Orchard Visit: Killruddery House and Gardens, Bray, Co. Wicklow

The third of the orchard visits that Jo and I made during out recent stay in Bray, Co. Wicklow, was to Killruddery House and Gardens, just south of Bray. We wandered around this large estate and parkland on a dullish June afternoon in mid-week, and I was delighted to find that the estate includes a rather superb mature orchard, plus more recently planted fruit trees, to explore and appreciate.

The fruit-viewing action started just inside the garden, with a row of trained trees along the back wall of a courtyard area immediately outside visitor reception, clearly in the process of being trained as espalier shapes:

And there are standard apple trees along each side as well:

Walking around the corner, following the line of the impressively tall garden wall anti-clockwise, we arrived at the first section of mature apple orchard. Here the veteran trees are growing as large standards, and despite their obvious age are still producing well…

… so well in fact that the gardeners have installed a bit of polite signage to help discourage would-be scrumpers:

Through these trees you can catch glimpses of the garden’s organic pest control experts:

I reckon this chap, who definitely posed when I pointed the camera in his general direction, probably thinks he’s some sort of middle management, but I’d be surprised if he wasn’t thoroughly kept in his place by the rest of the team.

The next section of trees were mostly, if I’m remembering it right, apples for the most part, perhaps with a few plums mixed in:

One or two sapling trees show where more mature specimens have fallen and are being replaced:

On the far side of the lawn and play area is another section of very mature trees that have been cut back hard at some point and are showing very strong signs of their healthy re-growth since then:

You can clearly see where major cuts have been made to some of the main structural branches – presumably ones that were growing too horizontally and perhaps causing an obstruction, or threatening to break under their own weight – and the degree of subsequent regeneration of those largely vertical stems. I had a chat with one of the gardeners and they said that the regeneration pruning had happened before their time, but they thought it might have been twelve to fifteen years ago. It’s fascinating to see how successfully these veteran trees have been rejuvenated.

Around the corner from the main orchard is a large productive area where a wide range of produce is grown for sale in Killruddery’s farm shop. Here a large plum tree stands behind a gate, and a selection of fruit trees have been planted along the fence lines between the growing areas:

Walking back along the curve of the walls to the entrance to / exit from the productive garden, I spotted more evidence that suggests fruit would have been grown against that wall: the white-washing of the brick, and the surviving heavy-gauge wiring both suggest that more tender or exotic fruits – most likely peaches or apricots, perhaps pears – could well have been grown here, take advantage of the wall’s south-east-facing aspect:

Just before the entrance / exit, this mature tree, which I’m pretty sure is a pear, offers a clue that perhaps espaliers and fans once graced the walls, and provided plenty of fresh fruit for the household.

As I usually do, I checked the historical maps for evidence of the extent of the fruit-growing operation at the estate in years gone by. First, here’s the modern layout, for comparison purposes. On this Google Maps/Earth screenshot you can clearly see the curve of the kitchen garden wall in the top-left quarter, the mature orchard surrounding the picnic lawn, the restored pineapple house and back-sheds and then the impressively extensive productive growing space, around the two polytunnels:

The c.1840 map shows the same area, to the south-west of the house and stables, that contains the productive garden today, and it certainly looks as though it might have been a kitchen garden back in the mid nineteenth century as well. The h-shaped building on the left is probably a home-farm complex, and there’s a small plot just below that which could be an orchard space, judging by the map symbols used in that spot, which contrast with the symbols for woodland planting that flank it on two sides.

There are more tree symbols throughout the walled garden area, with a concentration of them running along the curved line of the wall, up from the farm and back towards the kitchen garden entrance, suggesting that perhaps the whole kitchen garden was effectively an orchard of widely-spaced fruit trees, with growing space for other crops beneath? Although I suspect the mix of symbols could have been intended to indicate a general productive area, rather than the actual use.

There’s also an intriguingly regularly-spaced plot of trees in the bottom-right corner of the image. Could this be another orchard plot – perhaps cider apples as opposed to dessert fruit? – or just another part of the wider formal landscape design; a quincunx arrangement of decorative trees designed for strolling amongst?

The c. 1888-1915 OS map has lost some of the detail, but still shows the walled area, now with the addition of the two pineapple / vinery houses and larger back sheds, and a four-quadrant area immediately below that includes a section that could well have been marked up with the regularly-spaced symbols that usually represent an orchard plot. The section to the south of the extended farm complex also looks like it might now be marked up as an orchard, as opposed to the mixed-planting symbols of the ‘wilderness’, but I suspect it was still deciduous woodland instead. The intriguing section of regularly-spaced trees in the bottom right has also gone, apparently replaced with a lawned area.

It’s all quite fascinating stuff, to me at least. There’s something about a mature orchard that speaks to a strong sense of place, of continuity, of a connection with generations of orchardists past who cared for, worked on and harvested fruit from the same trees, at the same times of year as we do today. Superb.

All in all our visit to Killruddery was another, perhaps unexpectedly, excellent orchard visit, making it a highly successful three out of three for the gardens that we chose to spend our Ireland break wandering around. The Bray area clearly has a lot to offer the fruit enthusiast and if we’d had more time to spend there, I might have found even more orchard delights to explore. We’ll be back in Ireland before too long though, I’m sure. I look forward to finding out what I can discover next time.

4 comments

  1. Interesting Darren
    Did you come across any tips for reducing disease on desert fruit in their high rainfall area
    See on Beechgrove BBC Aberdeen they have a cherry, peach, grape and fig doing very well in a greenhouse, something they arent doing here outside despite being long way south of there
    Think way I will have to go when funds allow

    1. Hi Russ – I didn’t get into p&d questions, I could tell the gardener I’d interrupted was in the middle of a job (I definitely recognised the signs…) so I just asked about the age of the trees, the major pruning cuts, whether they knew the varieties of the older trees, that sort of thing.

      Those Beechgrove trees all sound like the types that would appreciate protection of some sort, whether from a glasshouse or at least a south-facing wall to grow against. We have nectarine, peach and apricot at work which are having mixed results this year. I just don’t think the weather patterns we’ve had have been amenable to stone-fruit growing.

  2. Hi Darren
    Thank you for advising its not just me
    Looks like its mostly blossom wilt/brown rot that has done the damage here. As you say if wetter springs are now the norm it wont improve for them outside

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