A secret garden in Worcestershire was revealed to the public for the first time for over a century exclusively this August Bank Holiday weekend (23rd-25th Aug).

The Walled Gardens at Croome Court is one of the finest Georgian walled gardens in the UK, and one of the largest in Europe.

It has been restored from an overgrown and unruly wilderness to its former glory by owners, Chris and Karen Cronin. The Cronins fell instantly in love with the gardens, which date back to the 16th century, after discovering it in a dilapidated state in 2000. They saw past the wild brambles and shells of agricultural buildings, in spite of common sense and strong advice given against the investment.

Together they had the vision of what they could make of this magnificent historic dwelling and were drawn by the mystery that fulfilled The Walled Gardens and what they might find once the restoration was underway.

“We came to Croome as enthusiastic amateurs, and we remain as such, but we now have earned a measurable amount of experience and we hope to continue to apply it in a positive manner. Our adventure has been ground breaking in many ways and we now want to share our journey with all who are interested in historic gardens,” said Chris.

The restoration has revealed a wealth of antiquity from service tunnels that would have been used to channel the cast iron hot water pipes, to a large dipping pond that acquired its name through its function of dipping buckets to collect water to distribute around the garden and to the nearby stable block. The dipping pond has now become a new haven for various forms of wildlife, with some rare species of frog and newts being spotted.

Archives and media cuttings express the true value of the garden back in its historical glory, with a Gardening World article dating back to 1887 exploring the array of glass houses to offer – the original article is still available to see today.

The glass houses and outbuildings are an integral part of the restoration. After a number of years of dedicated restoration a vinery, a melon and cucumber house and a peach and fig house are fully restored. The foundations remain for an original tomato house, forcing beds, pineapple pits and orchard house, where more work is planned in the future.

With sustainable and eco-friendly living an ethos that the Cronins want to implement at The Walled Gardens, the melon and cucumber house is a perfect example. A system allows rain water to be channelled from its roof into a large storage tank under the terrace, which is then pumped inside through a network of pipes to water an array of produce from vines to bananas.

“Our future plans for the gardens rest, to some extent, in the hands of those who wish to share this dream,” said Karen. “We aspire to expand massively and bring the gardens back to full productivity again, a very ambitious plan that will require considerable support from the wider community in order for it to succeed.”

With an extremely successful opening over the August Bank Holiday weekend, seeing over 1,400 visitors – the Cronins are looking to open the gardens on a more frequent basis as of Spring 2015.

Established Georgian two acre walled kitchen garden near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk available for the production of vegetables, herbs, fruit and cut flowers. Polytunnel included.
For further information please contact Deborah Blackwell on 01359 259271 or by email Debbiejblackwell@aol.com by February 1st

Walled Garden For Rent

Situated in North Ayrshire, walled garden in need of restoration.
Approximately 1.5 acres. Wall intact, 1 door and 1 x 12’ gate (made for tractor access.)
Has 18-20 young assorted fruit trees – apple, plum pear etc. A few blackcurrant bushes and raspberry canes but presently being grazed by sheep!
Foundation and supports for poly tunnel.
Site not suitable for allotments.
Phone 01475 673305 for further details


