A Note on the Gardens at Killruddery, Bray, County Wicklow

The garden at Killruddery, County Wicklow is the probably the most complete surviving example of the classic geometric Restoration garden in Ireland, or indeed the British Isles.

 Killruddery has been the seat of the Earls of Meath since 1618. The estate lies to the south of Bray and was, at its height approximately 1,550 acres. The formal garden was laid out in the 1680s and later lauded as an Irish version of a great seventeenth-century French landscape by travel writer James Brewer who described Killruddery:

 From the natural grandeur of the surrounding county, the formality of the mode stands revealed with peculiar distinctiveness. The enclosing mountains rise boldly and at once, with all their brilliance of purple and brown colours, above the long avenues of stately elms, the close cut ewe hedges, the regular terraces of this St. Cloud.[1]

 It is now part of garden history orthodoxy that Killruddery was created for the fourth Earl of Meath by a French gardener called Bonnet – who some go as far to say was ‘inspired by King Louis XIV’s garden designer, Andre Le Le Nôtre, at Versailles’.[2] There is absolutely no evidence for this contention  and it appears to have arisen from confusion over a reference in the papers of Sir William Petty. It has been mistakenly stated that Petty wrote ‘ruefully in his diary’ that he had ‘lost his gardener of twelve years standing,’ a Mr. Bonnet, to the Earl of Meath.[3] In fact, no diary exists amongst Petty’s manuscripts.

ImagePetty did indeed employ a gardener called Bonel at his town garden in George’s Lane (Street) in 1684.[4] There is a reference to a ‘Mr. Bonel’ in a letter dated 1686 from Petty’s agent Thomas Dance, which states that Bonel ‘goes to live with my Lord of Meath.’[5] If the letter does refer to the gardener called Bonel it is unlikely that he was the designer of the garden. The landscape at Killruddery was well underway by 1682. A letter of that date sent by Oliver Cheney the third Earl’s agent describes the progress of the gardens:

 

Ye decoy will be the finest in ye kingdom or I beleve in ye 3 kingdoms. the pond is already made & ye reed wal is making, round about which he wil builld a wal at soe great a distance that ye fowl shal not be frighted therat, ye south and north ends of which wal shal be of lem [lime] and stonn the other two dids a dry wal. against the south wal without and against ye north wal within he wil  plant frut of al sorts and wil make a treble ditch without ye south wal and quickset the fen to ye end that ye deer may not get to ye frut and that ye park may be completed.[6]

 

From this we can see that the essential elements of the seventeenth-century garden were present at Killruddery by 1682, four years prior to Dance’s letter.[7] Most of these are still extant. The remaining elms were lost during the outbreak of Dutch elm disease in the early 1980s. Many more trees were lost during the great storms between 1985 and 1990. Cheney states that ‘Captain Brabazon’ was creating the garden.[8] ‘Bonel’ remains a mystery. If he was the driving force behind the creation of Killruddery it is curious that he does not appear in any other letters or literature of the period. Bonel may in fact, have been a mere jobbing gardener who realised plans drawn up the Earl himself.  Edward Brabazon had some experience of managing great landscapes, he was appointed as Ranger of the Phoenix Park in 1665 and all the Royal Parks in Ireland in 1675,[9] and in 1693 he was charged, in his capacity of Master of the Royal Hospital at Kilmainham, with preparing ‘an account of what is necessary to be done in the garden’.[10] From this it may be presumed that the Earl had an interest and good knowledge of gardening and there is no reason why he may not be given credit for the garden’s design.

 

 


[1]Brewer, J. N., The beauties of Ireland being original delemenations typographical historical and biographical of each county, (1825) vol. 1, p.  284 – 5.

[2]  Fitzgerald, Olda, Irish Gardens, (London, 1999), p.163.

[3]This statement appears in Bowe, Patrick, The Gardens of Ireland, (London, 1986), p. 102.

[4]‘Garden is in good order as is also the gardener Bonel’ W. Petty to Lady Petty, 27 Mar.,1684, BL, Add. MS 72856 f.230.

[5]Lansdowne, The Petty Papers, vol. 17 (Boston, 1927), p. 103. Dance appears to have been acting as chief agent in Dublin for Petty’s Irish estates. The letter is addressed to James Waller, Petty’s brother in law in England and is dated 28 Aug.1686.  A similar confusion has arisen over the designer of Courances, which is explained by Gorges Farhat in a recent comprehensive publication on the history of the chateau. De Ganay, Valentine & Le Bon, Laurent, Courances (Paris 2002). In 1990 Thierry Marriage claimed that Jean Le Nôtre, André’s father must have worked on Courances. Aurelia Rostaing, curator at the Archive Nationales discovered that Claude Gallard, the owner of Courances at the time had simply lent money to Jean Le Nôtre to fund the purchase of house in Paris. On the contrary Farhat asserts that Courances inspired le Nôtre in his designs for the water innovations at Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte.

[6]Earl of Meath papers, J3/2.

[7]Lismore, seat of the second Earl of Cork, had a fine seventeenth-century garden which also contained a bowling-green and wilderness.

[8]See fn. 270.  Edward Brabazon succeeded to the title upon the death of his brother William Brabazon. Edward married Cecilia Brereton, daughter of the writer Sir William Brereton.

[9]Doubleday & De Walden (eds.), The Complete Peerage, vol. viii (London, 1932).

[10]NAI, Minutes of the Royal Hospital of Charles II, 1 Apr.,1693.

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