Monthly Report


On 4th January we met for the first of our 2022 meetings. After some over-indulgence over the Christmas holiday and looking forward to planning and growing our own fresh produce in the coming seasons, this was an ideal to time hear Steven Desmond talking about the kitchen garden.
Stephen is a Chartered Horticulturist specialising in the conservation and management of historic gardens in Britain & Europe and a former professional gardener now lecturing and leading tours.
His was a very entertaining and fact-filled presentation, looking at the origins and development of the Walled Kitchen Garden  as part of the Country House Estate..
When our speaker started his career it was in one such place: Harewood House in Yorkshire, all of 42 years ago.
At that time, around 1980, most walled kitchen gardens, commonly of huge size, had either been abandoned to sheep-grazing, rented out to market gardeners, used to grow Christmas trees, or, as at Chatsworth, turned into a caravan park!
But things have a habit of being recognised as worth saving when they are on the cusp of disappearing and such was the case with these atmospheric and historic creations.
Nowadays, although a few are privately owned, the vast majority is run by institutions, or charities, as is that at West Dean Gardens, just outside Chichester, the current bench mark for kitchen gardening in this country. Fully and gloriously restored, West Dean adhered to what we learned were the basic design principles first invented by the French - to the surprise of Members!
King Louis X1V was the instigator of the enormous and magnificent walled kitchen garden at Versailles and it is here that the principles of perimeter paths, quadrant beds and central dipping ponds were first set out. They became the defining factors for growing produce for maximum productivity in an orderly and attractive manner. From this time originated terms such as 'espalier', 'cordon' and 'cloche', which we still use today. Practices to extend the season of produce so that the King could have whatever he wished, practically whenever he wished, were invented such as glasshouses and hotbeds, and succession-growing, all still useful methods today of achieving an extended season of harvest.
The King had made a surprising appointment in Jean Baptiste De la Quintinye, a lawyer, to undertake this huge commission, considering him the most capable person to achieve the vision. Knowing nothing of horticulture, this lawyer travelled to Italy to study, returning to start the Versailles gardens in 1670.
Nowadays, the UK has an unrivalled reputation for producing the most revered and capable Head Gardeners: at Chatsworth for example, Joseph Paxton's walled garden, abandoned to caravans in the 1960's, is now enjoying restoration under the inspired direction of Tom Stuart-Smith.
Calke Abbey and  Clumner Park were also recommended as examples for Members to visit to gain inspiration. 
Bob Whitehouse, in his vote of thanks to Steven Desmond, even suggested that this talk, and subsequent visits to recommended kitchen gardens, could well increase the entries at our Produce Show in September 2022. 
Let's hope so!
Gillie Waldron