Gardening Volunteer at Tatton Park Kitchen Garden, Knutsford, Cheshire

The first Tuesday in September was absolutely glorious, warm sunshine and in the morning what I call an Australian Sky – no cloud. By late afternoon we were wilting somewhat, but revived by an ice lolly. The Pear Rust is harder to find, but still present, especially on the branches too tall to reach. The Pear and Apple espaliers have all had their extension growth tied in. No sign of summer bird visitors.
Next, Raspberries. On another gloriously sunny day two of us commenced pruning out the fruited canes of the summer raspberries; unfortunately for me, as chief pruner, there were lots of hidden nettles amongst the canes, the seeds of which had obviously been brought in on the manure used to dress the rows, so I ended up with arms a-tingle. Flailing with nettles is supposed to be good for arthritis, so I await the result whilst smoothing on antihistamine cream. Other team members picked veg and lots of tomatoes for the shop, restaurant and tea room, together with the bounteous autumn raspberries, filling punnet after punnet, the harvest not diminished by the avians.
Yet again a glorious day but time to tackle The Vampire Plant. This is, of course, the Marionberry, a loganberry cross, six plants to be precise, with rampant vines that extract blood before they let you bend them to your will. For the last 12 years I have had to use two lines of post and rail fencing, the posts only being about 3ft high; I use one line for the fruiting vines, the other for the vines to fruit next year. This means in theory that the fruited vines are simply cut away from one wire, and the next year’s ones trained on the other, as the year progresses. Unfortunately for me the National Trust in 2001 insisted on the small post arrangement, which does not work however hard I try. The ideal arrangement would be for a single line of posts of at least seven feet, with several lines of wires, so that I could Serpentine the long and vigorous vines; not only would it be easier to manage, but it would look professional, pleasing and could even be considered a modern art installation instead of an awkward tangle.
The Equinox (equal day and night) was on 21 September; now we gently slide into Autumn with its stunning colour show. The six Marionberry vines are tamed (for now) after two full days of pruning and thinning. We are promised rain tonight, which will swell the John Innes Blackberry fruits, but will not soften the vicious thorns which are reluctant to relinquish their grasp of anything and anyone.
This has been the warmest and driest September since 1910 and ideal for tying in summer raspberries: four double rows, takes several full volunteer days, but worth the effort to protect the canes from wind damage during winter.
The first Sunday in October sees our Apple Tasting Day, so volunteers were busy picking and labelling apples and pears for such a delight; any left over will be named and put into storage in the Support Building, in view of passing visitors. Pumpkins and squashes of many varieties are also stored therein, waiting for Halloween.
Oh dear, a very very wet Tuesday spent tying in raspberries – other members of the team were in the Fig Houses picking figs and tomatoes and generally making the houses shipshape. The gardeners were in the support building, making shelving for the apple, pear and veg crops storage. These will be used by the shop, restaurant and café over the winter months. The constant downpour has not dampened the ardour of the stags in the Rut; the sheep are sheltering under the trees.
The last week of October, the clocks have been turned back. I spent the day side-stepping like a crab, edging the lawns surrounding the large soft fruit beds, the espaliers, the central pergola between the soft fruit beds and the orchard lawn, and the orchard lawn itself. Being a crab for the day took a good four hours, and the slip beds by the walls, equally long in length, will have to wait for another day. As I can’t get down on my knees, I hope some lithe volunteers on the other days will stoop to the challenge of picking up the cut edgings. It is half term and the Gardens are awash with children on the Halloween Ghost Trail, excited after looking at the many pumpkins and squashes lining the passageway of the support building leading to the garden entrance.

Assistant Head Gardener

JOB DETAILS: ASSISTANT HEAD GARDENER (Responsible for Walled Garden) An enthusiastic individual with a passion for walled gardens is sought for the position of Assistant Head Gardener on a historic 23 acre private estate in Berkshire, recently renovated in collaboration with the garden designer Dan Pearson. The primary responsibility of the gardener will be the effective running of a 1 acre walled garden, supporting glasshouses and cold frames. As part of the management team, the role also involves strategic involvement in the broader estate and applicants should have the confidence to cover for the Head Gardener if required. The walled garden provides diverse produce for the house, and is justifiably considered to be the heart of the Garden. It is also a garden room in its own right, with a contemporary aesthetic nestled within the embrace of the historic Lutyens walls. Experience and confidence growing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers along with plant propagation and glasshouse management are essential, along with excellent plant knowledge and good technical skills. It is expected that the person appointed will have an exceptional eye for detail and be able to maintain the walled garden to the highest possible standard. Applicants should therefore possess a Diploma in Horticulture, OR a minimum RHS level 2/3 Horticultural qualification (or equivalent) coupled to a proven track record. Candidates need to be highly organised, able to plan and prioritise their workload and have a flexible approach to work. Excellent communication skills are essential as the successful candidate will be expected to help present tours of the gardens to invited guests, supervise a full time member of staff and liaise closely with the Head Gardener, Chef and House Manager. Other key requirements include good I.T skills, as you will be required to maintain and work with electronic sowing/harvesting records and planting plans, and a willingness to oversee floral displays for the house. Some weekend watering duties will be required on a rota basis. ACCOMMODATION: Recently renovated 3 bedroom cottage SALARY: Circ £30k depending on experience LOCATION: Berkshire CONTACT:  mcox@nyazengu.com


