As we open the gates to the Gardens for 2021 Summer Season, I remember my own first visit to the Gardens, charmed by the contrast of controlled, manipulated horticulture, hewn through centuries of care, its edges framed by wilderness and crumbling walls, ivy and briars keen to come to the quiet garden party of specimen trees and clipped hedges. In early visits I witnessed both the privilege and the burden it was to love and own this space. While the Gardens were open to the public for some hours for some months of the year, I felt the garden deserved, no, yearned for more than just a few visitors to animate and be witness to its various shades of season.
The truth is, it takes a diverse and varied community of people to make Killruddery what it is. In its heyday of early to mid-19th century, the estate was made up of 3,000 acres, and in those days 128 people worked the Farm and Gardens alone. The Earl of Meath Office was part of the driving force that built Bray and developed the Liberties in Dublin and it employed an even wider number of people to help construct new houses, hospitals, schools, playgrounds, market places and other amenities around the area. This garden stands as a triumph and as a result of the input of so many families or individuals with various experiences over four centuries.
So many things have changed since the 19th century, but today we still depend greatly on the local community to advocate and care for Killruddery in a myriad of ways, of which our family’s ownership is just one part.
Preservation of a “Great House” and its 50-acre garden carries a huge cost. There are old buildings, old trees, specialist planting, heritage architecture and infrastructure to maintain, as well as new projects. As owners we have extensive costs to meet. These days we have a multifaceted approach to enterprise at Killruddery. Membership and entrance ticket numbers make a significant inroad towards meeting costs that will make this estate sustainable.
We know the house and gardens will thrive by being supported by a multitude of people. But the financial input is only one part of it. We also open because Killruddery was created to celebrate nature, and the sheer pleasure of this mature garden should not be limited to one family alone. When we hear a child exclaim, “This is my back garden”, we know that the alchemy has occurred – and that one more soul on earth knows why this garden is worth conserving, restoring, maintaining and developing. That shared knowing makes it possible to conceive of Killruddery’s future, where this heritage space will thrive as a space for entertainment, leisure-time, for solitude, for nourishment of mind and body and as a place to become familiar with an archetype of built and horticultural heritage. What’s the point of having this horticultural feat of genius and not inviting in a wide community of viewers. All art needs eyes!
Our opening is an ongoing, morphing thing. Our Killruddery community is deep and complex and sometimes challenging but we would never go back to having a quieter estate, the community is such an integral part of what Killruddery is.
Fionnuala Ardee – 1st April 2021