An Overend Oasis: The Airfield Estate

Airfield Estate
Photo Geneva Pattison

By Geneva Pattison

Fifteen minutes from town on the Luas Green line to Balally, will bring you to Airfield Estate. It’s a wonderful feast for the senses for people of every age, with a total of 38 acres to explore.

Before even entering the grounds, on your right you’ll find the wonderful Overends Kitchen. The restaurant offers tasty seasonal dishes, cooked using produce organically cultivated on the Airfield farm.

I opted for the wild garlic and potato soup, which was as wholesome and delicious as one could imagine, followed by a welcome sugar hit from their blood orange gluten-free polenta cake.

The restaurant does cater to food allergens, so don’t be afraid to ask. After refuelling, I headed towards the adjacent plant shop, Howbert and Mays Gardens, a fantastic place for any gardening fanatic. They have everything from herbs to ferns and magnolias to quince trees. Everything. That’s not forgetting seeds, potting accoutrements, design-conscious indoor pots and a traditional kids’ toy section. 

Entering the main section of Airfield, you’re immediately struck by their glorious flowering rosemary. A few steps away there’s a walled garden, with beautiful espalier fruit trees adorning the walls. The walled garden is overlooked by the estate house and it’s truly like stepping into the world of a Jane Austen novel.

Exiting the garden to the front of the building, you’ll feel almost dwarfed by the majesty of the house itself. This, combined with the ancient trees standing to attention on the front lawn, makes for a magical experience. Circling around the farthest side, you’ll notice woodland planting schemes of anemone, false forget-me-nots and the delicate white clusters of pachyphragma macrophylla. 

Moving further down towards the farm, you’ll be greeted by the cheerful vision of bee hives, daffodils and hyacinths. Their wildflower garden isn’t in full bloom yet but, it’ll be a magnificent sight to behold when it is. Moving along the walk, you’ll see multicoloured hen houses with excitable chickens looking for food.

Airfield farm is home to many animals; including goats, sheep, donkeys and their famous jersey cows. At allocated times during the day, the public can join in for farmyard feeding and animal feeding. 

The vegetables used by the restaurant are grown in large patches in another section of the estate grounds. Burgundy kale and swiss chard skirt the edges in attractive ornamental bunches, breaking up some of the leafy greens of the horseradish plants. A full plot is dedicated to their broad bean crop, which right now are producing elegant purple and white butterfly-like flowers. 

Past this area there’s a atmospheric new forest trail, which leads you down to a pond with a meandering wooden pathway over the water. The walkway design is reminiscent of the gentle flow of a stream. With so much to see, you certainly won’t get bored. 

NewsFour got in touch with Head Gardener Colm O’Driscoll and he kindly answered some questions regarding their planting methods at Airfield.

Q: Do you grow all the plants in Airfield from seed? 

“We grow thousands of plants from seed annually here in Airfield, however we still do buy in many plants. 99% of the vegetable garden produce is started from seed, with the exception of fruit bushes and trees and some perennial crops. We grow hundreds of annual flowers for the flower gardens and containers from seed, which enables us to grow varieties that may not be available in garden centres. To give you an idea of the quantity of plants we grow from seed, we just planted out over 3,000 onions and have 350 seed-grown tomato plants ready to be planted and that is just this week alone.”

Q: Do the gardeners ever experiment with cross breeding plant varieties ?

“Although we do grow and produce our own seed for certain crops in conjunction with Irish Seed Savers ( ) and the GAIA Foundation ( we do not actively crossbreed plant varieties. Natural cross breeding occurs in the gardens and annually we get pleasant surprises of unusual coloured poppies self-seeding throughout the garden. We have also kept seed of open pollinated dahlias, which has resulted in some really interesting colours and forms.”

Q: What informs your choice of plants when planning garden schemes? 

“One of the main influencers in what plants we grow is the location of where the plant is being planted. We try and select the right plant for the location where it is growing so that it will grow healthy and thrive. Obviously, given the expansive spectrum of plants that are available to gardeners today, we are spoilt for choice. Personal preference will obviously help narrow our selection, while also the colour scheme of the border or specific features of an individual plant will ultimately confirm our selection. There is a never-ending selection of plants out there to choose from, especially if you are willing to start plants from seed. So, annually we experiment with different and unusual plants that we may have encountered in other gardens or in seed catalogues.”

The early days of Airfield Estate

The colourful history of Airfield Estate stretches back as far as the early 1800’s. It’s name was changed from Bess Mount to Airfield circa 1836 by the first occupant Thomas Mackey Scully, a barrister who strongly supported O’Connell and the Repeal Association. 

From 1851 to 1894 there were various different owners of the estate, the most well-known being the Overend family, who took occupancy in 1894. Trevor Overend, a solicitor and his wife, Elizabeth Anne (Lily) Overend née Butler resided there with their daughters Letitia and Naomi. In 1964 Letitia and Naomi bought the nearby Eden Farm, bringing the total land on the property to nearly 40 acres. The sisters received many offers to sell over the years, but declined every offer. 

When the sisters grew up they developed a keen interest in motor vehicles, with them receiving gifts of a 1927 Rolls Royce and a 1936 Austin Tickford respectively.

Both young women attended the Rolls Royce School of Instruction in London to learn how to do maintenance on their own cars. The Overend sisters would later travel across the entirety of Ireland, independently, safe in the knowledge that they could look after themselves.

Their travels stretched further afield, with them taking holidays in America, India, Australia and in other countries in Europe. As stated in an article by Bernadette Larkin on the Women’s Museum of Ireland website, “Naomi was an excellent skier and annually went to Austria with friends until she was into her early 60s.”

Despite the sisters’ 20-year age gap, their mother had instilled a sense of social responsibility in them both from a young age. This led to Letitia joining the St. John’s Ambulance in 1913 to assist in the war efforts and sending desperately-needed supplies to the hospitals near the front.

Her mother Lily set up a Work Guild at Airfield during this period too, making and sending clothing and bandages to the troops overseas. Letitia eventually helped establish the Children’s Sunshine home in Stillorgan in 1925, helping children recover from illnesses related to malnutrition and poverty. She worked there as a member of the management committee until her retirement in 1965. When Naomi was old enough, she too got involved in charitable causes.

Her mother Lily had helped found a branch of the NSPCC called the Children’s League of Pity, a cause Naomi was quick to contribute to from as young as eight years old. Later in life, she joined the Dundrum branch of the Women’s National Health Association, eventually rising to President of the branch. Over 20 years after the death of the Overend sisters, this sense of social consciousness and independence is still present at Airfield today.