Times and Gardens Pass!

When our children were young we regularly visited the gardens at Ballymaloe Cookery School in Co. Cork. It fitted in with our regular outings to Fota Island and was a pleasant stop on the journey home. We were with the grandchildren in Fota earlier in the week and decided to drop in to Ballymaloe on our way home – a little bit of nostalgia, I suppose, and the desire for a convenient lunch stop.

Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden (8)

We moved slowly around, linking vistas and corners of the garden with memories from past visits. The apple orchard, designed by Jim Reynolds, has filled out and its geometric lines have become blurred by untidy groundcover planting. The formal vegetable garden, an icon of the gardens at one time, was one of the best examples of a potager in the country. Now, it seemed to be underutilised with beds either empty or filled with green manures; it certainly lacked the tidiness and maintenance that such a formal design requires.

Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden (2)
The Formal Vegetable Garden. 

Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden (4)

Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden (7)

Lydia’s Garden was tired – but one must accept that few gardens have managed to look fresh in this very demanding season when we have had such an extended period of hot and dry weather. The small summer house, over a century old, its floor decorated with broken crockery remains quaint and still a little pleasure to visit.

Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden (10)
Lydia’s Garden
Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden (12)
Lydia’s Garden

The viewing platform for the herb garden was once a wooden structure and for the children there was always a sense of adventure in climbing its wobbly steps and standing on the platform which I always told them would collapse if they jumped about. It is now a steel structure, much more safe and essential when used by visitors. The view frames the herb garden perfectly, a geometric layout of herb beds edged with box hedging. Unfortunately, the box seems to have been hit by box blight and has been cut back to allow better air circulation. It is an action many have had to undertake and it leaves the hedges looking very poorly while we wait in hopes of recovery. It seemed to me that the herb beds are used far less nowadays than in previous years as many were quite empty.

Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden (13)
The view to the Herb Garden from the viewing platform
Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden (14)
The Herb Garden
Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden (15)
The Herb Garden

The Pond Garden was as I have always recalled it with trees planted in a haphazard informal fashion as specimens on the grass and the pond to the far corner. Although somewhat of a muddle, design-wise, it has a pleasant and gentle atmosphere which I enjoy.

Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden (16)
The pond in The Pond Garden

There is a gap in the corner of the Pond Garden and one comes on an ornamental gate, purely ornamental and without function as there is a field entrance immediately beside it. There was a new small demonstration garden, an enclosed space, to illustrate what might be achieved in a small urban garden. The maze has grown well and is now a good place to lose children. I recall the initial plantings of yew had struggled so I was happy to see the plan had eventually succeeded. The area beyond is left to meadow and it appears to me that it simply developed naturally though benign neglect rather than being a sown meadow. There was an occasional flower still in evidence; the grass was drying and becoming golden and it will be shortly be time to make hay.

Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden (17)
An ornamental gate
Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden (18)
The Display garden

The meadow ran around the Shell House and the double herbaceous borders and there were two large structures in the meadow: Andy’s Dome was from metal and the Amphitheatre was of wood. Both were fine structures but rather pointlessly positioned, plonked in a field rather than being in any way part of an overall design or layout. The Willow Loch Ness Monster, another feature in the meadow, was wildly overgrown and beyond recognition.

Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden (25)
The Amphitheatre 

The Shell House is a remarkably beautiful work of art but, understandably so perhaps given its delicate fabric, it was locked so one could only peer through the windows to admire its designs. The double herbaceous borders look to a gate among mature trees at one end and back to the Shell House at the other. The borders were tired and sparsely planted and in great need of rejuvenation though there were some attractive plants which caught the eye.

Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden (20)
The double herbaceous border
Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden (24)
The double herbaceous border looking to the Shell House

Our garden walk finished, we headed back to the shop/restaurant area with lunch in mind but a visit to the toilets sent us elsewhere.




7 thoughts on “Times and Gardens Pass!

  1. Very interesting and informed comments. I think there is still charm but there is a sense of fading. By the way-where did ye lunch?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Peter, I would like to expand on the above. The first part of the garden is a group of raised beds immediately outside the shop which have the appearance of having been planted last year or before and neglected since. The vegetable and herb gardens were very disappointing. This lack of care extended throughout the garden. Along a country lane this might be considered charm but in a garden – especially one open to the public and charging for admission – it is simply a case of neglect, a lack of care, a lack of attention and a lack of effort. It would not be unreasonable for a visitor to infer that a lack of care in one area is likely to extend to all areas and this is not a good message for a business which prepares and serves food. If we were inclined to be in anyway forgiving these fears were strongly confirmed by a visit to a toilet, beside the shop and food area, which was dirty and smelled badly.


  3. I am waiting on the definitive book on Irish Gardens – one that actually reviews them rather than listing favourites or including every single one without any critique….I can only hope you plan to do that!!


  4. Sounds as though it needs a make over. Have never been there. I think Raymond Blanc uses his garden in Oxfordshire and grows a lot of his own herbs and vegetables. If the garden was redesigned and planted it would add to visitors experience. I presume a lot of people go there for cookery lessons.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it seems that a lot of people go there for cookery lessons and I have always presumed that the gardens were an adjunct to that activity – the growing of herbs and vegetables specifically – but the gardens have certainly declined over the years. A pity!


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