I’ve loved Walled Gardens since I was a child. From the pages of The Secret Garden to the Victorian Walled Garden near the house where I grew up, they have always fascinated me. Step through the wall and you enter into a magic kingdom filled with vegetables, flowers and fruit.
The history of the Walled Garden can be traced back to the Paradise Garden of the Persians – ‘Pairidaeza’ in Arabic means ‘enclosed place’. The Romans had their Cloisters while monasteries built Walled Gardens for contemplation and for plants to eat and for medicinal use. By the sixteenth century the popularity of the ‘hortus conclusus’ grew as gardens became places to enjoy and to provide food and flowers for the household.
An illustration in Thomas Hill’s The Profitable Art of Gardening of 1579 shows a garden divided into geometric beds surrounded by a wattle fence. The ‘walls’ had the benefit of protecting plants from the weather and for keeping animals out.
In the seventeenth century, exotic plants like the pineapple began to be imported into Britain. Walled Gardens also became places of scientific interest with greenhouses built to protect these new ‘exoticks’. And the problem of heating them – without damaging the plants – was solved by Mr Watts at Chelsea Physic Garden in 1684.
The rise of the country house in England and the increased demand for fruit and vegetables throughout the year, saw Walled Gardens either extended or rebuilt using brick. And in the eighteenth century with the changing fashion for a more natural landscape, the gardens were often relocated away from the house. This was not to hide them from visitors but to provide a wonderful surprise for guests on their walk around the ‘pleasure grounds’.
The Victorian era saw an explosion in the construction of Walled Gardens and their future seemed secure. The vast country houses needed a constant supply of food for their large house parties – and families – and the Walled Garden entered its heyday.
But with the demise of the country estate after the two World Wars, many Walled Gardens were either neglected or worse, pulled down. The dwindling work force combined with the commercial availability of fruit and vegetables meant Walled Gardens ceased to be cost effective.
One of the few positives to take out of the lockdown is how many people have started to grow their own veg – even if they have no access to outside space.
Over the last few years, I have visited many Walled Gardens – from those still supplying produce to the ‘big’ house to others, recently restored.
Here are some of my favourites:
Lost Gardens of Heligan
If you ever wondered what a productive garden looked like in the Victorian times, then visit the internationally acclaimed Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall.
The estate was bought in 1569 by Sampson Tremayne. Over the years, the gardens were developed with a Melon Yard, Flower Garden and by 1851, a Pineapple Pit. On the walls there were also Bee Boles for the estate’s bees. Each recess held a skep, a coiled-straw hive used by beekeepers before the modern wooden hive.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Kitchen Garden produced almost enough food for the family and their guests. But then World War I broke out. Men went off to War – many never to return – and like many other estates at this time, the gardens were neglected. However the estate remained intact until 1973 when the William and Mary house was converted into flats and sold off.
In 1990, the overgrown wilderness was discovered by chance by Tim Smit and John Willis a descendent of the Tremayne family. They unearthed a small room with the words ‘Don’t come here to sleep or slumber‘ pencilled on the walls. Underneath were the names of the gardeners, with the date August 1914. It was enough for them to start on a journey to ‘bring these once glorious gardens back to life….and to tell [the tale] of those “ordinary” people who had made these gardens great, before departing for the Great War.’
And my goodness, have they succeeded in their aim. Today the same crops and methods are used in the gardens as they were in the garden’s heyday.
They grow over 300 varieties of fruit and vegetables which you can enjoy in the Heligan Kitchen.
The Walled Garden at Kiplin Hall in Yorkshire has also been restored. Like so many large estates, the Hall and gardens were deserted after the Great War. In 1950s, the Walled Garden was rented as a market garden but by the end of 1970s, the area was grassed over. Restoration work began in 2011 under the Head Gardener, Chris Baker.
It is not known when the Walled Gardens were first built. George Calvert (of Maryland fame) built the Jacobean house. And in 1722, 5th Lord Baltimore sold the house to his mother’s second husband, Christopher Crowe. A keen Art Collector and farmer – who preferred his cabbages to his turnips (Arthur Young: A six months tour through the north of England, 1771) – paid Christopher Pickhill for a variety of vegetable and flower seeds. These included long and short prickly cucumbers – were these grown under glass?
