Hidcotes kitchen garden

PUBLISHED: 16:43 21 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:59 20 February 2013



A century after Lawrence Johnston began the creation of his world-famous garden at Hidcote, near Chipping Campden, the work of restoring it to its full glory is well under way.

This spring it's the turn of the kitchen garden, which has not been cultivated in earnest for decades. The National Trust has begun a four-year project to recreate the 3000-square-metre garden (two thirds of an acre) and plant it with fruit and vegetables, primarily to be served in Hidcote's popular restaurant.

The work of restoring Hidcote has been made possible by two developments - the discovery a few years ago of some of Johnston's original notebooks and diaries, and the generosity of an anonymous donor who has promised to contribute up to 1.6 million to the work so long as the funding is matched by public donations.

Hidcote was created as a series of outdoor 'rooms', separated by hedges of boxwood, yew, holly and hornbeam. Each is planted in a different style, so that a fresh scene meets the visitor at every turn. Since the project began in 2006, a new visitor route through the Manor House has been introduced, a new Plant Shelter has been constructed and an Alpine Terrace has been completed.

The kitchen garden, however, had long since been reduced to an area of grass with a few fruit trees. Now it is having its turn in the limelight.

Sarah Malleson joined the Trust in September 2005 as an NT careership student and was appointed as Hidcote's new Kitchen Gardener after graduating last summer. She says she can't believe her luck.

"I thought I would have to wait a long time for an opportunity like this" she said. "It's thrilling to see the garden gradually taking shape."

The area has been divided into four plots of roughly equal size, with the aim of preparing and planting one plot each year so that the garden is completed and in full production when the project finishes in 2012. Planting began in March, with garlic, onions, shallots and leeks. By the summer the entire plot should be green with produce and bright with flowers. Sarah is recruiting a team of volunteers to help explain and interpret the garden for visitors.

She had very little help from history in drawing up her planting list - Johnston left no records relating to the kitchen garden - so she has chosen varieties with reference to taste and appearance, and in particular to the needs of the restaurant. This year the garden will be producing (in addition to those already mentioned), French and runner beans, squashes, courgettes, spinach, celeriac, lettuces, chives, cress and fennel, many in several varieties. The more delicate plants are being given a leg up by starting them as seedlings under glass, to help protect them from the local rabbits, badgers and birds as well as from cold weather.

Alongside the vegetables will be an equally rich range of flowers, from nicotianas and antirrhinums to nasturtiums, sweet peas, delphiniums, dahlias and sunflowers.

Just about the only survivors from the Johnston years were the garden's espaliered apple trees. Grafts were taken from them seven years ago so that their descendants could once again bear fruit.

"There's no point in trying to recreate what Johnston did as we just don't have the information" says Sarah. "It seems the garden was used intensively during the Second World War, as you'd expect, but after that we think it was used more on an allotment basis, for the gardeners to grow their own produce."

In fact, allotments are a buzzword among National Trust properties this year. To underline its current Food Glorious Food theme, the Trust has pledged to create 1000 allotments on 40 of its properties around the country by 2012 - enough to grow 2.6 million lettuces or 50,000 sacks of potatoes. The allotments will be registered through a new Landshare website (www.landshare.net) being set up by TV food guru Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to provide a 'matchmaking' service between would-be growers and unused plots of land. The initiative couldn't be better timed - interest in growing your own food is booming across Britain, with more than 100,000 people on allotment waiting lists.

Growing your own is the central message of Food Glorious Food, which is being promoted through everything from recipe cards and free seed packets to on-line growing tips. During the May half-term you can come and collect your own free vegetable seeds or seedlings from any participating property and plant them at home - those in Gloucestershire (in addition to Hidcote) are Lodge Park, Chedworth Roman Villa, Newark Park and Ebworth. The seeds are being backed up with recipe cards and cooking demonstrations.

Hidcote is open 10 am - 5 pm Saturdays to Wednesdays until November 1. During July and August it is open every day. Information about Food Glorious Food at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/foodgloriousfood .

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