Summer and salad at Ham House and Garden
There’s excitement at Ham House and Garden throughout the year, but the promise of early summer feels particularly special. Discover a few of the best spots to stop and take a breath in the company of Head Gardener, Rosie Fyles. Follow her and her team on their project to recreate the grandest of salads, inspired by the extraordinary Kitchen Garden.
You’re welcomed in by a row of tall, fiery red cannas. Originating in tropical climates, here they’re interspersed between huge, very English topiary yew cones. That contemporary yet formal feel continues in the iconic Cherry Garden. If you’ve seen a postcard of Ham House you’ll probably recognise this precise parterre, full of lavender balls with box hedging and cones. In June it’s heady with scented lavender.
A wild contrast
The Wilderness provides a wilder side, but it’s a closely managed woodland garden full of wildflower meadows, shrubberies, dappled shade and planted borders. Wooden summerhouses offer spots to sit. Grass paths and hornbeam hedges divide areas, providing places to hide and places to be seen.
Our collection of heritage citrus trees in wooden Versailles planters return to the Fountain Garden this summer. Designed around a plan from the 1670s, we’ve cut defined parterre shapes into the meadow of this small walled garden. Benches are set around the blossoming trees, providing a quiet suntrap to read or relax.
Keep an eye out on your travels for the Deptford Pink. First mentioned in Gerard’s Herbal of 1597, this endangered wildflower only grows on around 15 British sites. I love its modern prairie planting look, tall stem and bright pink flowers.
The Kitchen Garden
We’re blessed with an enormous kitchen garden wrapped in twelve foot high, 17th century walls. You’re drawn in by the potager plot, an ornamental planting of edible and non-edible plants. An off-centre Victorian apple tree overlooks scented roses, salvias, white lavender and an established asparagus bed that can produce a kilo a day in season.
Subsequent plots provide everything you can think of. Beans and peas grow on birch wigwams. Squash and pumpkins are surrounded by the bright yellow flowers belonging to cucumbers and courgettes. Our cut flower plot provides fresh flowers for the house; more roses, delphiniums and sunflowers are bordered by a billowing lavender hedge.
The fruit and herb bed brims with raspberries, gooseberries, red, white and blackcurrants. Basil, sage and borage mingle with small cherry tomatoes and self-sowing calendula encourages pollinators. Potatoes, beetroot, chard, turnips and parsnips are planted in rows. Lines of heritage step-over apple trees edge a bed of rhubarb, gooseberries, currants, onions and the last of the broad beans.
In June, almost everything’s ready to eat; it’s full to bursting with things you recognise but rarely see growing in quite the same way. All this produce got us thinking…
The Grand Salad
John Evelyn, a diarist of the 17th century, wrote a whole book about salad. He talks about a Grand Salad that combined over 35 ingredients including leaves, roots, shoots, buds and flowers. All were prepared in different ways, some pickled, some blanched and some served fresh. It was a sign of wealth and fashionable good taste to be able to provide such a dish from your own garden.
This year we’ve designed a whole plot to create a Grand Salad bed. Our visitors can walk into this giant salad bowl and see everything required to create the extravagant salad course. The plot is planted to a historic ornamental design that our gardener, Vanessa has adapted, so not only could you eat everything in it, it is also beautiful.
Our catering team will produce a delicious Ham Salad, a more modest version of the dish, made entirely from our produce whilst our volunteers in the basement kitchen will demonstrate the full range of ingredients. Our history here can feel quite formal, so we wanted to do something that really enabled people to get closer to what we’re growing and appreciate how modern some 17th century ideas were.
A dream role
There’s a remarkable depth of knowledge available within the National Trust, a culture of enthusiasts ready to share their knowledge freely. I try to grab the best bits, adapt them where possible and bring them to our garden. We work to a Conservation Management Plan that guides how we want to develop the garden, balancing our history with the needs of our visitors.
My team start at 7.30am each day. We’re out in the garden first thing then meet with our brilliant volunteers at 10am, for a cup of coffee and to chat through the day ahead. I try to make sure I’m working outside for at least one session per day. We always sit and have lunch together, we’re a sociable bunch.
" Our garden is extraordinary; I love it because of how and where it is. A spectacular piece of the outdoors that’s so accessible to one of the largest, busiest cities in the world."
Seeing the results of all our planning and creativity is so rewarding. An ordinary outdoor space transformed into something so vibrant and beautiful is one of the best ways to spend your day.
Our garden is extraordinary; I love it because of how and where it is. A spectacular piece of the outdoors that’s so accessible to one of the largest, busiest cities in the world. It seems impossible that all this beauty is tucked away inside Zone 4. I also love working with this team. They’re so committed, enthusiastic and we really enjoy our work. I think we feel lucky to be paid to do what we do in such a special environment, but please don’t tell anybody...