Spring has sprung in the walled garden

Chard being harvested in Knightshayes kitchen garden

It's that magical and busy season again. Each year spring brings both an intoxicating air of promise and a serious down- to- business attitude. From the beginning of March, we have a packed sowing schedule with new seeds hitting seed trays almost every day of the week and start setting all those winter plans into action. Throughout March and April we are sowing hardier crops such as beetroot, chard and lettuce alongside summer crops like cabbage, cauliflower and calabrese.

Getting ahead

We aim to get ahead by beginning many of the tender summer crops like squash and courgettes on the heated benches and gently hardening them off as the weather begins to warm up into May. Potatoes are chitted then planted out, along with the big job of cultivating and ridging up our large potato plot. Another highlight of the season is pricking out and potting on the huge collection of heritage tomatoes, and this year much more of our work with these colourful varieties will be on show.

Following our success with our theme of ‘Lost Crops of the Inca's’ in 2016, many of these will be back and we're planning a focus on 'Amazing Solanaceae' with many vibrant and varied plants from the Pepper family. We like to ring the changes each year with new crops on display but we are also constantly working to improve the quality of our produce.
We have selected a number of organic blight resistant main crop potatoes this year, having trialled and taste-tested some last year. Normally, the South West is rather damp for main crops but we are looking forward to extending our spud season.  We've also chosen courgette varieties to lengthen the season with a deep green self-fertile number for early cropping and a mildew resistant one to push the productivity to the end of summer.

Keeping the Café well stocked

We are very proud of the close relationship between the kitchen garden and the Stables café and supply them throughout the year with the freshest vegetables and fruit. We managed to keep the kitchen garden produce on the carvery menu all the way through to February this year.  It turns out that one of our favourite crops to grow is also a huge hit in the café, which are squashes! We love cultivating squashes and it seems our lovely visitors can't get enough of the café’s delicious squash soups. We have been working with the catering team to find the best squash, rich and tasty, stores well and most importantly, ones which easy to peel!

New things to see

New developments include further opening of the middle terrace of the garden as part of its ongoing restoration. This area stages much of our current day-to-day work but also tells a little of the story of gardeners who worked here in the past. The 'back shed' rooms are now opened up, so visitors can come along to have a peep into our mushroom house, the old fernery and the pot store as well as the tool store which is currently our produce preparation area. It’s a chance to see where the Victorian gardeners lived, worked and stoked boilers through the night to keep the garden thriving.
The two lean-to polytunnels will now be open for visitors to see the heritage tomato conservation work in action as well as many other exciting tender varieties. Finally, the kitchen garden shop has moved up to the middle terrace, stocked with produce for visitors to buy.

Spring will also see the planting out of our fantastic orchard restoration outside the west wall of the garden. This is only the start as we hope that in years to come this will become a finely trained example of heritage and local south west apple varieties.