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The walled kitchen garden at Clumber Park

Spring in the walled kitchen garden at Clumber
Spring in the walled kitchen garden at Clumber | © Steve Bradley

Spanning four acres, the walled kitchen garden at Clumber Park is one of the grandest surviving 18th century walled gardens in England.

The history of the garden

Originally home to the Dukes of Newcastle, Clumber Park is steeped in history with clues to its grand past dotted throughout, including this spectacular enclosed garden. Dating from 1772, it supplied the sorts of exotic and unusual foods that the Dukes could impress their guests with. From asparagus, to pineapples and strawberries at Christmas, this was an elite garden for an elite family. In its prime, the gardens would have provided employment for 30 people and had 6-acres under cultivation including a huge, heated Melon Yard and an orchard, which was re-established just outside the garden walls in 2021.

The layout and techniques used

The garden itself is divided internally with a bisecting peach wall to provide extra growing space for top fruit, and two garden rooms to secure the more valuable soft fruit crops. The 15-foot walls are home to over 200 wall trained fruit including cordons, espaliers, and fans.

The Clumber gardens team practice “no dig” gardening in two large plots near the top of the garden. Each year, they provide fresh crops using organic principles for use in the park's food and beverage outlets, and for sale on the well-stocked produce cart. All generating much needed funds from visitor donations.

The gardens now have a mixture of productive and ornamental plantings and is home to two national collections of Rheum (Rhubarb) and Malus (Apple).

Spring in the walled kitchen garden at Clumber
Spring in the walled kitchen garden at Clumber | © Johanna Mather

The garden is landscaped to encourage cold air and frost to roll from the flanks into the centre of the garden and then down a central slope through metal gates at the lowest point of the garden. This leads onto the impressive Cedar Avenue, which is underplanted with 140,000 spring flowering bulbs, creating a spectacular blanket of colour in the spring months.

The Glasshouse

At 451 feet, Clumber Park boasts the longest Glasshouse in the National Trust. It was installed by the 7th Duke of Newcastle and completed in 1910. By the 1970s it was derelict but the Trust spent decades restoring it, most recently in 2014. Today, it boasts seasonal displays in its huge conservatory, an exotically planted Palm House and bays of grapes, figs, and peaches. Some of the utility rooms now serve as a museum and display an extensive collection of gardening tools.

The central area and west wing of the Glasshouse is currently being restored, read about the project here.

Highlights of the garden

Herb border

Combining herbs grown for the cafe alongside dianthus, the latter a homage to the 7th Duchess and the gardeners who grew her favourite carnations.

Rose garden

With over 40 pre-1920s varieties, it is aldo planted with bulbs, annuals and herbaceous perennials to create a display that lasts from spring to autumn.

Soft fruit garden

Home to over 50 varieties, including strawberries and raspberries.

Double herbaceous borders

At 400ft, they are the longest of their type in the National Trust's ownership.

What's happening in the garden in May?

This month sees the date of the last frost, usually in the second or third week of the month. The gardening year hinges around this date as after this time half-hardy and tender plants can be planted outside. This means vegetables like sweetcorn, squashes, pumpkins, courgettes, cucumbers, French and runner beans can all go outdoors. Bedding flowers like cosmos, cannas, dahlias, antirrhinums and many others can also be planted out.

In the Glasshouse, the tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and chillies are now in their beds ready to grow on and produce through the summer.

Down in the Pleasure Grounds the rhododendrons are having their moment. These shrubs flower in May and produce a spectacular display into the summer.

This month is a good time to visit Clumber to see the apple blossom in the walled kitchen garden. The timing of the blossom varies from year to year depending on the weather, but we have many different types of apples so flowering happens over several weeks.

What’s for sale on the produce cart?

Rhubarb, lettuce, spring cabbage, radish, asparagus and spring onions.

Seasonal advice from Clumber's Head Gardener

There’s a saying that May gets its name because it ‘may’ scorch, it ‘may’ rain or it ‘may’ snow. Monitoring the forecast for late frosts, windy days, and dry spells pays dividends.

Seed catalogues on the doormat, extended daylight and the humming of neighbour’s lawnmowers pull us into the garden more. Personally, I like to spend garden time with a book, a cold beer, and some music. In reality though, I spot a million garden tasks and end up pottering for hours: the book and beer my reward on completion.

Traditional lawns benefit from frequent mowing now, but why not consider allowing some to go a little wilder or even replace with wildflowers. A surprisingly small amount of “rough” lawn can be beneficial to nature. Also, tightly mowed paths through meadow-length grass looks stunning, something we employ in the orchards in the walled kitchen garden at Clumber.

Around this time is when ornamental borders are typically at their freshest, turgid with spring showers and not yet baked under the harshest of the summer heat. Foxglove, camassia and clematis can all be bolstered by planting out canna, dahlia and pelargoniums to name a few. Consider adding culinary plants such as basil and chives to your borders, these are just as handsome as they are tasty. A strappy-leaved leek works well beside salvia, as does feathery carrots amongst your geraniums. Have a play.

As the daytime heat builds, the air is heavy with the scent of honeysuckle, philadelphus and lilac, all in competition with one another. Consider growing moth-pollinated flowers that release their scent in the evening, such as nicotiana and evening primrose, perfect timing for sitting out and enjoying some sunshine at the end of the day.

Please continue to feed garden birds, they are excellent pest control and may have young to rear.

Now that I’ve finished writing, I ‘may’ go and grab my book and a beer, but it ‘may’ well end up being secateurs again!

Dene Wood

Cauliflower, beetroot, potatoes, raspberries grown in the walled kitchen garden
Produce grown in the walled kitchen garden | © Johanna Mather

Walled Kitchen Garden Tour

First Tuesday of every month from March - October, 11.30 – 12.30.

Discover how the walled kitchen garden is maintained using traditional gardening techniques, and is one of only a handful of its kind in existence.

Free event, no booking required, admission into the park applies. Meet at the entrance to the garden.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Garden's team have answered the most common questions asked by visitors to the walled kitchen garden.

How many staff and volunteers work in the garden?
4 full time and 3 part time staff plus 40-45 frequent volunteers

How many would have worked here in its heyday?
Around 25 gardeners

If you are the second largest collection of rhubarb in the world, who has first?
We understand a private collection in the Netherlands currently has the largest collection

How big are the Walled Gardens?
4 acres within the walls, but including the slip gardens, frame yards and historic orchards it would have been nearer to 6 acres.

How long are the glasshouses?
451 Feet/137.5 meters. It takes around one and a half minutes to walk at a steady pace from one end to the other. It is the largest range of glass owned by the National Trust.

What happens to the produce?
We sell our produce on the cart near the gate and some also goes to the café.

What happens to all the rhubarb?
From March-July we have rhubarb sticks for sale on our produce cart and send some to the cafe. We do not pick the stalks after this time as the rhubarb needs to gather and store energy for growth. In the autumn/winter the rhubarb naturally dies back. It will re-emerge in February at the beginning of the growing season.

What happens to all the apples?
We have around 250 apple trees at Clumber. We pick the apples in September and October. Some are sold on the produce cart, some go to the café, some are used at our annual apple event. Some heritage varieties are good for storing and can be brought out to sell later during the winter.

Where are the toilets?
On the east side or the left side of the garden if looking from the main gates up the central path.

How do I get to the nearest café (Central Bark)
Follow the path that goes east at the main gates, keeping the Walled Garden on your right, until you reach the woodland. Turn right (north) and walk through the trees until you get to the tarmac path and then turn right. Central Bark will be on the right.

Gardener at work with a tray of vegetables in the Kitchen Garden at Clumber Park.


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