Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden; a horticultural delight (*)

Last week I decided to celebrate the arrival of my Senior rail card by hopping over to Cork with for a two night stay at Ballymaloe (

Forgive me if I wander from the 90 but it is such a special place.

Having arrived in the sunshine it was a wretched day when we awoke on our first morning.  I am not sure if Ireland does a light drizzle; it was pouring. From our bedroom window  a magnolia standing on the lawn brought a little cheer. It was difficult to capture the colour photgraphically but if you look carefully at the bottom of the wooded tangle there is a single unopened bud………


…..which on closer inspection is a beautiful shade of pink  and that was the very colour that glowed in the gloom.

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We spent a  long time over breakfast in the comfortable dining room. Ballymaloe is a family affair. Ivan and Myrtle Allen bought the farm and house in 1948, he farmed and blessed with so much produce she opened up the restaurant in 1964.

Reluctant to embrace the weather we moved into another charming room where we spent more time over coffee and the inevitable slice of cake.

We had to do something other than eat. A cliff walk was eventually proposed. By the time we got to the sea the rain had stopped. However the fog set in and so a walk without a view was deemed rather pointless. Accompanied by two non gardeners I was hesitant in suggesting a visit to the Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden. It proved to be a great idea, although not the best day for photography.

It was Darina the daughter-in-law who started this famous Cookery School back in 1983. You enter the garden through the Shop where we bought our tickets, and passing by the garden cafe which was closed (such a relief as we were still full from breakfast), and found the fun map on the wall.:


There is  no sign of the chickens as a recent outbreak of Avian flu has confined them to barracks. Unsightly bins are also hidden away behind these unique but firmly closed gates.


Before entering the fruit garden we catch sight of fungi growing on the tree trunk; It is during these winter months when you notice these patterns of nature.


Apples are trained over metal arches. Our eyes are drawn away from the grey sky to the verdant underplanting of spring bulbs.


A variety of daffodil with small heads are blooming and clumps of snowflake Leucojum aestivium,  a big cousin to the snowdrop, brighten up the dormant trees.


The combination drifting together looks good.


It is a sheltered garden and Snake’s head fritillary, fritillaria meleagris are also out, a few grow at the bottom of the trained apple trees


while others make a decorative carpet:


Spring has surely sprung.  There is hardly a bare patch amongst the hellebores.


The students, who have access to the gardens are accommodated in the collection of cottages which are adorned with climbers of all types.

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Opposite is the entrance into Lydia’s Garden and hey, the garden gate is open!


Through the gate we could carry on through the hoops of beech hedges but we veer off towards the right.


It is not so much about the planting in this garden but the objects;  A Summer House, Terracotta pot and small circular pool.

Behind the pond we climb the grey galvanised steps up towards the grey ungalvanised sky.


It feels like being in a tree house. From the viewing platform we can see over the  beech hedge, and what a thickness. To the left is Lydia’s garden which we have just walked through and to the right is the herb garden.


Herbs will billow out colourfully in the box compartments in the summer. For now we have to be content to appreciate the design; the joy of having such a planted structure.


Beyond this area and out into the wet spacious field, we come across a wooden edifice; recently constructed we wonder at its purpose and can only conclude that it is perhaps a place for students to recite their recipes. The food here is outstanding; the recipes must indeed be pure poetry.


Not far away, this large cauldron sits in splendid isolation.


Then we discover  this little gothic folly.


We have the key which is attached to a curiously culinary ring, and unlock the padlock.


The interior is adorned with shells – in fact at least 20,000 assorted shells.  They pattern the walls…


the floor…


and the ceiling. Even the chandelier is encrusted.DSCF8246.jpg

The attention to detail is stunning:


It is quite beautiful, a work of art.


Even outside around the base.


From the Shell House you look back towards the long, long herbaceous borders. Like us they are waiting for the sunshine and warmth of the summer months.


Behind the Shell House a twiggy monster is woven into the grass,


there is also a metallic folly,


and a shiny brass cupula rises above the celtic maze.







Leaving this entertaining space behind we walk through a hedge into the horticultural heart of Ballymaloe.

It is hard to miss the two water towers which brightly encourage the growing of food. And that is exactly what is being done.


Darina’s husband Tim is responsible for supplying the school and restaurant. Vegetables are grown outside,


and, inside the acre of greenhouse there is an horticulture explosion. A large range of salads


From tiny young pea shoots in old fish boxes,


to triffid height kale.


All parts of the greenhouse are used with Kiwi plants growing on the ceiling above us.


and either end of the glasshouse are brightened with Nectarine Fantasia,


and Plum Lizzie.


We head back out past the rows of leeks, spring onions and rhubarb growing in ordered lines.


We pass the fields with cows and pigs; they are not out today but sheltering in their sheds. There is a handsome gate to admire.


and we enter the old pleasure garden. This is dominated by a large pond with a classical summer house at the end.


A Japanese cherry with twisted trunk stretches out elegantly

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its dripping buds soon to open.


Even a decomposed leaf lying on the ground has a beauty:


It must have escaped being tidied into the wheel barrow


It is not a day for sitting around but the blue benches are beautiful either single:


or double:


Through the first of the beech hoops


We find ourselves back in the herb garden. Clipped to perfection. The viewing platform which we stood on earlier is tucked away up on the right.


Back in the yard, we are alerted to the sound of a cockerel; he is shut away in his Palais.

DSCF8218 (1).jpg From here we walk towards the vegetable garden.


Which is having a revamp. In spite of this we are not prevented from entering but notices warn of slippery paths,  and they are.


Back in the yard we admire the trough


and the pots, so effective placed out in odd numbers:


or even just one on its own.


Many overseas visitors come to the garden during the summer, however the Irish garden visitors are reluctant to pay. Rachel Allen who runs the hotel explains that they feel they have a right to just enter a garden. There are plenty of beautiful gardens in Southern Ireland  but visiting a garden for charity is unheard of.  So, sadly no National Garden Scheme here.

We have begun to build up an appetite and so it is time to return down the drive lined with the evergreen oaks of Quercus ilex, back to Ballymaloe House for a gourmet meal.

Blow the weather, what better way to have spent a birthday.















































5 thoughts on “Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden; a horticultural delight (*)

  1. Very envious…..but lovely to see photos of the garden during the winter months rather than in the height of summer. The Shell Grotto never fails to fascinate!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post and lovely to see this beautiful garden again. I stayed at the Ballymaloe hotel years ago and will never forget the amazing dinner and the lovely garden with the shell grotto.


  3. We do have Open Gardens here in Ireland – here in Westport, Co Mayo we have the Clew Bay Garden Trail – usually about 12 gardens open during early summer (June onwards) and all money going to the individual gardener’s charity choice. You’ll find that counties like – Donegal, Sligo, Galway, Dublin, Wicklow etc etc. open their gdns. You can get more info from ‘Gardens Open’ on the site ‘’. So enjoy your posts which I have only discovered!! Sally


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