In the potting shed with David Corscadden
Lead Gardener - Kitchen Garden, Florence Court
We dropped in for a chat with David to find out more about the Kitchen Garden project at Florence Court.
When we meet David it’s at his potting shed in the Walled Garden at Florence Court in Fermanagh. He apologies for running late (he was meeting a new volunteer) and introduces us to his black labrador, Cali, who is to join us on the tour of the garden.
His manner is warm and his face weathered, a reflection of the many hours spent outdoors digging, planting and pruning in a quest to bring new life to the garden.
David’s love for the natural world saw him leave his comfortable job as a Environmental Planner and retrain as a horticulturist, a decision which allowed him to swap endless hours battling with councils and lawyers, for a more hands on job as a gardener.
His passion for his work is evident - it’s in his eyes that shine with pride when he talks about the ongoing restoration of the Kitchen Garden at Florence Court.
What is the plan for the Kitchen Garden?
Our objective is to return the garden to its former glory as a Kitchen Garden. In its heyday during the late 18th century, the garden and greenhouses would have produced fruit, vegetables and cut flowers for the estate, providing work for up to 12 gardeners. The garden was in use until the 1940s but we want to bring it back to as it was in the 1930s. Working from original plans I try to be historically correct with the restoration, but my objective is to be respectful for what we put back rather than being slavish to the past, because the truth is we don’t know exactly how it was.
You’re the lead gardener on the Kitchen Garden Restoration project but surely it’s not a one-man job?
Definitely not! I have a fantastic team of volunteers working alongside me from all walks of life. In addition we have groups from South West College who come to work in the garden and staff from Liberty Insurance who join us for two days a year under a work charity scheme. This all helps enormously but it also means that the number of people working here varies - some days it could just be me and other days there could be 30 people.
When did the restoration project begin?
Work started in March 2014 – at that stage the land was just a field and since then we have worked to restore three of the original quadrants – the original pathways have been restored and herbaceous borders planted. We now have fruit beds, herb beds, vegetable beds and beds for medicinal plants. Some of our most successful crops last year were potatoes, rhubarb and carrots and this year we should enjoy a wider variety of fruit and vegetables, much of which will be available to buy in the visitor centre.
So there’s one quadrant still to be restored?
Yes, this is the lowest part of the garden where the Victorians would have had a mushroom house, fernery and potting shed. When these were demolished the rubble was left, so a lot of clearing work needs to be done before we can start planting. I have also put forward a case for the restoration of the two glasshouses, which will be essential if the garden is ever to be a true reflection of what it once was.
What challenges has the project presented along the way?
Apart from the physical challenges the garden throws at me I am on a retail learning curve. I can grow anything, but selling it is a different matter. Last year I grew a species of round cucumber that no one wanted to buy because they simply didn’t know what it was. There’s a challenge in keeping produce fresh too – a cut lettuce will only last a very short time before it starts to wilt, so that process of getting product from garden to fork is a difficult one.
Tell us three facts about the Kitchen Garden
1. The original pathways seem unnaturally wide to us but they were deliberately designed as such to allow Victorian women to walk side by side in their large crinoline dresses.
2. The garden features red roses that were used in the filming of Dracula at Mount Stewart. The film crew left them behind so we re-homed some of them here.
3. The grandson of the former head gardener of the Walled Garden recently planted an apple tree in the garden as part of a special tree planting ceremony to mark the restoration of the garden and the people who have been associated with it over the years.
What qualities do you think you need to be a gardener at the National Trust?
Stamina, patience and a long life!
Where would you like to be in two years time?
Retired, with a bench in the Kitchen Garden where I can sit and watch people enjoying the fruits of my labour.