Forum 2017 at West Dean, report by Mike KleynBack to the grapevine


On Friday 22nd Sept. a group of around 20 delegates met at the Alitex factory for a brief lecture followed by a most interesting tour of the factory lead by Chris Sawyer. The  design office links directly to the modern computer-regulated cutting machinery. The parts for each greenhouse  are machined to fine tolerances and powder coated before being wrapped in plastic ready for shipping around the world to countries including Russia, Canada,the USA and Australia. Chris made sure we all understood his passion for these beautiful structures after some 40 years with the company.

West Dean Walled Gardens

At a sunny West Dean on Saturday morning  we found our unflappable Lucy Pitman finalising name tags over breakfast before setting off  for registration and coffee in our conference venue. I was very aware of the excellent work done by Jim Buckland and his team in landscaping the grounds, which were looking splendid in the morning sunshine.

Our hosts for the day were Jim Buckland and Sarah Wain, both very pleased to show us what they have achieved here at West Dean in nearly 27 years of gardening excellence.


Chair of the Network, Susan Campbell introduced Jim and Sarah as our first speakers on the theme for this year’s forum, namely Glasshouses. The restored white painted wooden structures at West Dean are a delight to the eye and together present an almost complete catalogue of glasshouse types. Jim gave an overview of their time at the estate while Sarah covered subjects such as volunteer management, pest control, cleaning of the glass and maintenance of the structures.



Simon Harrison spoke about restoration of wooden greenhouse structures. Being the foremost practitioner in this field his illustrations of restored wooden greenhouses drew many admiring remarks from his attentive audience.


Chris Sawyer spoke about his passion for glasshouses and showed us examples of beautiful wrought iron curvilinear structures along with modern aluminium glasshouse from around the world.




Ben Pope gave us a photographic tour of his well restored and presented walled kitchen garden at Trotton in W.Sussex. He emphasised the use of mulch for its ability to reduce weeding to a minimum as well as improving the quality of the soil.

After lunch Jim and Sarah conducted tours around the walled kitchen garden explaining the development and present uses of greenhouses and management of the area. Among many other examples, Sarah showed how the introduction of something as simple as a white board in the workshop can have a big impact on efficiency, saving wasted time in an area used by both volunteers and staff.

That evening Lucy had arranged a reception in the oak hall of the College where we were able to meet and chat to friends new and old.

An account of our Sunday visits to Fittleworth, Whithurst and Petworth to follow!





Some responses to the Forum  . . . . .

Dear Lucy, Susan and Mike,I’d just like to say a really heartfelt ‘Thank You’ to all three of you: and not just for arranging such glorious weather, either.The Forum this last weekend was absolutely marvellous in every respect. I really had a great time and I hope that you (despite the effort you were still having to put in) and all the other attendees had an equally enjoyable weekend. I’m sure that the ‘real’ gardeners were able to take away so much useful and practical advice. For me, it’s added immensely to my knowledge and understanding of Kitchen Gardens. I’m now even in greater awe of what was achieved in them, and how, than I was before.Thanks, too, to our speakers and the various hosts, all of whom made us so welcome.Sarah and Jim need some special thanks; for what they did for us at the weekend and, just as importantly, what they’ve done for West Dean. It was the first time I’d visited the gardens and they did not disappoint. I agree with Peter Thoday, West Dean Gardens are, “head and shoulders” above everywhere else I’ve visited (though I’ve a way to go to match Susan’s tally).And speaking of Peter, it is 12 months since some of you were at West Dean with him to celebrate their 25th Anniversary.So, thanks again and, here’s to WKGN Forum 2018!Very best wishes,Rob Willetts.
From: John Lawson
Sent: 24 September 2017 20:29
To: Lucy Pitman
Subject: Re: WKGN ForumDear Lucy
Fab weekend as always, such hard work for you!
Thank you – just fab.
JohnPs. Where to now?!!
From: Lorraine Small
Sent: 25 September 2017 10:38
To: ‘Lucy Pitman’
Subject: RE: WKGN ForumDear Lucy,James and I would like to personally thank you for organising this year’s Walled Garden Forum event.
We both appreciate the enormous amount of work that must have gone into organising the venues; the logistics; catering management; speakers; registration; sponsorship and the weather!!!
Obviously, it all paid off and we thoroughly enjoyed all of our visits and the visit to Petworth House was simply the icing on the cake!!
I’ve linked a very informative article about Lady Egremont and Petworth House from the Financial Times very Best Wishes
James & Lorraine
From: Sharp, Jonathan
Sent: 25 September 2017 09:41
Subject: Walled garden weekendHi Lucy,I just wanted to say thank you so much for a great weekend. It was great to share my passion with so many people, and what a fantastic turn out it was!From start to finish I had a great time and the places we visited were all equally spectacular.I hope this email finds you well and I trust you also enjoyed yourself and managed to take in the wonder of it all?!Do keep in touch and I look forward to hearing from you soon.Many thanks again for all your hard work and also the other organisers (sadly I cannot remember their names!) do feel free to pass on this message to them.All the bestJonathan Sharp

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