Edible elements in the Walled Garden at Chartwell
The fruit and vegetable beds sit within the Walled Garden at Chartwell and the whole area is a constant hive of activity. From spring, all the way through to winter, there's always something new growing, or being planted ready for next year.
Spring is a very busy time of the year for the edible areas of the Walled Garden.
We sow many seeds in the greenhouses to produce the year’s crops. Lettuce, runner beans, French beans, courgettes, cabbages, tomatoes, peppers, brussel sprouts, carrots, parsnips, and the harvest favourite of pumpkins - all need to be sown in early spring and the greenhouses are quickly packed full of trays containing seeds, soon bursting into life.
The plants are started off in the seed trays in the greenhouses to provide optimal conditions for germination. Once they’ve started to grow, the strongest plants are picked out of the seed trays and potted on into larger pots. That way they can develop further prior to being planted outside.
Out in the garden with the beds now empty after winter, construction work takes place. Some of the crops require protection from pests, and cabbages are netted in order to protect them from being eaten by Cabbage White butterflies and birds.
During spring, a large frame is constructed to support the netting, and a framework for the different types of bean to climb is built, ready for the beans to be planted.
As spring draws to a close, the young plants are taken out of the greenhouse and hardened off in the cold frames, ready for being planted in their final position out in the garden.
With most of the crops now planted out in the ground and steadily becoming established, it’s important we provide them with optimal conditions for growth. This usually means lots of watering during these drier, warmer months.
The water supply in the Walled Garden is supplied with water from the lake. This works by using a clever system of pumps that enable a large water tank to be filled to store water and supply all the taps in the Walled Garden and greenhouses, yet also allowing water to be pumped around the ponds and cascades in the garden.
During the summer months the weeds are at their peak time of growth, so many hours are spent weeding so the weeds don’t compete with the crops for water, nutrients and light.
We also need to ensure that we keep deadheading and harvesting annual crops to ensure that the produce continues to flower and set fruit.
Wall trained fruit are also pruned in summer so that the plant doesn’t respond with vigorous re-growth, as it would if pruned during winter.
At this point of the year, we harvest many of our crops and begin to clear the beds of plants that have finished cropping such as the beans, courgettes and pumpkins. Crops that can survive the winter are planted out, including broad beans, lettuce, spinach and spring onions.
The apples from the orchard are harvested and taken to a local farm, where they are pressed to produce apple juice.
Summer fruiting raspberries are pruned, with this year’s fruited canes cut back to ground level. The new growths from this season are tied into the supports, ready to bear next year’s fruit.
Not much grows at this time of the year, so we retain both the crops sown in autumn, as well as winter crops including leeks, cabbages, celeriac, parsnips and purple sprouting broccoli – all of which require a long growing season.
Winter is the ideal time to prune the fruit bushes and trees, as without their leaves, the framework of the tree or bush can easily be seen. Autumn fruiting raspberries have their canes pruned to the base because these will fruit on new canes over the next season. Blackcurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries are then pruned to keep them healthy and productive.
This is also the time of year to prune apple and pear trees. The trees in the orchard have any dead, diseased or damaged wood removed and each tree is assessed to ensure they have an open framework of branches. This is to enable adequate air circulation, preventing disease and allowing maximum light to reach the leaves and fruit. It’s a fine balance retaining as many of the fruiting branches as possible to maximise fruit yields, whilst maintaining an open and healthy tree. Removing too much of the framework of branches will lead to the tree producing new shoots rather than fruit.
As winter draws to a close, we clear all the beds and dig over the soil, applying a base dressing of organic matter, usually manure. This provides some nutrients, but more importantly opens the soil to improve its structure.
Some of the crops for next year are prepared with seed potatoes ‘chitted’ (encouraging shoots to form prior to planting in the soil) in the greenhouse. Onion and leek seeds are also sown.
January is the time in which we begin ‘forcing’ rhubarb. The rhubarb crowns are covered, placing them in darkness with large, traditional terracotta covers used. The darkness forces the rhubarb stems to grow upwards in search of light, elongating the stems and allowing an earlier harvest to produce a sweeter, tender crop.
Finally, winter is also the time when we develop the plans for next year. All of the annual crops we grow need to be rotated annually to prevent the build up of pests and diseases in the soil. Crops are grouped together according to their family: brassicas (cabbages, brussel sprouts, kale and broccoli), roots (carrots and parsnips), beans, potatoes and onions.
Plans of the beds therefore need to be drawn up to ensure we maximise space, and order adequate supplies of seeds for the next year.