The Journal kept by 4th Earl of Tyrconnel whose wife, Sarah, had inherited the Estate confirms that by 1820s, there was a Walled Garden at Kiplin. Peaches, grapes, vineries, plums, asparagus, mushrooms were all grown while the glasshouses were heated by steam. There was a Root Store attached to the Walled Gardens. North-facing, well-ventilated and windowless, root veg were stored in sand for use over the winter months. On her death in 1868, the gardens were let out and Lady Tyrconnel’s ‘Choice collection of Stove and Greenhouse Plants, Orchids etc including Acacia, Mimosa and Hibiscus’ were put up for sale. [Kiplin Hall website]
The walls of the Walled Garden have not always been their current height. In 1879, Kiplin was inherited by Captain Walter Cecil Talbot. Talbot employed William Eden Nesfield to make improvements to the estate but the work was not a success. Nesfield increased the height of the walls to 13 feet only to be told to reduce them by 4 feet. Talbot wrote: ‘a great waste of money has taken place in your building these hideously high walls for the kitchen gardens and drying grounds’. [Kiplin Hall website]
Unlike the Walled Garden at Heligan, Baker has not focused on replicating how the garden was in the Victorian era. A variety of fruit and veg are grown as well as one area dedicated to Wild Flowers.
Wander around the outside of the walls and find several bee boles.
And on your visit to Kiplin, look out for the Produce Cart selling surplus fruit and veg – we bought some absolutely delicious raspberries!
Chelsea Physic Garden
Unlike the other Walled Gardens in this article, the Walled Garden at Chelsea is the garden. It’s an oasis of peace in the middle of London.
The walls provides a micro-climate for over five thousand rare and endangered species. These include pomegranates, grapefruit tree, ginkgos and the largest outdoor fruiting olive tree in Britain.
The garden is divided into different areas. There’s the Pond Rockery, the World Woodland Garden, the Garden of Edible and Useful Plants and the Atlantic Islands Border filled with plants from the Canary Islands and Madiera. The Garden of Medicinal Plants reflects the origins of the garden while the Historical Walk is dedicated to those associated to Chelsea over the last three hundred years
In 1902 the Dicotyledon Order Beds were laid out according to the plant family – this form of classifying plants by their flower structure is soon to change. The current greenhouses were also built in this year and are filled with pelargoniums. They have been cultivated at Chelsea since the early 1700s.
The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries first established the Apothecaries Garden in 1673 on land leased from Sir John Danvers. When Sir Hans Sloane bought the adjoining Manor of Chelsea from Charles Cheyne, Sir Hans offered four acres of land on a lease to the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of £5.00 a year in perpetuity. The Physic Garden still pays this amount to Sir Hans’s descendants.
In the seventeenth century, plants began to arrive from abroad. The importance of light and air circulation in greenhouses was recognised as essential for the ‘exoticks’ to survive but problems arose on how to heat these ‘roomes’ on cold nights.
A major breakthrough occurred here at Chelsea. In 1684 a new greenhouse was built to house its growing collection of tender plants. The head gardener, Mr Watts, made ‘under the floor of his greenhouse a great fire-plate, with grate, ash-hole, etc. and conveys the warmth through the whole house, by tunnel’. It was very successful – few plants died over the following winter – and by 1691, John Evelyn had created his own at Deptford.
Like many Walled Gardens of the eighteenth century, the Walled Garden at Harewood in Yorkshire is a twenty-minute walk from the house.
It was already being built when the construction of Harewood Hall began for Edwin Lascelles in 1759. The Hall replaced the medieval Gawthorpe Hall – the foundations can be seen in the field just east of the Bird Garden.
In 1722, Gawthorpe belonged to John Boulter. An engraving of that date shows a circular Walled Garden adjacent to the formal gardens. At the centre is a circle surrounded by trees with seven avenues of trees radiating out to a circle of trees on the outside. The filled in areas are the same colour as the river. Was this extraordinary structure an elaborate water garden? By 1725, it had disappeared.
Unlike many Walled Gardens after the First World War, the one at Harewood was updated in the 1930s. And today, it grows a wide range of fruit and vegetables. The current layout was created by Diane Howse, Countess of Harewood and consists of different sized areas. They are designed to guide the visitor around the garden.
