a pretty interesting specimen…

DF: It’s a tree native to 2 distinct places – Portugal and South West Ireland – Kerry to be precise. Commonly known as the Killarney Strawberry Tree, it produces edible, if bland fruits, slightly strawberry like in appearance. It generally grows with a slightly spreading habit, but around 1911 was struck by lightning, causing many large branches to split and fall, though they remained attached to the main trunks. In time, the general health and vigour of the tree recovered and the limbs prospered, leading to an especially interesting shape and a uniquely wide spread . I recall a former staff member, in his 80’s at the time, telling me this story, while graphically self admonishing for never having gotten round to removing the damaged branches….

Do you have questions regarding Killruddery Gardens; its layout, history, plants or trees? If you do please leave them here, with your name or anonymous, as you wish. We will select a number of questions each month as well as continuing to invite various people to pop the questions!

Photo credits
1. Laragh & Suki Stuart @thesilverybees
2. Steve Whysall –
3. James Fennell –


Visit Us Soon

LOCAL SHOPPING: Killruddery’s Horse Yard is transforming! We are so excited to announce the re-opening of the Grain Store Cafe and Farm Shop on 29 June – open 7 days a week all year round! The Grain Store Cafe has seating both inside and outside to meet friends this summer and enjoy our garden-to-plate menu.


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