The 16th of January – MID-WINTER REST + REJUVENATION
WHY DON’T WE OPEN KILLRUDDERY GARDENS ALL YEAR ROUND?
When I first came to these Gardens with my new friend, now husband, Anthony, exactly half my lifetime ago, I thought his family’s gardens utterly enchanting: the Angles with their tall, proud hedges; the wilderness with trees long ago deemed mature; the ponds; the very location of Killruddery, nestled between the Little Sugar Loaf and Bray Head. I loved the tension between the wildness here and the sense of order, the structure of paths, buildings and landscape architecture, interrupted by the best of natures own constantly changing garden. However, this space was missing something: it was missing its animators.
This work of art, made to entertain and delight, was eager to welcome visitors who were, in turn, eager for green open space. The Gardens have long been open to the public, but it was more a case of if-you-were-in-the-know. As Anthony and I began to work with Lord and Lady Meath to spread the word about the Gardens, I wondered if they should be open all year round.
Last year I began to appreciate the privilege of having the Gardens to ourselves and the team during the winter months. Closing them from November to March felt helpful, renewing and kind. It made sense in terms of demand, too, as visitor numbers usually drop to a trickle at the end of the season. This winter, with Covid restrictions, people have been more eager to spend time outside. Acknowledging this, we kept the Gardens open for visits throughout November and visitors responded with great enthusiasm.
We’ve contemplated opening earlier this year, in February, but here’s the thing. The winter rest period feels much needed. We note that the Gardens FEEL BETTER as a result. The paths, the grass, the hedges, the trees – all are renewed when March comes back around. Compacted ground seems to refresh itself. The air around the space regains its energy and vigour. The Gardens revitalise.
I liken what I am witnessing to grandparents who love nothing better than to have their entire grown-up family and grandchildren turn up for the summer holidays to eat, sleep and play, using every inch of their house and garden; but at the end of the holiday, satisfied by the company, they are ready to be on their own, to rest their bones, tend their landscape, renew their minds and bodies and feel their own beat again… for a time.
Hibernation. Winter Slumber. Seasonal Rest. Rejuvenation. Whatever we call it, I endorse it. It’s part of the cycle of life, and it’s part of keeping local amenities like ours sustainable and joyful.
THANK YOU for reading + I’ll be interested to know if you can feel this timeout is best for the Gardens too?
The 10th of December – SEASON GREETINGS
It is drawing into the Winter Soltice; does anyone else feel like curling up into a ball? Over the next few weeks I am taking time to make contact with Friends and Family. I am going to sign off here, I will be back in the New Year with New Contributors and new entries myself.
2020; the year weddings + events were cancelled, our garden become a most popular local destination for unprecedented reasons, who could have foreseen the interruption to everyday life and the need for outdoor space that came with this years pandemic.
We are joined in the Gardens by 100% more members. We have opened a Grain Store Cafe, Farm Shop has increased by 500% and both are opened all year round (closed 24th at 4pm – Open 28th January. Our Suppers have been received with high regard and our farm market has been buzzing. I am wowed and proud of how our team have risen to challenges this year and overwhelmed by positive feedback from everyone. Killruddery’s General Manager Paula Johnston has joined us this year and I know we all recognise the impact she has on our hospitality.
We love our Killruddery Community: Members, visitors, team and Family. THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO SHARES THIS SPACE WITH US.
Its meant so much to me to be able to have a platform – this blog – to share thoughts and goings on. I hope you have enjoyed it too! We will continue to update our Instagram and Facebook: Killruddery.
I also have an Instagram page I update with my wanderings…your welcome to join me there also! “Fionnuala Aston-Ardee”
Here is over and out for a little while! I am off with a joyous and grateful heart for health and various achievements.
The 3rd of December – Irish Tweed Cushions and Makers
I’ve known Noirin Pye all my life, she would turn up at our house, for memorable visits in a taylored tweed suit-with-a-twist. Even to my juvenile eye it was apparent that here was a woman who’s heart and soul was rooted in playfulness and creativity. Noirin is somewhat senior to my mother and a great friend of hers, round about the time I was getting acquainted with planet earth, Noirin she was wrapping up one of her life projects; The Weavers Shed.
Founded in 1950’s, with her brother John O’Loughlin Kennedy. It started out in a small premises on Dublin’s Duke Lane before moving to Kilmainham, where Noirin ran a wool-to-fabric mill with seven hand-weavers. All the processes were done on site, from carding the wool, to dying it in enormous vats, to choosing colours to be woven together under Noirin’s artistic eye. Noirin’s fabrics were sold around the world and worn by personalities such as Jacqueline Kennedy, Sile de Valera and Sybil Connolly. Having closed The Weaver’s Shed in the 1980s, Noirin now lives in the hills above Tallaght where there is stored some rare and beautiful reels of her fabric, their colour combinations as vivid today as they were when they were first woven.