On my visit last year, music flowed out of flower pots and bird boxes placed at intervals around the garden. It was stunning.
Inspired by the blind seventeenth century musician Jacob van Eyck, the music includes excerpts from Eyck with newly-composed music by Genevieve Lacey.
The Walled Garden at Knightshayes in Devon was designed by William Burges for John Heathcote Amory, a Tiverton lace manufacturer. Designed in 1876 at the same time as the house, it covers two and a half acres. It has stepped stone walls around three metres high.
At the south and east corners, there are circular stone turrets echoing the turrets on the stables.
Edward Kemp was responsible for laying out the garden with eight sub-divisions. This complex and labour-intensive design was simplified in the 1950s at the same time as the central pool was removed.
Knightshayes was a hospital during the World Wars and although there were fewer gardeners, fruit and veg were still grown. Today, many heritage plants are grown – all propagated in the glasshouses on the estate.
On Sir John Heathcote Amory’s death in 1972, Knightshayes Court was given to the National Trust.
The triangular walled kitchen garden at Kelmarsh in Northamptonshire lies west of the house. There was a walled garden and lake in 1700s although the walls have been rebuilt several times.
The Hall was designed by James Gibbs in 1728 for William Hanbury. It replaced an earlier Jacobean house. In 1792, the gardens included hothouses for growing grapes, melons and pineapples.
The estate was rented by Ronald and Nancy Tree in 1920s and 1930s. Described by David Hicks as ‘the most influential English gardener since Gertrude Jekyll’, Nancy was a keen gardener. She was also known as ‘Mrs Dirty Nails’. After her divorce from Mr Tree, she married the owner of Kelmarsh, Lieutenant Colonel Claude Lancaster. The gardens were redesigned for the Lancasters by Geoffrey Jellicoe.
Nancy Lancaster became one of the most influential interior designers in the world, famous for her relaxed country house style.
Every September, the Walled Garden hosts a Dahlia Festival. There’s also a ‘Dahlia Room’ but as this was closed on my visit, I’m not sure what’s inside.
The Walled Garden at Mottisfont in Hampshire lies to the north-west of the house and stables. The earliest plan of the garden is dated 1724 when the estate was owned by Richard Mill. It shows a walled garden on this site. By 1839, the area had been divided into three interconnecting walled compartments. The gardens at Mottisfont were restored in 1930s by Gilbert and Maud Russell who used the eighteenth century plan for reference.
The nearest area of the walled garden to the house is the recently restored kitchen garden.
There’s a magnificent display of gourds in the Autumn with espaliered fruit trees and vegetable beds.
The central enclosure has gravel paths flanked by box hedges. The beds are filled with ancestral species and nineteenth century rose cultivars mixed with herbaceous plants. This was designed and planted by the National Trust’s garden advisor, Graham Stuart Thomas in 1972.
The third area is triangular and is also now filled with roses.
The Walled Garden is open late on several evenings during the summer. Go if you can as it’s a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the roses at their best.
A path leads from the house and formal garden, across a field to the Walled Gardens at Tyntesfield in Somerset. On William Gibbs’s death in 1875, the gardens covered four acres and produced fruit, vegetables and flowers for the house. As William’s father had made his money from importing guana from South America, I can imagine these gardens had plenty of fertilizer!
Tyntesfield was inherited by William’s son, Antony who remodelled the Walled Gardens with advice from Reginald Blomfield.
The entrance to the gardens is through a wrought-iron gate with the Gibbs monogram and is dated 1896. From here, the path leads through the Loggia to the first enclosure – the recently restored Orangery and Jubilee Garden. This was created to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897.
The walls to the north support metal-framed glasshouses which were built in 1896 by G. Beard & Son of Bury St Edmunds. These replaced earlier buildings by Henry Ormson of Chelsea which were constructed c1870.
To the south is a range of outbuildings with the entrance to the kitchen garden. Part of the garden is laid to grass while espaliered fruit trees grow up the walls with flowers and vegetables in beds.
The flowers decorate the house while the fruit and veg are for the restaurant; any surplus is for sale.