July and August Musings

Gardening Volunteer at Tatton Park Kitchen Garden, Knutsford, Cheshire

All too soon the Groundwork Team of the RHS have fenced off the Showground much to the annoyance of the flock of sheep, who see that the grass is greener on the other side, running back and forth along the fencing to no avail. The Deer are calving at the moment, so have moved further into the wooded part of the Parkland.
The last consignment of weeds has been potted up for the show garden WW1 Trench.
Lots of excited school parties are roaming the formal gardens; it is nice to hear the childish chatter and see them enjoying their end of school year treat. I hoed the gravel flooring in the Tomato House where I work, and gathered a barrowful of weeds. Some interesting seedlings I left for further scrutiny.
The weather has been very warm and enjoyed by all, even those toiling on the Showground. All too soon the Show dates arrive and the medals are announced. The Tatton Gardeners won a Silver Gilt for their Tatton Reflects garden, showing four timelines: before the War, during the War, after the War and the present day.
Two of us have been missing from our Tuesday volunteering for two weeks, visiting the WW1 Battlefields in France and Belgium. None of the trees in the countryside are more than 90 years old, many of the scars have healed, but trenches are still apparent although greened over, and shell holes and explosion holes have become ponds. The name Somme actually means peace, which the area was anything but.
The Showground has mostly been returned to grassland, much to the relief of the sheep. The walkways are still visible, but have been spiked, soil laid down and the areas reseeded.
The tail-end of Hurricane Bertha had winds of biblical proportions and sadly these damaged most of the 12 glasshouses here. The Tomato House especially is now in a dangerous condition, surrounded by red and white tape barriers, so I worked outside and firstly walked through the raspberry rows, tucking in errant raspberry canes back under the retaining wires, then tried to persuade the flailing vines of the Marionberry (Loganberry), which will fruit next year, to lie in the correct direction.
It is that time of year again when Pear Rust makes its presence visible. The fungus overwinters on Juniper then ‘leaps over the wall’ into the Orchard. I spent the entire day picking off the leaves with orange patches on. This year the Rust doesn’t seem as bad; maybe last year’s picking off the leaves has lessened the infection this year. I can keep an eye on further outbreaks as I tie in the extension growth on the espaliered pears in the next week or two. The apple espaliers will also be checked. The rooks and magpies attack the fruit on the top rows, by balancing on the straining wires; this ‘vandalism’ opens the fruit up for wasps and other insects to indulge and leads to rotting fruit which can cause other problems. Hopefully they will have left some for our Apple Tasting Day on 05 October.
St Bartholemew’s Day (24 August) is said to be the start of heavy dews and the change of seasons.
Another day in the Orchard, two of us picking off Pear Rust on the three rows of freestanding pears in the Orchard lawn, and also picking up fallen apples. In the Kitchen Garden the Box hedges were receiving their final trim; the Team are finally getting on top of the weeds there. I believe there is a good case for a weed suppressing membrane, through which we can plant, and then top up with a mulch so the membrane is not visible to the Public. Certainly the soft fruit area in the Orchard would benefit immensely from this form of weed suppressant, as even with the best will in the world, there is not enough volunteer time to keep on top of the weeds in such an ideal weed-growing season as we have had.

Garden wanted

Experienced professional gardener based in London four days a week would like to spend the rest of the time making a productive garden outside the city. Willing to take on a site in need of restoration. Some form of accommodation would be required but only a minimal amount of rent could be paid.
My experience has been in botanic gardens and particularly with medicinal and useful plants but I would like to grow more edible plants, fruit and vegetables as well to provide a source of income to help to finance the project.
Please contact Jane at jknowly@yahoo.co.uk


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