Sunday, August 25, 2013

Clumber Park - a real kitchen garden

Having been negative in my last post, I decided I'd better try and find something good to write about and remembered that I hadn't blogged about Clumber Park which I recently visited. I did mention it last year (read here) but only briefly in connection with a race I was running. Clumber Park is now owned by the National Trust, although originally the home of the Dukes of Newcastle. The first house was burnt down in 1879 and rebuilt to designs by Charles Barry (Houses of Parliament and Trentham Park) but neglect over the First World War resulted in its demolition in 1938. The park was left to the people of Worksop by the Duke of Newcastle and acquired by the National Trust in 1946. It has a lake, woodlands, cricket ground and many walks. In its heyday the estate had over 30 gardeners. However the four acre kitchen garden is the area of greatest interest. This is one of a growing number of walled kitchen gardens, that the National Trust have restored to working productivity, no mean feat considering the intensive labour these areas require.

Running the full length of one wall is a magnificent 140m (450ft) range of greenhouses. In here you will find traditional grape vines, peaches, nectarines and figs as well as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and lots more. It's a traditional production house, planned to supply  fruit and veg for the great house. The central portion is a protruding display area, filled with ornamentals, including lilies and the lovely old Victorian Pelargonium 'Paul Crampel' that must have graced thousands of flower beds when it was first introduced in the late 19C. It was popular when I was a young gardener, then became virus infected but it is good to see clean healthy stock being circulated again.

Behind the greenhouses are situated the traditional potting sheds, tool and fruit stores that would have been essential additions to this horticultural empire in its heyday. The rooms contain various bits and pieces of horticultural memorabilia most of which is before my time although I do remember the tedium of cleaning clay flower pots.

Leading out from the plant house, a broad gravel walk bisects the garden, ribboned by fine double herbaceous borders, stretching, 120m (400ft) through the garden. These are quite impressive and have some lovely plant combinations, made up with big bold blocks of herbaceous.  My only criticism would be the unsympathetic plastic mesh stretched across the borders as plant support. Whilst doing its job with the taller perennials, it was blatantly obvious, hovering over the lower growing species. I guess that maintaining a feature of this size today demands some serious time-saving measures but it's nevertheless a pity that some traditional unobtrusive staking with hazel couldn't have been used.

Fruit is present throughout the garden on its many walls, as free-standing espaliers and fans, as  step-over plants and in every other form imaginable. There are nearly 60 varieties of apple alone and considering the newly planted trees I observed, I guess this number is increasing.  As well as top fruit and soft fruits, Clumber has the National Collection of Rhubarb with over 90 cultivars. How can it be possible that such a basic plant can be so diverse? Some of the fruit is grown in traditional grassed orchard areas, making a lovely contrast to the formality of the trained trees.

These step-overs would require a long legs!

Vegetables are present in abundance throughout the garden, many of which are old heritage cultivars. Its great to see some traditional vegetables like seakale, trench celery, schorzonera and my favourite golden beet.

Throughout the garden there were patches of flowers making the whole experience truly magical. The scent of sweet peas contrasting with the pungence of that lovely old French marigold, 'Naughty Marietta'. Traditionally the family would often have visited gardens and greenhouses after church and before Sunday lunch. Despite being a working production garden, the walkways had to be softened with flowers for such occasions!

So if you are in the area, the park is wonderful for a Sunday afternoon stroll with a highlight of the walled garden. Fruits and veg grown on site are for sale. There are refreshments and a small plant sales area but I admit I got lost and couldn't find it on my last visit - the park is quite extensive at 3,800 acres, so don't lose grandma or the kids!

1 comment:

  1. 4 acre kitchen garden...that's amazing in itself. My kind of kitchen! I think a few more re-reads of this will help me grasp the extravagance in what you are contrasting here...thanks.