Sea­sons

Killer­ton’s hill­side gar­den is a joy. Karl Emeleus talks to ANNE BRUN­NER-EL­LIS about his role as Head Gar­dener and plans for the fu­ture

Devon Life - - St Boniface And The Christmas Tree -

More than 250,000 peo­ple vis­ited Killer­ton last year. “This is not sur­pris­ing,” says Karl. “It is a spe­cial place – peo­ple come from far and wide to see our na­tion­ally im­por­tant woody plant col­lec­tion set amidst a rolling land­scape.”

Built in the 1770s by Sir Thomas Acland, Killer­ton is an el­e­gant Geor­gian house.

Set in 18-acres of land­scape gar­den and part of a 6,400-acre es­tate – one of the largest in the Na­tional Trust’s col­lec­tion – it was given to the Trust in 1944 by Sir Richard Acland.

Karl has been head gar­dener since 2014 and it is ap­par­ent that it is a job he loves. How­ever, hor­ti­cul­ture was not a planned ca­reer path.

Af­ter study­ing math­e­mat­ics he be­came a teacher.

“Whilst I en­joyed teach­ing, I al­ways had an in­ter­est in coun­try­side and con­ser­va­tion. In my mid-twen­ties I de­cided to pur­sue this as a ca­reer.”

He took an NVQ in En­vi­ron­men­tal Con­ser­va­tion and then con­tin­ued his stud­ies at the Eden Project in Corn­wall.

“I was part of the first co­hort of stu­dents – tak­ing a Diploma in Hor­ti­cul­ture,” he says. “I learnt a huge amount – es­pe­cially work­ing in a large vis­i­tor at­trac­tion. This has been ex­tremely valu­able to me here as vis­i­tor num­bers have dou­bled dur­ing the last 10 years.”

On com­plet­ing his course Karl joined the gar­den­ing team at Green­way – the hol­i­day res­i­dence of Agatha Chris­tie – gifted to the Na­tional Trust in 2002.

“I en­joyed the in­for­mal gar­den with its wood­land that sweeps down to the River Dart,” he says. “When I started the house was lived in by Agatha’s daugh­ter, Rosalind and her hus­band An­thony – both keen gar­den­ers.”

In 2007 a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion was to move to Killer­ton – again a largely in­for­mal gar­den famed for its woody plant col­lec­tion.

“I love the nat­u­ral­ness of wood­land plants, “he ex­plains. “The in­for­mal­ity ap­peals to me, with fewer con­straints than the for­mal, al­most mu­seum-like es­tates.”

Seven years later he was ap­pointed head gar­dener. Whilst out­wardly re­laxed he is very or­gan­ised.

‘It is a spe­cial place – peo­ple come from far and wide to see our na­tion­ally im­por­tant woody plant col­lec­tion set amidst a rolling land­scape’

“My teach­ing back­ground equipped me for the role,” he com­ments. “It teaches you to be bet­ter man­agers of peo­ple, metic­u­lous and struc­tured.”

Karl en­joys a hands-on ap­proach, spend­ing on av­er­age 70 per cent of his time in the gar­den.

“We work as a team and I will hap­pily turn my hand to leaf blow­ing or dead­head­ing dahlias.” He en­joys prun­ing. “It is sat­is­fy­ing. The se­cret is to not be able to see where you have pruned. A lot of gar­den­ing is like this – vis­i­tors do not ap­pre­ci­ate what is done in the gar­den, but it will be no­ticed if it is not done.”

He loves Killer­ton and can of­ten be found out of hours sim­ply en­joy­ing the place with his fam­ily.

‘’My favourite spot is in the up­per part of the gar­den, above the Beech Walk. Here you will find some in­ter­est­ing plants such as the dawn red­wood (Me­tase­quoia glyp­tostroboides) and the Ja­panese bigleaf mag­no­lia (Mag­no­lia obo­vata) as well as the wild flower mead­ows. The va­ri­ety of shades and tex­tures are mag­i­cal and you can catch glimpses of the Exe Es­tu­ary in the dis­tance. It is a place to sit and con­tem­plate.’’

Killer­ton is famed for its red­woods which are mag­nif­i­cent. But it is the Lu­combe Oak (Quer­cus x his­pan­ica ‘Lu­combeana’) – a hy­brid of Cork and Turkey Oak, dat­ing back to the 1760s that is Karl’s favourite.

“I love its craggy bark,” he com­ments.

An­other favourite is the de­cid­u­ous camel­lia (Ste­wartia pseu­do­camel­lia) with its at­trac­tive or­ange flak­ing bark in win­ter.

“And on a smaller scale, the snake’s head frit­il­lary (Fri­t­il­laria me­lea­gris) with their nod­ding bell shaped flow­ers in spring are per­fec­tion,’’ he en­thuses.

As head of a team of gar­den­ers and vol­un­teers he ap­pre­ci­ates the im­por­tance of cre­at­ing a good work­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

“It is also about the long haul – hav­ing the ca­pac­ity to see where the gar­den will be in 5, 10 or even 100 years. In the im­me­di­ate this is try­ing to ac­com­mo­date grow­ing vis­i­tor num­bers whilst not de­stroy­ing the gar­den’s his­tory and struc­ture,” he ex­plains.

“We are cur­rently cre­at­ing a more ro­bust and ex­ten­sive net­work of paths so that vis­i­tors utilise more of the gar­den and are not con­cen­trated in small ar­eas.”

This both pre­serves the gar­den and vis­i­tors are en­cour­aged to see more, es­pe­cially within the sur­round­ing woods and park­land.

For the longer term, Karl is plan­ning to re­claim the won­der­ful walled kitchen gar­den cur­rently a car park.

“We want to recre­ate what the Acland fam­ily would have ex­pe­ri­enced when they built the es­tate,” he says. “A pro­duc­tive area for fruit and veg is an in­te­gral part of this ex­pe­ri­ence.’’ Sup­port is strong – find­ing a new area for the car park is un­der dis­cus­sion. Karl is de­ter­mined. One knows this is a vi­sion that will suc­ceed and Killer­ton will be the bet­ter for it. na­tion­al­trust.org.uk/ killer­ton

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