Features of the walled garden
Walled kitchen gardens are an important part of our history, yet are now largely neglected and little understood. In the last century, most large country houses had a walled kitchen garden. They were highly productive places: food, herbs and flowers for the family, staff and guests of the big house. Ickworth was no exception and we’re hoping to recreate at least part of our walled garden, which we hope by 2020 will be largely supplying the vegetable requirements of our restaurant.
We don't have much knowledge of the earlier history of our walled garden, but in the 17th-century it was thought to have had a connection to the old manor house that stood behind the Ickworth church. In the late 17th-century it would have originally been an ornamental garden.
The seasonal garden
Approaching the walled garden from the church, the footpath takes us through the arched wooden gate in the wall into the seasonal garden. Our gardening team have recently seeded this area with a plethora of different varieties of wild flower seed which were hand mixed before sowing. The volunteer gardeners spend a lot of time pulling up thistles, which if allowed to grow, would restrict the advance of the more pleasurable flower plants.
The hot houses
The remains of a sunken pine house (a glass house typically housing pineapples and vines) is nearest to the boiler house. This has historical significance because it's thought that we were the only walled garden that had a functional pineapple house. The pipes from the boiler house run underground and then come up through the floor of the hot house and run around the walls just below waist height, the hot water inside them providing a moist heat for the delicate plants.
The farther garden
So called because it was the furthest away from the original manor house, this section of our walled garden now houses a beehive containing approx. 50,000 bees. Our hard winter means that the bees need to get back into a good condition to produce significant amounts of honey but it is hoped that 2014 will see enough honey being produced to sell from the estate. The head forester of the estate in times gone past would originally have had 5-6 hives on the go at any one time. Our bees gather their nectar from the flowers in the seasonal garden, and you’ll be likely to see them on a summery day doing just that.
The first earl's summerhouse
Moving along from the farther garden, on the other side of a wall, is a larger grassed area containing a rather attractive summerhouse. As well as providing a pleasant area to sit and take tea, the summerhouse also conceals a very important component of the walled garden. Under the floor there is a boiler house which contains a boiler large enough to heat a number of hot houses. A map survey in 1855 shows eight glasshouses in the garden.
Looking down towards the canal which provides water for the walled garden, there are three allotments. Two of these are worked by our volunteers and a smaller one is worked by the children from the local primary school.
At the bottom of one of the volunteer allotments is a semi-circular pond edged with bricks and this is known as the bait pond. This provided a breeding ground and nursery for small bait which would be used to catch larger fish from the canal.
The walled garden in the 20th-century and beyond
William Roules was a gardener here between 1906 and 1911 and his main duties were in the walled garden. His memoirs have provide us with valuable information about the gardens at the time that the 4th Marquis inherited them. He wrote “there was always plenty of labour, no shortage of material.” One hundred years later there is still plenty to do but a shortage of material prevents us from doing it. It's hoped that this will change in the near future.