I’ve known about the remaining treasure-chest of fabrics for a good while. In fact Noirin was both our mentor and supplier when her daughters Naoise and Roisin, joined my sister Anna and I at 13 to open a (keep-the-teenagers-out-of-trouble) Irish Tweed and local crafts shop in the remote village of Carrigaholt Co.Clare, our high standards surprised the West Clare 90’s tourist! Some years later I would attend craft and weaving college and then fine art painting, Noirin’s fabrics along with the paintings of her late husband Patrick Pye surely were part of my inspiration! I got to return the nudge in 2004 when Noirin and I would meet on a Tuesday afternoon to weave tapestries as part of her recovery plan after surgery in 2004. Her tweed, stored on aged shelves, have been in my mind; an invitation for some new exceptional creation.
Recently I’ve got to know Iseult Law, the Irish designer behind the beautiful luxury cushions; ISEULT. Iseult works with fabrics woven by hand on a loom. Her current design inspirations include Khadi cotton from Gujarat, silk Ikat from Uzbekistan and indigo mud cloth from Mali. I told her about Noirin’s fabrics, in a week where she had decided to look the lady up, having been referred to by her Grandmother the incredible Imogen Stuart. The introduction was effective and Iseult has opened my eyes once again to the uniqueness of each square foot of hand-woven fabric. Over a few cups of tea we agreed our process and the result of Iseult’s beautiful work are, I am delighted to announce; exceptional Irish Tweed Cushions. Now available in our Farm Shop open daily 9am – 5pm in December.
This is the first full collaboration as part of our new Makers Programme, where we will actively seek partnerships with talented makers, helping them develop products and providing a platform from which their work can be sold.
The 26th of November – Killruddery Botanical Series
Before Advent begins and cut flowers become a thing of a distant seasonal past, let me wax lyrical on our Killruddery Cut Flower Season 2020
In the last days of October, Fionnuala Fallon and I painted a fairy tale. Our cut flower gardener Maria Dragon harvested many beautiful flowers from the border she tended with care all year. Richard Johnston, Fionnuala and I took a walk through the Garden woods and gathered branches, and as afternoon faded into dusk, with Cockagee cider to refresh us, we sculpted a window in the Farm Shop, reminiscent of a Grimm’s fairy tale illustration, granite walls of sleeping beauty’s castle, autumnal beach and hedgerow leaves entwined with unlikely vivid dahlias and plump blackberries as if from the same stem, a celebration of Autumn’s bounty.
This year’s Killruddery cut flower season began with white anemones, with their striking black or green centres. In March, ranunculus of garish orange, red and pink soon joined in. We missed the tulips, but narcissi and daffodils were plentiful. Starry pale blue nigella were in bloom by the time we opened the Grain Store Cafe on the 29th of June. I became obsessed with arranging them alone, packed in a circular chrome pot I’d bought during Litfest at Ballymaloe Cookery School. Four weeks went by before I tired of weekly re-creations of this bowl. We displayed them on the original Killruddery pitch pine kitchen table that sits near the entrance to our Grain Store Cafe.
From here, there began an endless stream of dahlias, cosmos, roses, scabiosa and so many more, amongst vegetable and fruit tree cuttings and wild grasses. As summer’s wheel turned, it was never difficult to while away hours in our Flower Room, leaving some bouquets for customers or bringing bunches to the Grain Store Cafe tables as long as Covid left us happily seated inside. I’ve enjoyed the season and the opportunity to get bolder as a florist
One of the happier decisions I’ve made at Killruddery was to invite the Irish cut flower farmer, Fionnuala Fallon who works in a duo with her husband Richard Johnston, to be our consultant. Knowig the verities of cut flower and the particular methods needed for each plant, Fionnuala has brought abundance to the Walled Garden’s south border, where Maria tirelessly seeks beauty, shape and growth. What a collaboration it has been! I am immensely grateful to all involved.
And now a fairy tale has been born – manifested for a week or so in an installation, as if an ornate wild garden had been cultivated around our shop window. Richard captured it on a vintage medium-format camera made digital. Some afternoons are easy on the body and soul. The fairy tale is not finished, it fades and blooms with every new arrangement.
