Gardening Volunteer at Tatton Park Walled Kitchen Garden, Knutsford, Cheshire

After the sunniest April on record, May begins with high winds and heavy rain. After 11 years of volunteering, the special needs married couple, Kathryn and Stephen, are moving down to Gloucestershire to be nearer family, and hopefully to find another National Trust property to continue their good work. The Tuesday Team put on a farewell buffet at lunchtime, and afterwards the weather picked up so some work in the Kitchen Garden was achieved, mainly placing peasticks along the rows, and the inevitable weeding. It is interesting the different weeds we get, presumably brought in by the copious amounts of manure we acquire from the Tattondale Home Farm. The hedgerows are mainly frothy white with May blossom (Hawthorn), cow parsley, wood anemone, oxeye daisy, bluebells, field buttercup. Welcome “Weeds” in our own garden at the moment are English bluebells, white valerian and sweet woodruff. As for the wildlife: The two baby female blackbirds are now independent, their mum is building another nest. One evening I became aware of a sound like a steam engine, huffing and puffing. It turned out to be two hedgehogs a-courting, before enjoying special hedgehog nibbles for supper. I have found two hedgehog nests (one in the back garden, one in the front), completely ignoring the three custom-made houses in the back garden, which probably provide winter hibernation for the frogs and pretty wood mice, the latter doing a good job of clearing up spilt birdseed. We also had a wren and a robin roosting in our covered passageway over winter, and currently bumblebee nests in nooks and crannies and black ants in the Siberian Iris, plus wood mice nests somewhere in the garden. I regularly see from two to five buzzards circling overhead – did they follow us home from Tatton? I often wonder – If all this is happening in our very small garden, what an abundance of all kinds of wildlife there must be in the 50 acres of formal garden and 1,000 acres of wilder parkland here at Tatton, besides the two herds of deer and sheep – all four legged lawnmowers?
It has been very windy but sunny after torrential rain. We three pricked out more flowers for the formal gardens, and sowed more flower seeds together with some poisonous seeds (taking proper precautions wearing gloves) of Ricinus communis or castor oil plant, and also Angel’s Trumpets or Datura, a first for me. I shall not be having a nap under the hopefully resultant ‘tree’ as its flowers can cause hallucinations. The Gardens are busy with half term visitors and overseas visitors.
01 June is the meteorological start of summer; however, the weather had other ideas. We potted on more flowers for the formal gardens and American garden; planting of bedding plants is traditionally done early June. Bean poles are precision marching across one of the quarters in the Kitchen Garden, and a battalion of leeks has been pricked out, together with climbing beans and winter cabbages.
National Trust Volunteer Awards are presented in June. One lady received her 25 year Award (what an achievement!) and framed Citation from George (the former Mayor of Cheshire East and Japanese Garden Guide) as disappointingly for everyone no-one from the National Trust attended to show appreciation.
Sunny weather finds me out of the glasshouses and into the Orchard, where I tied in the raspberries and next year’s fruiting vines of the Marionberry (Loganberry cross).
The next task is to pick off the Pear Rust-affected leaves (which will take several weeks) and tie in the new growth on the espaliered fruit trees.
The two Fig Houses in the Kitchen Garden are undergoing restoration, which will take 12-16 weeks, so we are unable to use them for growing figs and tomatoes for the time being. The Herb Bed outside has been ‘squashed’ under the scaffolding poles.
Wild roses and ox-eye daisies continue the beauty of the hedgerows in the lanes.
I’ll leave you with a quote (author unknown) to think about: “Your mind is a garden. Your thoughts are the seeds: The harvest can be either flowers or weeds.”


March & April musings


Gardening Volunteer at Tatton Park Kitchen Garden, Knutsford, Cheshire

“March many weathers.” However, the first Tuesday was a lovely sunny day, but with a biting wind. The hazel and alder catkins were dancing merrily to the accompanying tune of a Pied Wagtail sat on top of one of the walls. March is known as Mulch Month, and most of the Team were in the American Garden, spreading a thick mulch of leaf mould to nourish the ground. In the soft fruit area, March is also known as Hoe Month, and the rest of the Team hoed the large bed of red and white currant bushes to thwart the weeds from making a smothering green carpet. The Robins also sang as they discovered tasty morsels where the hoes had disturbed the ground.

