Deep beech hedges, dating back to circa 1870, form the long boundaries of the Herb Garden and divide the main garden into three distinct sections. By the 1980s the hedges were losing their shape and had grown into thin, lanky trees completely overgrown with ivy. They responded brilliantly to an initial 'chain saw massacre' and later, with careful pruning, their base has thickened up and filled out in a way that has confounded the experts. They have now returned to their formal glory, with the arches again clipped back into the exact shape as they appeared in the watercolours painted by Lydia Strangman in the early part of this century. The inspiration for the now famous Herb garden at Kinoith sprang from a visit to the glorious gardens at Vilandry in the Loire Valley. The initial plans were drawn, as every inspired design should be, on the back of an envelope!
Over 70 different herbs are to be found in this garden, including lemon balm, bronze fennel, purple sage, lovage, summer savoury, sweet cicely, parsley, garlic, chives and angelica, planted in sculpted beds. These are laid out in a formal parterre edged with box and set in gravel paths. The herbs are planted in patterns of contrasting colour. Scarlet runner beans grow on decorative iron bean poles and globe artichokes and cardoons giving height to the design. Along the sides of the garden herbaceous borders are punctuated with dark Italian cypresses and sea kale - complete with terracotta forcing pots. At the centre of the garden is a myrtle tree planted in honour of Myrtle Allen, the inspiration behind Ballymaloe House. In the Northern half of the garden there is a modern sundial, carved from Kilkenny marble, by Tanya Moss. This was a present to Darina in 1988 from ‘Tim, Isaac, Toby, Lydia and Emily’. The dial is graduated for Kinoith, with the exact latitude and longitude inscribed on the plinth, so it actually tells the correct time!
Often thought by visitors to be an old garden, the area was created just a few years ago. However, it belongs to a very ancient tradition, for herb plots were one of the earliest forms of garden. In medieval times they were an essential feature of any large household; the herbs were used for remedies, cookery and for strewing on floors to sweeten the air.
The box is clipped in early June and again towards the end of the season, so that the formal shape remains tidy during the winter months when the herbs have died back. The entire garden is enclosed by beech hedges over 6 feet high, some parts of it being over 150 years old. This creates a micro – climate where tender herbs, like Lemon Verbena, thrive.
There are two mint beds which grow plenty of varieties – Moroccan, ginger, bowles, apple, spearmint and even chocolate mint. Other beds, with less invasive plants, are layered out with a centre piece, creating height. These are plants of architectural value like bay, purple globe artichokes, lovage, cardoons and angelica. Surrounding this, we then usually have enough space to grow two other herbs per bed. Angelica is surrounded by anise hyssop, which has lovely purple flowers (the bees love it!) and then chives surround this in turn. They are slightly lower growing and line the box edging. This layout not only looks very attractive but it is also very practical for harvesting purposes. Every morning, Eileen O’Donovan (one of our gardeners) together with a cookery student, will harvest herbs for the school. All herbs are labelled so that the students and the public are able to identify them. We also harvest edible chrysanthemums, purslane, salad burnette, sorrel, golden marjoram and edible flowers for the green salad which is prepared each day for lunch in the cookery school. Edible flowers include wild garlic flowers early in the spring. During the summer nasturtiums, chive flowers, borage and calendula are used.