This year a beautiful ambition is coming into being: a Botanical Series at Killruddery. It has branches and they are gradually growing more vivid. From our Flower Room, fuelled by the Walled Garden, we create floral welcomes for any occasion. We place seasonal bunches for sale in our Farm Shop. We have offered flowers for bridal entry, wedding decoration, for thanksgiving, for birthdays and, just once, a funeral – all a celebration of life. We have hosted outdoor harvest wreath-making workshops with Mark Grehan from the Garden and I will soon host Christmas wreath workshops. We have just launched a super-sized flower press made here at Killruddery and we have nearly completed a new wreath-making kit.
WE ARE BLOOMING and HAPPY to be.
THANK YOU FOR READING.
Photos left to right // Fionnuala Ardee by Taryn Elledge-Penner of The Quartier Collective / Autumn Wreath Working Group / Maria Dragon by Taryn Elledge-Penner of The Quartier Collective
The 19th of NOVEMBER – We are Farmers.
At Killruddery, we farm pigs, sheep and cows for their meat, and hens for their eggs. We keep pheasant to supply a country shoot, after which the birds are taken home to be eaten. Our lamb and pork and eggs are for sale at our Farm Shop. Meat is a very important part of our working lives at Killruddery, but my own relationship with meat over the years has been a complicated one.
My earliest memories, growing up in Donegal, include spending time with newly-hatched chicks and collecting eggs from the hen house (that hen house smell!), being near goats as they were milked, or mucking around my Mum in her vegetable garden, while my Dad and older brothers carted in heaps of manure or seaweed. Aged eleven, I gave up eating meat. Our smallholding had given me high ideals, and I had heard tales of huge concrete buildings in which pigs were raised in lines and pens, day in, day out. I remember I found this impossible to reconcile, and as I was unsure which of the meat we bought was from these places, I reserved the right to refuse all meat. I idealistically resigned myself to the idea that, if I could not keep and kill these animals with my own hands, I could not justify their consumption – and so my lifelong interest in the origins of food was fledged.
The next time I ate meat, it was cooked for a friend and me outside Calcutta by a family who had clearly emptied their shelves to feed us. I ate spiced chicken without knowing its origins, and after that, if I was a guest at someone’s house, I ate meat – the law of hospitality was too strong in me, and besides it was usually delicious.
When I met Anthony, our first date was in a wonderful vegetarian restaurant in Bray; soon after that I began eating meat from his farm. I knew he was hands-on and very concerned with animal welfare, and anyway my grown-up self felt that depriving myself of animal protein was a tiny cog in a huge machine of ideal and not-so-ideal farming. As life got busy, I have to admit our standards slipped. On the one hand, we had these ideals of healthy, well-cared-for animals; on the other, our kids liked whatever sausage they could get their hands on – and especially the generic ones found in supermarkets.
We now have a thriving herd of a rare breed of pigs called Middle White. They line our avenue fields as you enter Killruddery. It’s been wonderful to see so many visitors return to watch our pigs and piglets thrive. I think deep down most of us want to be in touch with the animal kingdom. And if we’re honest, most of us remain pretty removed from the reality of how meat ends up on our shop shelves.
At Killruddery we rear pigs with high welfare. They are extensively reared on pastures with grass, but also nooks, trees and rough land, as they like it, balancing their carbon output with wild and forested spaces. One of the outcomes of being engaged with these wonderful pigs is that we could never take pork for granted. In our home we are committed now to eating meat in smaller quantities and with gratitude. Our farm is part of a rich tapestry of biodiversity. We accept our place as carnivores in the food chain, but our humanity calls for a fair life for these beautiful animals. Fewer animals, higher welfare, compost for the land, while being less intensive and thereby reducing carbon outcomes and pollution through effluent.
Our pork, which is on sale daily at Killruddery Farm Shop, is absolutely delicious and has a growing customer base. It’s taken a long time to close the loop and be able to offer this consciously farmed pork on a regular basis, with all the expected standards. Our Café serves meat raised with similar standards, either from our farm or farms of known origins. Whether for daily meals or special celebrations, we can organise cuts of meat that will feel right and taste wonderful, and I am proud of how far we have come.
But the question remains: have I reconciled myself with meat-eating? Honestly, the more time I spend with these pigs, the less I want to eat their meat, and when I do, I really appreciate it (and it is so delicious). Anthony, who often takes animals to the abattoir by himself, seemed relieved when I accompanied him the other day. He was taking a lone pig that he had grown especially fond of, and I must say I found the experience raw, tough and humbling. The butchers we travel to are truly lovely people, they are delighted to accept these well-raised animals, but it’s not easy to leave your animal behind to be killed. I now know that I would find it extremely hard to kill the beast myself, so I would not tick all the boxes of my eleven-year-old self’s ideals. I am a carnivore but I have to be honest and admit that I don’t have the constitution of a butcher – my talents and sensitivities lie elsewhere. I retain a deep respect for these animals, for the farmers who go the extra mile in animal welfare and for the butchers who do their work with humility.
