The Kitchen Garden at Ham House
Ham House’s 17th century walled kitchen garden is productive and stunning all year round. Fruit blossom, early vegetables and bulbs make for colourful companions at this time of year - we use organic principles to encourage wildlife too.
Find the wooden doorway on the west wing of the Ham House’s vast original red brick wall and it takes you out onto a south-facing terrace with views across this historic kitchen garden.
Over 300 years of ‘grow your own’ fruit and veg
This area of the garden dates back to the 1650's, when it would have provided all the fruit and vegetables needed to feed the whole household at Ham House. It was also a showpiece for the Duchess of Lauderdale’s guests - among them Charles II - to admire when they were entertained at the house. The design was ornamental as well as practical, with vegetables and flowers sharing space.
Today, you'll see ten deep rectangular plots flanked by soft shingle paths. Each is gently cultivated to grow produce that would have been here in Ham House’s heyday, and together they beautifully recreate the atmosphere of the period.
What to look for in winter and early spring
There’s something different to see each time you come to the Kitchen Garden here at Ham House.
We’ve been picking chard and purple flowering broccoli throughout the colder months, with tiny cyclamen creating pockets of colour too.
During winter the character of this walled part of the garden is changed completely: in place of bright colour and scrambling form, enjoy the deep browns of the resting beds, the interesting textures of wooden frames and greens of lawns and low evergreen hedges. It’s all about order, structure and exciting potential.
See in the new season
Look out for the garden team preparing for the warmer months ahead too. From pruning soft and trained fruit to re-making paths, to ‘chitting’ seed potatoes to encourage them to sprout before we plant them out - there is always plenty to do.
As we move into February, there are signs that spring is around the corner with the first of the daffodils followed swiftly by a succession of sweet-scented fruit blossom.
The soft colour and fragrance of the apricot tree is a firm favourite, as it puts on a show against the sunniest south wall – soon followed by flowering apples, peaches, cherries and plums.
" Enjoy the deep browns of the resting beds, and textures of clipped hedges. Then, look for the first of the daffodils and a succession of sweet-scented fruit blossom."
Cut Flower plots brimming with blooms
Even in these cooler months, the Kitchen Garden’s cut flower plots have a changing display that’s bursting with colour and scent, they are a firm favourite with the bees and insects in the garden too as the weather begins to warm up.
Right now, one of the plots is already blooming with strongly scented Narcissus: 1,800 bulbs of 10 different varieties which will flower through to May, including ‘Sir Winston Churchill’, ‘Bridal Wreath’, ‘Cheerfulness’ and ‘Martinette’.
A second plot is devoted to tulips, with 2,200 bulbs of 22 different varieties flowering from March until May including many peony, parrot, fringed and lily flowering tulip varieties such as: ‘Uncle Tom’, ‘Black Hero’, ‘Blue Diamond’, ‘Irene Parrot’ and ‘White Parrot’.
Then, if you appreciate locally grown seasonal cut flowers for your displays at home or to give as gifts, you’ll find them available to buy fresh from the Kitchen Garden every Friday from Mothering Sunday (weather permitting) and throughout spring and summer.
Heritage vegetables for today’s plate
We grow more than 25 types of vegetable, including brassicas, garlic, shallots, courgettes, cucumbers, fennel and broad beans, carrots, beetroot, spinach and onions. Each year we plan the succession to keep our Orangery Café, which overlooks the Kitchen Garden, supplied with fresh home-grown produce.
For 2020 will are sowing: Artichoke ‘Violetta di Chioggia', Aubergine ‘Long Purple’,
Basil ‘Dark Purple Leaf, Brussel sprouts ‘Rubine’ and Red Ball, Chard ‘Flamingo Pink', 'Ruby Red' and 'Magenta Sunset', French beans ‘Purple Teepee’, and many more.
We are also going to cultivate a new Squash Plot this year, where 14 different winter squash will be sown including Queensland Blue, Volsky Grey, Hokkaido and Honeyboat.
Our potatoes deserve a special mention. We grow more 12 varieties of potato, used in the café, sold in our vegetable bags and which cultivate the soil. Potatoes were introduced to Britain around 1586 and appear in Gerard’s herbal of 1597 as Potato of Virginia, ‘being either roasted in embers or boiled and eaten with oile vinegar and pepper’.
In the centre of two of the plots we grow a range of soft fruits including blackcurrants and gooseberries planted alongside a bed of rhubarb. Step over apple trees are planted and trained around the borders too, most dating back to 17th century including 'Catshead', 'Red Joaneting', 'Golden Reinette' and 'Ashmead’s Kernel'.
New heritage orchard for Ham House
The garden team has been planting a new orchard in Ham House’s Kitchen Garden with a selection of 30 London and Surrey apples. The new area will provide shady spaces to sit, spring blossom, autumn fruit, a feast for pollinators and re-introduce the rich history of fruit growing to this area of Richmond.