Digging for Victory in Upton's Kitchen Garden

House with row of planting and kitchen garden in foreground

In 2016, the gardens at Upton reflected the wartime theme with rows of hearty vegetables planted in the 1 acre kitchen garden.

Growing your own in wartime

In 1938 Britain had imported some 55million tons of food and for the next six years this now had to be grown at home.  On the frontline of this campaign were the nation’s vegetable gardens and allotments.

Beans became a regular part of the everyday diet, carrots replaced sweets and onions briefly became worth their ‘weight in gold’.

Wartime propaganda persuaded people to get digging for victory.  The government introduced characters like Potatos Pete and Dr Carrot to help explain the health benefits and gave advice on recipes and growing tips.

Dr Carrot and Potato Pete were there to help you grow your own and eat well during watime rationing
Two drawings of vegetable characters from wartime posters
Dr Carrot and Potato Pete were there to help you grow your own and eat well during watime rationing


What happened at Upton in the 1940s

Fortunately for Upton there was plenty of productive farm land available to turn over for food production so the main garden would have been left as it is today when the family left for London. The sunken garden was used at the start of the war for food production and the main kitchen garden would have been used too, some to send to local places (hospitals and the like) and some to cater for the 22 Bank Staff who moved to Upton from London. 

The Kitchen Garden in full view

From the edge of the lawn looking down into the garden you'll spot the rows of vegetables right in the middle of the ornamental garden, surrounded by cultivated borders which is very unusual. It helps to demonstrates how important the kitchen garden was and how much the Bearsted family appreciated how their food was grown. It proved a great resource for the Bank Staff based at Upton and local community during wartime.

The one acre kitchen garden is right in the heart of Upton's gardens
View of kitchen garden with rows of vegetables growing and trees behind
The one acre kitchen garden is right in the heart of Upton's gardens

Storing the harvest

Fridges were few and far between and whilst fresh vegetables were needed through the winter, we had to adapt a way of enabling the harvest to last as long as possible.

In the garden a clamp would have been made to store all the root crops.  This is a large mound of vegetables, usually in order of cropping, covered with straw and then topped with soil to protect from the frost.  An open, vented top would have been left to enable the vegetables to breath.

Today the crops are harvested for use in our Restaurant, where many of the dishes include an element from the gardens. Any extra crops are bagged up for sale at the Upton Store, so you can take a piece of Upton home for dinner.

Whilst in the kitchen, jars of pickles and sometimes jams would have been made to help to preserve the harvest. Take a look in the cupboards in wartime kitchen to see what we’ve been pickling this month.

Conservation work is at the heart of what we do

To enable us to conserve this delicate garden we need to be able to manage the greater numbers of people visiting in our twelve month opening period, which can be very challenging at times. Part of that management scheme which has been carefully thought through is to rotate the garden areas as they come into flower. For example, throughout the winter and into early spring we enable visitors to follow the spring bulbs. Whilst walking on the hard pathways other areas can be be viewed from a distance to show of the structure of the planting. This will be followed by the first early herbaceous border coming into flower and other areas will open as the year goes on. This enables us to manage foot fall on the mown grass pathways and work on the borders for the following season.