The late, lovely Fiona Grant, together with Susan Campbell organised the very first Forum for what was to become the Walled Kitchen Garden Network. That this meeting was needed has proved true as we have recently completed the 12th Forum in 2015.
On October 13th 2001, Herefordshire College of Art and Design hosted a Forum on walled kitchen gardens, in order to bring together groups and individuals who shared a concern for the future of these gardens. The Forum was held at Hellens, one of the oldest privately owned houses in England, and after a misty start the day was warm and sunny, allowing people to take their refreshments outside and to explore the grounds.
The first speaker was Susan Campbell, well known for her work on the history of walled kitchen gardens, in particular her book ‘Charleston Kedding’. Her talk: The Cost of Historical Accuracy – Some Recent Observations, explored the tricky issue of correct historical restoration and its attendant problems. This is clearly an issue that she feels strongly about, and she made a strong case for the importance of attention to detail when reinterpreting such a garden. Susan is currently acting as a consultant for the restoration of the walled kitchen garden at Tatton Park.
The next speaker was Katie Fretwell, garden historian to the National Trust, who gave an account of the Trust’s approach to the 120 walled kitchen garden in their care. Katie pointed out the huge costs involved in restoring a garden to its original use, not only must the capital costs be considered, but the day to day running costs as well. The Trust are currently restoring the walled kitchen garden at Tatton Park, and this is intended to be a ‘flagship’ project; to create, as far as it is possible, an authentic working kitchen garden. However it will cost well over a million to realize. At the same time Katie identified several other of the Trust’s gardens that had been brought back to life by the hard work of a dedicated team of volunteers.
After a delicious lunch prepared by Nick Stephens, the afternoon session was devoted to individuals with direct experience of working and restoring kitchen gardens. Liam Egerton, a consultant on sustainable agriculture, brought a fresh approach to the problem by making the link with local food production. He has been the project manager for Leigh Court Farm, a demonstration organic market garden with a 2 acre walled garden. Having described this experience Liam suggested that a network of these gardens could be established for organic food production. Such a scheme could combine educational and heritage elements and would therefore be eligible for Heritage Lottery Funding.
Next was Brian Macdonald, who had been the head gardener at the Hotel Maes-y-Neuadd in North Wales. Brian gave a fascinating talk of his experience of bringing the walled garden back into production, illustrated with his own slides. As well as providing the hotel restaurant with fresh fruit and vegetables, the garden was itself an attraction to the visitors. This would seem to be a successful application for kitchen gardens.
Last to speak was Robert Milne, a local gardener with a wide experience of working in a number of walled kitchen gardens. His idiosyncratic approach to design is inspired by his work as an artist, and gives another dimension to the possibilities of walled gardens.
After tea the speakers formed a panel, and questions were asked from the floor.
It was apparent that there was a wide range of expertise amongst the audience, from professionals, academics, gardeners and enthusiasts alike. Although the day was deemed a success, people expressed a wish to follow it up in some way.
One suggestion was that some kind of network could be set up, in order that information and experience could be pooled and disseminated. The internet would be the obvious way in which this could be achieved and this is being looked into.
Synopses of the main speaker’s talks are also available on request.