Date(s) - 13/03/2020
Kilmington Village Hall
KGC Meeting 13th March – Killerton Past, Present and Future – Karl Emeleus
Karl has worked at Killerton for the last 12½ years, for the last 5½ as Head Gardener. Prior to that, he worked at Greenway, another National Trust property. Where once there would have been a large team of gardeners, he is supported by only three others assisted by volunteers.
The existing Killerton House was built in the 1790s as a temporary home, though the planned permanent home was never completed. The estate extends to 6,400 acres, the gardens themselves covering around 18 acres. Some features, such as the Italianate garden and Orangery near the house, have disappeared. Others, such as the beech walk, are little changed. The gardens include herbaceous borders, a rock garden, planted terraces, a lavender walk, a chapel garden, lawns and arboreta. Killerton boasts the two largest tulip trees in the country, as well as specimen redwoods and magnolias. There is also an icehouse, built in 1808, which took five men 30 days to fill; and the Lady Cot, a quirky, thatched summerhouse which was subsequently re-named the Bear’s Hut because, for a time, it did actually house a bear!
Since starting work at Killerton, Karl has tried to breathe new life into the gardens by opening up views into the wider landscape that had become hidden by trees and overgrown shrubs. Invasive rhododendron ponticum has been removed to give space to some of the older rhododendron specimens. Disabled access has been improved. The rock garden, originally built to display alpines, now has more of a Himalayan planting scheme. The herbaceous borders had become too high through years of being topped up with compost, so these have been lowered and re-planted. Paths and borders have been edged with metal strips to give a neater look. The terrace rose beds were “improved” in 1965 by Graham Stuart Thomas, who replaced the roses with shrubs and perennials. Karl is planning to re-introduce some scented roses, but will not restore the rose beds completely, as roses are disease-prone and high-maintenance in our West country climate.
Climbers on the house walls had to be taken down recently to enable roof repairs. They are now being replaced with less destructive climbers such as parthenocissus (Virginia creeper), grown on trellises to prevent damage to the fragile plaster.
As for the future, Karl would love to see the restoration of the walled kitchen garden – now used as the car park – but finding an alternative site for the cars is proving problematic.