Walled gardens have been a staple of large British stately homes for hundreds of years. In times when storing and transporting food was not easy, it was down to these households to produce the food they would eat and also the medicines they took to treat ill health. While walled gardens can trace their heritage back to ancient perserian and roman times, the walled garden we have come to know became fashionable in Edwardian and Victorian times.
As tastes changed and having exotic food became a status symbol, these large estates needed to find ways to not only feed themselves, but also produce food which would not usually grow here in the UK. Over the years, and as food distribution has improved and the role of large estates changed, these gardens have either become enclosed ornamental gardens, been left to fall into disrepair.
The walled garden creates a sheltered space for plants and crops offering the opportunity to create micro-climates to support the needs of different plants. Many added heated large greenhouses to create warmer climates for those high status fruits and plants.
Many of these walled gardens are now part of private estates or Trusts where small armies of volunteers and paid workers work tirelessly to restore these small pieces of history for future generations.
Holkham Hall is one of those places where their 6 acre walled garden is being restored and offering inspiration to visitors. At the start of July, I visited the garden to seek inspiration for my own garden and get a feel for which plants could do well at home.
Like many walled gardens, the garden is situated away from the main house. This was part of a growing fashion in the 1800’s to have these large houses surrounded by natural looking landscape. The Holkham Walled Garden is situated next to the orangery and close to the estate gas station, built when gas was being introduced to homes. The garden is split into 6 sections serving different purposes. I expect the garden has taken on many forms over the years, particularly during the world wars, and now they showcase flower, vegetable and fruit growing.
I was particularly interested in their flowers. I have spend the last few years learning to grow vegetables and refining my process and technique. Flowers have been of less interest to me, while I understood their aesthetic value, I had not appreciated how they can help all parts of my garden to do better. I have also recently appreciated the reduction in insects and the impact this will have on us as the whole food chain is reliant upon those little creatures. I remember the carnage on car window screen when I was a child. In the summer window screens would be covered by the small bodies of insects unlucky enough to fly into the path of our family care, but now it is a rare occurrence.
While I personally cannot offset all the impacts of industrialisation and urbanisation, I can do my bit within my few meters I have control over. I had wanted to create a garden which helps the small army of insects to do well in my small corner of England.
I am particularly keen on selecting flowers which fit with a more traditional English garden and visiting the Walled Garden at Holkham Hall in July let me see many of the plants in bloom. I find it hard to visualise how a plant in a garden centre which is not flowering will look in my garden. This way I can see them in a garden at the height of summer.
If you are in the area, Holkham Walled Gardens are worth a visit or check out different gardens near you for inspiration.