Walled Kitchen Garden Forum

Report by Alison A Newton of a meeting at Heligan, 21st October 2006

A national network of people interested in walled kitchen gardens exchange ideas via their website www.walledgardens.net.  Once a year, they hold a meeting at a noteworthy garden venue and last year it was held at Heligan.

To open the meeting, Susan Campbell, chairman of the group, set out the reasons for being interested in walled gardens. These were summarised as: Aesthetics, Conservation, Horticultural History, Horticultural Production (particularly organic), Education, Therapy for the Disabled and Involvement of the Community.  Subsequent talks illustrated some of these themes.

A presentation by Dr Karen Liebrich, Project Co-ordinator of the Chiswick House Kitchen Garden Project, brought many of these themes together.  She explained how Chiswick House, built in 1682 and with classic formal gardens originally laid out by William Kent, but developed and extended over many years, is now in complex ownership. The house itself and part of the grounds are owned by English Heritage, but other parts of the estate, including the old kitchen gardens, are owned by the Borough of Hounslow.  She had discovered, by chance, that one of several walled gardens was about to be let for retail development.  She persuaded the council to let her take over this derelict site and, with the help of a lottery grant, turn it into an educational project. The work of clearing the site, digging new beds, and growing vegetables, has all been carried out by children from different local primary schools who attend on a regular basis, and with help from local volunteers. Working sessions are accompanied by practical science lessons and usually finish with a meal for the children, composed, where possible, of items grown in the garden.

A talk by Tom Petherick followed on how a walled garden can be used as the basis of a viable commercial project for producing organic fruit and vegetables (with a great deal of hard work!). The morning session concluded with a double act from Peter Thoday and Philip Macmillan-Browse on the theme of Horticultural History.  They discussed the sort of background research necessary for the reconstruction and conservation of the walled garden at Heligan, as well as of the horticultural methods used by Victorian gardeners in the original garden.  An afternoon tour of the gardens showed us how this research had been applied.