Heritage varieties abound in Workhouse garden

Some herbs in bloom in The Workhouse garden

The Workhouse vegetable garden has always played an important role in the lives of inmates, be it labouring in the garden, spreading night soil or harvesting produce. Today, visitors can sample the plentiful supply of vegetables and admire the heritage varieties grown while reflecting on their visit to The Workhouse.

Gardeners’ delight

The team of volunteer gardeners at The Workhouse labour long and hard to re-create the vegetable garden that would have served the needs of the staff and inmates in Victorian times. Only heritage varieties are grown and delight in such wonderful names as Kerrs Pink potato, Long white icicle radish and Bull’s Blood beetroot.

There should be a good crop of squashes and pumpkins this year and the gardeners are already harvesting large marrows and custard whites.

A selection of vegetables from the Workhouse garden
A variety of pumpkins on the vegetable barrow at The Workhouse
A selection of vegetables from the Workhouse garden
" Everyone who has a garden knows what a difficult year it has been so far. First the rain, then the cold followed by the drought. Despite this, we have had a bumper crop of onions and we are now picking some of the best beans that we have had for a while. Look out for the Turk’s Turban variety of squash with its colourful markings in the autumn. We’ll also have pumpkins for carving at Halloween. "
- Lynette Helmore, Volunteer gardener

Dreary diet

The garden you can see today was recreated in 2004 on the site of the original vegetable garden which provided food for the inmates, with any surplus being sold off to generate income. The vegetables would have added some interest to the monotonous diet of bread and watery gruel which was the mainstay of the pauper diet. Although fruit trees were planted there is no evidence of the produce being included in the pauper diet and it was probably solely for consumption by the Master and his household.

The Bramley apple trees are over 100 years old and have a special connection with the local area, as Southwell is the home of the Bramley apple. The original seedling was planted by a local girl over 200 years ago and the town still hosts an annual celebratory festival in October.

Bramley apples, which originated in Southwell, growing in the Workhouse garden
Bramley apples on tree in Workhouse garden
Bramley apples, which originated in Southwell, growing in the Workhouse garden

Pauper pickings

On every Saturday during August, the volunteer gardeners don pauper costumes to tend the gardens (not that easy in heavy skirts and clogs) and help visitors pick vegetables for themselves to take home. Tasty salads made with 'fat lazy blond' lettuce or 'tall telegraph' beans make a great supper dish and recipes can be found on the vegetable barrow.

Workhouse vegetables freshly picked by a pauper
A costumed volunteer picks vegetables for visitors
Workhouse vegetables freshly picked by a pauper

Seasonal offerings

The vegetable garden has something to offer all season from Victoria and Albert rhubarb in early spring to marrows and squashes which add a splash of colour in the autumn.