At the top we post a picture of a pile of pigs, taken by Anthony in our pig house a couple of weeks ago. We are proud of our rare herd of Middle White pigs and how they are reared on our farm.
And further down, you will see a brace of pheasants hanging over our Christmas wreath last year. Reared to roam free on our estate, they were shot just hours earlier by people who love to shoot. This is something else I have found difficult enough to come to terms with. Yet over the years the people of Killruddery Shoot have won my respect, typically by being richly informed of how wildlife works, acts and thrives, and willing to get involved in a hands-on way with the cycle of live, death, food and biodiversity. It’s the way they seem to relish the hunt that still gets me sometimes, but at least they are honest!
OCTOBER – Green Open Space
It turns out that the Estate offers something more valuable than ever; green open spaces, beautiful buildings, garden heritage and an opportunity to be in touch with nature, as society continues to respond to the need to stop the spread of Covid 19.
We continue to engage daily with our dream of making this Estate viable, maintaining a unique 17c Baroque Gardens and Elizabethan Revivial House, sharing this mammoth undertaking with visitors who want to enjoy the place, food from the Estate, help maintain the rich biodiversity, learn, play, celebrate and just be here.
It’s been an odd year, with a shared anxiety that is both bonding and isolating. With weddings, and celebrations largely cancelled, we feel for couples who have had to postpone or adapt their wedding plans. We watch people enjoying the small things, times caught together amid a garden or cafe setting or watching the piglets romp about on the Farm on the way in.
We’ve recently had our story told by Fionnuala Fallon in the Irish Times, about how we’ve rejuvenated the Kitchen garden, to grow vegetables and cut flowers for our Farm Shop and Cafe. Gillian Nelis in the Sunday Business Post says that our Grain Store is a treat for Killruddery visitors with special mention of our pulled pork dish, kale and mash, one of our signature dishes as all components are available from Killruddery Farm and Gardens all year round!
There is something about the written published word that lends affirmation like no other. It’s fascinating to read both articles and see how far we have come! Many thanks to them both! Links below.
When Anthony and I began our journey together, we knew our obligation was to steward and preserve Killruddery, to sustain it so that it could remain the Brabazon family home. We had a vision of doing this with heart, we wanted to enjoy living here, to feel that our activity was relevant to the surrounding community – we wanted to enliven the Gardens in a meaningful way.
Ultimately, our mission to carve out a path to a new era, to embrace change, to allow for a more sustainable future. We have learnt so much about ourselves, people, horticulture, biodiversity and built heritage and, of course, business.
So now we have a Shop abundant with Estate and local produce. We are working to achieve minimum- waste, we actively engage ways to farm and garden with nature. We take certain values such as hospitality and generosity to heart. If we are not meeting these values, we cannot say we are reaching our goals.
As I write, a new Killruddery pork sausage has been developed in our kitchen. Chefs are refining our new take home meals, available from our Farm Shop. Our Bakers have launched a new chocolate cake to vie for love against our best selling amoretti biscuits. Meanwhile our Cafe and Shop teams are dynamically reacting to Covid regulations while remaining open. We offer outdoor seating and with no visits allowed to peoples homes or gardens, people may still meet here for a socially distant catch up…we watch this space.
In our Gardens six Gardeners are working daily. Maintainance is on-going and this week they are restoring an ancient Yew Hedge and developing the Elizabeth Walk – a walk flanked by Magnolia Elizabeth and bulbs with a monument at the centre, commissioned by Lord and Lady Meath and created by our cousin Naomi Jobson to remember her Grandparents who worked tiredlessly from 1948 to the late 90’s to allow these Gardens to survive and they are harvesting in the Walled Garden, things are turing wintry, soon areas of the planting will be put to bed. (Feel free to ask any garden questions here.)
Covid 19 has definitely impacted our business. However, our team is strong, led by Head Gardener Daragh Farren and General Manager Paula Johnston. Anthony and I have had time to reevalute what we are trying to do. We have achieved much towards Estate sustainablity and it’s a work in progress. Are we all we want to be? That remains for you to tell us… we continue to grow and learn. With the Gardens in such good shape, the wider Estate is also thriving, great interaction with Members and visitors, our Farm Shop and all year round Café, the re-launch of our Farm Market and the beautiful feedback on our recent pop-up Suppers, there is certainly much to celebrate.
The Irish Times – Killruddery’s Walled Garden Wonder Revived – Fionnuala Fallon
Sunday Business Post – There’s a treat in store fro Killruddery Visitors – Gillian Nelis
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