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The walled kitchen garden at Clumber Park

Looking up a path to the glasshouse with plant borders down each side
Winter in the walled kitchen garden at Clumber Park | © Jon Scrimshaw

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).

View across the garden borders and apples trees in the walled kitchen garden
View across the walled kitchen garden | © Jon Scrimshaw

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 December?

This month the team are settling the garden down for winter. This means clearing dead and dying foliage, leaving some seed heads to give structure and for the birds. The bare bones of the kitchen garden are gradually revealed as the leaves fall, exposing the elegant shapes of the trained fruit.

This is the month for ordering seeds for next year and there is still time to plant onions and garlic sets if the ground is not frozen.

Down in the Turning Yard the summer meadow has been removed and a green manure has been sown to cover the area over the winter. A new meadow will be sown in the spring.

In the Glasshouse, the garden team has planted cabbages, lettuces and salad leaves to ensure early crops are ready to sell on the produce cart in the spring, and something for visitors to see over the winter.

Seasonal advice from Clumber's Head Gardener

The end of 2023 is fast approaching. What we typically call our growing season is often bookended with new growth in the spring and the damaging first frost. This constricts our perception of the gardening calendar to just 8 or 9 months, but the reality is that a garden is busy all year-round.

The average first frost date is around late November so ensuring any frost tender vegetables are harvested is a good move; think squashes, outdoor tomatoes, sweetcorn and peppers. Likewise, other tender plants will need protection, cuttings should be taken, and seeds harvested.

Hopefully, you will have been able to store some of that recently picked produce to make delicious homemade delights over the coming months. Frozen vegetables and dried flowers will all start to earn their keep soon and leave you thankful you took the time to grow and prepare them.

Ideally, any new spring-flowering bulbs will have been planted, but don’t be afraid to plant right up until the end of the year when the ground is frost-free. Bulbs will do much better planted late than left in a plastic bag in the shed.

2023 has been unusual and very different from 2022. We had a very wet winter with a late and damaging cold snap. This was followed with an abnormally dry spring/early summer spell, and then a rather wet summer. Autumn surprised us with some unseasonably warm days both wet and dry. It has always paid for gardeners to keep an eye on the weather. Less predictable seasons mean that now more than ever this is important – always be ready to respond with a watering can, or a warm fleece!

Shorter days will mean that lots of us tend to enjoy our garden only on our days off. I’ve often found a good jacket and a cheap headtorch are invaluable for extending garden time.

Dene Wood

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

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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