The Old Gate Piers are the gateway into my new kitchen garden. I hope this weedy space with its scattering of trees will be a productive vegetable and cutting garden, closely echoing the plan recorded in a 1902 survey of the estate. My inspiration is at West Dean, near Chichester, an immaculate kitchen garden restored on a far grander scale than my efforts here.
My first stumbling block are two large trees: a large Catalpa bignoides, battered by the wind since its shelter belt of Leylandii was removed by the last owners of this site and an Acer henryi, not in the best of health, since it too hates the wind. The tree officer is struggling with the idea of removing the Catalpa, so the debate about its future goes on for now. I would almost certainly baulk at the idea of its removal if it were not for the fact that as the small book ‘Kitchen Gardens of the Isle of Wight’ shows, so few of the gardens that the researchers identified now function according to their original purpose. Many are traceable only as remnants forming the outside curtilage of housing estates. The Catalpa sits in the centre of my garden taking sun from the walls and most of the nutrients from the soil and making reinstatement of the layout impossible. We all convince ourselves of the merit of doing things we shouldn’t, but the project is so appealing to me, I have convinced myself this tree must go.
We have found the original path edging and from the layout have established the width of the paths: 1.8 metres. The dead walkway of crab apples has been removed and the huge pile Leylandii logs has been cleared by helpful neighbours to fuel the wood burning stoves of the village. My neighbour James lived in this house until the 1970’s, so we walk round and round while I formulate plans, talking about his childhood memories of the garden before it was much changed: espalier fruit trees lining the centre of path, an arbour of roses at the apex with a large Royal Doulton or similar blue ceramic bowl underneath which contained water and was a focal point for the garden. Subsequently, the owner of this kitchen garden, after James’ family left, parked his beautiful Daimler here. We have tonnes of gravel to remove and grass to scrape back before we can begin.
As for the old gate post, it is actually falling down and given that new gates would really make this garden right (kitchen gardens were often gated off from the staff houses, so they could be enjoyed by the family in their leisure time) it is due to be rebuilt in the next few weeks. The old bricks will be used and lime mortar. The artistic brick layer Ian has it in hand, his work log over the next month including the repointing of the large boundary wall and the complete rebuilding of the low retaining wall. Once all of this is completed, we wait only for the verdict of the tree officer before we can begin to set the garden out according to the 1902 plan.
In the meantime, I am back to the next episode of the ponderous but fascinating BBC series of the 1980’s ‘The Victorian Kitchen Garden’, notebook at the ready, to take down every word of the remarkable Harry Dodson.
Click images to enlarge them.