The Herbaceous Border & Shell House
In 1994, the five and a half acre field next to The Old Pleasure Garden began to be developed by Darina and Tim. From the gate, a straight grass path leads towards The Shell House. This path is flanked by a double herbaceous border, 300 feet long. This was designed by Rachel Lamb and was planted in 1995, and so is still a work-in-progress. It will take several years to fill and reach maturity, but it already provides a splendid summer tapestry and is particularly stunning in July.
At the far end of the of The Herbaceous Border waits a seemingly simple little building with a slate roof and gothic windows. As you enter, giving your eyes a moment to adjust to the light, you begin to realise that the exterior was indeed a deceptive, careful ploy. The walls, window sills and ceiling are encrusted with a myriad of shells. In the centre of the pebble studded floor is a circular pool of shallow clear water which bubbles soothingly. This extraordinarily beautiful folly was Darina’s idea - a surprise present for Tim!
The interior design of The Shell House was begun by Blot Kerr-Wilson in July 1995 and completed on the 26th of October - the day before Darina and Tim celebrated their Silver Wedding Anniversary. The shells used in the creation of this house came from many different sources. Darina had started a personal collection many years previously with a vague idea of building a folly. Blot herself brought some shells while more were given as gifts when people heard about the project. Gazing upwards to the ceiling, one notices how scallops and mussels are laid in multi-coloured layers, increasing in size to give the illusion of more light. Every shell used in the roof once encased a mussel or scallop that was consumed at Ballymaloe House or at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.
Many people wonder at the source of inspiration for The Shell House. Tim and Darina designed the building themselves. Tim wanted a very classical structure with something completely different hidden inside to amaze and delight as one steps across the threshold. Blot's own inspiration for the interior came from the time she spent at the Alhambra Palace in Granada. Blot was a source of much curiosity and amazement to everyone as she began her work. She worked at night but was rarely alone. There was always someone around to watch in wonderment at the work that was progressing. She worked out the pattern in her head before sketching the concept onto the wall with chalk. The shells were then cemented on.
One visitor who came often to review the progress was Tim's father - the late Ivan Allen. He gave Blot the idea to turn the window sills into seats. When he came to watch her work he would always sit on the sills, and from there was able to admire the emerging patterns as they took shape. Pause awhile in The Shell House to appreciate the many and varied patterns on the different walls. If you look carefully, you will discover Tim's, Darina's and their four children’s initials form part of the design. This treasure in the Ballymaloe Cookery School Gardens is truly amazing and will live on in your memory long after you leave it.