Design People

Angela Jupe + Bellefield House Gardens Birr Offaly

Lavender’s Blue in Conversation with Ireland’s Leading Garden Designer

“I’ve been at Bellefield House 12 years now. Everything was derelict except the house. When I arrived, you could only get 10 feet through the walled garden. Only the dog could go further! It’s a simple two storey house with no basement. You can’t live on three floors – that’s impossible!

It appears as a tiny house in the middle of a 1790s map. Bellefield House was the hunting lodge of the infamous Duke of Rochester. He’d have only used it occasionally – for hunting, shooting and fishing. The estate was 1,000 acres apparently. The house was later enlarged and became a stud farm. Two Grand National winners were bred here in the 1980s.

My dad died when I was seven but he would’ve made a great gardener. My aunt was good at gardening. My mother believed plants should either be edible or picked for vases! For a lifetime, I’ve been interested in the way things grow. I don’t want everything to be pristine. I’m not interested in serious formality.

I like relaxed gardens. You never know what you can find. Two Bee Orchids recently appeared on my lawn! They’re very variable. Some years they grow: other times they won’t come back for six years. I don’t know why. I planted dark to pale blue irises along the water feature and pink have popped up in the middle of them!

This is my second garden. My first garden was Fancroft Mill nearby. About 20 years ago I designed the formal gardens at Birr Castle. There are just under two acres of garden at Bellefield. The estate is 28 acres. The tallest trees are ash and I’ve also willow trees. To the side of the house is an area I keep wild this time of year.

There are dahlias from Mexico and I’ve a lot of the wild species of rosewater. They were used for dessert in medieval times. In spring there are thousands of snowdrops. They’re the first flower of the year. February is such a miserable month – maybe that’s why I like them. Something to do with that. Winter is over and life begins again.

When you walk into the walled garden you catch glimpses of the folly between the apple trees. You don’t see the folly fully till you’re up on it. What happened was I found the roof in a salvage yard in Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire. They weren’t sure where it came from. Is it the vent off a building? Or with its ornate woodwork, is it Indian?

The roof sat on a pallet for 18 months. Then when I was recovering from an operation in hospital I said to the doctor, “Get me a pencil and paper!” That’s how it was designed. I found the doors and windows in a local auction. They were fire damaged. They came from a convent.

You’re best watering plants in the evening to allow them to soak overnight. If you water the foliage during the day, it might burn. Buy a tin of yacht varnish and paint the inside of your terracotta pots. It stops evaporation when you water them. Mix chicken manure pellets in a plastic bucket and fill with water and leave for a day or two. It stinks like hell! But it’s the best fertiliser of the whole lot. You could get a few jobs here if you’re not careful, now.”