Another lovely sunny day Tuesday saw the main Team busy cutting back the holly hedges behind The Barn and along the track to the Wood Yard. Because the Tomato House where I usually work is still under renovation, three of us spent a busy day sowing seeds in the Mist House, formerly the Prop House. The central bench has misting units, which cooled the glasshouse down to make working there pleasant as it is in full sun, although we did get a little damp at times. The Gaffer’s ancient shed outside the Garden Office blew down in the gales; the space would make a nice sunny sitting out area for the glasshouse team if there is a redevelopment of the space.

St Patrick’s Day saw the greening of the buds on the trees and daffodils opening. In the lean-to glasshouse two of us prepared pots and trays, and two more ‘assistants’ sowed pinches of four different kinds of lettuce, and then 270 broad beans before we ran out of compost. In the Mist House tomato seeds were sown in ‘pans’.

Flower seeds were also sown, and dahlias and onions were pricked out. In the Kitchen Garden trenches were dug, lined with leaf mould and potatoes planted.

The solar eclipse heralded a change to stormy weather, with high winds, hail and broken glass from flying debris hitting the glasshouses. During a lull when the sun came out, paths were swept and wigwams for sweet peas were installed.

Easter weekend was foggy at first but then the afternoons were very sunny and the Gardens were packed with families hunting the Easter Bunny. Sowing seeds and pricking out seedlings continues apace: more onions, lupins, sweet peas, sunflowers, rudbeckias for the American Garden, foxgloves, morning glory, etc. The hedgerows in the lanes on the way to and from work are full of colour: primroses, celandines vying with dandelions, greening willow and ‘bridal veil’. Saw the first of the Swifts. The gloriously sunny days we have experienced in April are a great bonus, though it gets over-warm in the glasshouses and we are glad of the mist units to cool us down.

An amazing thing happened whilst we were sitting in our own garden: a baby blackbird flew onto my shoulder and stayed there until its mother came with food. The mother has been ‘resident’ in ours and the neighbouring garden since 2009. I finally persuaded her to take a sultana out of my (‘beak-like’) finger and thumb.

As part of the ongoing restoration of The Old Nursery, the seed sowing, pricking out and potting on production of vegetable plants for the Walled Kitchen Garden adjacent has been relocated to the Old Nursery from the main glasshouses in The Orchard area. This will save ‘veg miles’ moving seedlings some distance from there to the holding area and is how it would have been done in the heyday of the Walled Kitchen Garden.

April ended with a few showers, just enough to ‘keep its hand in’ so to speak.


In November 2014 the Halesowen Abbey Trust, a registered charity, purchased the Leasowes Walled Garden located within the grounds of the internationally renowned Leasowes Grade I Garden created by Wiiliam Shenstone. The purchase was achieved with donations from a local firm of builders, A J Mucklow, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Councils community forums, the Friends of the Leasowes and individuals. The garden was purchased for the public in perpetuity. Our aim was to own the property and bestowe it with some desperately needed tender, loving, care. Along with our wonderful, enthusiastic volunteers we are doing just this. We are currently creating a dedicated website http://www.leasoweswalledgarden.co.uk.

This is only the beginning of our project. Initially, we are in the process of clearing the site. We have cleared most of the growth created by mother nature, but the effects of mankind on the site are another challenge altogether. Over the decades a huge amount of dumping has taken place and the clearance of same to restore the land to its original level will be very extensive. We have archaeologists working on the site, a highly qualified architect is assisting us and we are endeavouring to find a philanthropic and sympathetic surveyor who will carry out a land survey for us. In the meantime we are making the most of the areas where some planting can take place to lift the spirits of the volunteers and visitors alike. This is only a transitional period, whilst plans and funding are being investigated.

Mick Freer

p.s.     Recently we did visit the Cronin’s wonderful walled garden and we certainly hope to come to the Forum this October.

Here are a couple of photos showing ‘Before’ and ‘After’ views of the garden



FORUM 2015


By kind invitation of Chris and Karen Cronin, Croome Court‘s magnificent 18th century kitchen garden is the venue for our two-day Forum this year, and by kind permission of their neighbours, the National Trust, our talks will be held on both days in the equally magnificent, newly restored 18th century Mansion.

Past themes for our Forums have tended to consist of historical restoration and fidelity to the past. However, the theme for 2015 is ‘The Walled Kitchen Garden in the 21st Century’. Speakers will discuss modern solutions to the problems posed by 18th and 19th century walled kitchen gardens. Subjects will include up-to-date greenhouse restoration and engineering, heating, water supplies, fertility and pest control, modern designs and layouts, and up-to-date horticulture.

This is a two-day Forum because, apart from the very 21st century restoration of the Cronin’s splendid kitchen garden, participants are also invited to visit Croome’s beautiful, historic Capability Brown Mansion and Park.

Look out for the Flyer which will be posted to all our subscribers and will appear on the Grapevine, with application forms and further details.

This March at Divertimenti Marylebone High Street, we’re pleased to host a series of fantastic evenings with some of today’s most exciting cooks and food writers. Tickets are only £6 each and include a glass of wine plus a 10% shopping discount on the night*.

Book at:  www.divertimenti.co.uk/events.html




Gardening Volunteer at Tatton Park Kitchen Garden, Knutsford, Cheshire

It has become a tradition on the First Tuesday in January for the Tuesday Team to walk from the Mansion Stable Yard through the Park to Knutsford, have a coffee and chat at a lovely café, and then walk back to the Stable Yard for lunch in the Restaurant there; most enjoyable with good company, if a little wet until the afternoon. Weather permitting we start work on the second Tuesday.

I hope you all did your ploughing on Plough Monday and that you will enjoy Wassailing at the weekend following.

Our first Tuesday of work saw the Team ‘rhodo-bashing’ between Mercury and the Monument (sounds like a pop group!). This essential work is done every year to keep the rhododendron under control and rejuvenated; the Team gently worked their muscles back to fitness after a month’s “rest”. The weather was cold in the morning, snow at lunchtime and sunshine as we packed up for the day. Another Tuesday, another déjà vu in all respects, luckily for the ‘r-b’ Team.

‘Kung hey fat choi’: Happy New Chinese Year of the Wooden Sheep which starts with February’s full moon.

When the restoration of the Walled Kitchen Garden took place in the early part of this century, there was insufficient funding to restore the likewise walled Old Nursery which once provided plants for both the kitchen garden and formal garden. This fantastic and once productive space slumbered on unloved until recently. One stalwart gardener is now slowly and determinedly bringing this huge area back to life, and there is an exciting Project in the offing. The last remaining sunken Melon Pit (there were originally three) is to be put back into use growing melons, following some urgently needed tlc. The roof lights are to be repaired, the contaminated soil from the brick waist high raised beds removed, and refilled with manure to create hot-beds. When up and running it is intended that interested visitors will be given a conducted tour and brief talk about the history of the melon pit, which is 76ft long and 10ft wide, with half the height sunk below ground level, to retain heat. Before this can happen the access steps will be checked, safe paths need to be laid circum-navigating the melon pit, together with a ramp for disabled access into the pit house.

Another bright cold day but two bonfires were providing welcome heat. Tree felling and clearing was the order of the day for the Team, to open views both across the parkland and around the Japanese Garden. Meanwhile I cleared the weeds and debris from the gutters of the Melon Pit and tidied up pots and trays in the morning, and in the afternoon raked back soil from the edges of the slip bed lawns in the Orchard where a cheeky mole had deposited its molehills in a long line along the edges.

Half Term sees the Scarecrow Festival in the Formal Gardens. The bright sunshine brought out lots of families to enjoy spotting them. The volunteers had to keep moving so they weren’t mistaken for a scarecrow.

The start of seed sowing and pricking out has been badly delayed due to the glasshouse still waiting for repairs to be completed. As the builders have been ‘pulled off’ to work on the Tenants Hall for five weeks it could be nearer Easter before production can begin.   Hopefully with our good facilities we will be able to catch up.

A bright but very cold morning saw the Team down by the Japanese Garden, planting Willow cuttings to add another dimension to the space. In the afternoon the American Garden got a weed-through, and the soft fruit beds saw the start of a weed and tidy.


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