Garden Visits - Littlebredy Walled Gardens
PUBLISHED: 15:31 03 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:49 20 February 2013
Susanne Masters visits a 'lost' Victorian walled garden in west Dorset that is gradually being restored to its former glory thanks to a community inspired initiative
Garden Visits -Littlebredy Walled Gardens
Susanne Masters visits a lost Victorian walled garden in west Dorset that is gradually being restored to its former glory thanks to a community inspired initiative
Walled kitchen gardens were the supermarkets of their age. Sheltered by high walls drifts of flowers, vegetables and fruit trees thrived in this microclimate. Large country estates relied on them for providing fruit and vegetables for the big house and as a result their gardeners developed techniques to provide fresh produce all year round.
Littlebredy Walled Gardens, a productive plot 1-acre on the south-facing slopes of the Bride River Valley in west Dorset, is a wonderful working example of how these local food hubs operated. Currently the garden is leased from the Bridehead Estate by the Walled Garden Workshop, a venture started by Liz Eaton and Chris Burr. When the garden came up for lease Liz was keen to takeover it over. Ithought it would be great to do something with the gardens rather than letting themgo back to jungle again. Im fascinated by the history behind thegardens and love the idea of the continuity of people tilling the soil for centuries.
The Bridehead Estates gardens were established during the Georgian period; by the Victorian era the 5-acre gardens, which includes the 1-acre walled garden as well as orchards, were at their most productive as they were tended by 14 full-time staff. By the mid-20th century the rising cost of labour, increasing mechanisation and intensity of agriculture in the UK made the maintenance of local food production an indulgence that was not cost effective. As a result many walled gardens fell into neglect or were built on.
Im fascinated by the history behind the gardens and love the idea of the continuity of people tilling the soil for centuries
Neglect was the fate of the Littlebredy Walled Gardens until Chris and Judy Yates cleared and replanted the garden just over 20 years ago and created The Scented Garden. In2008, when Chris and Judy retired, the Walled Garden Workshop was formed as a not-for-profit Community Interest venture to continue restoring the gardens.
Grass paths run around the gardens taking you past colourful beds where poppies and verbascums have self-seeded amongst shrubby perennials and vegetables. Antique garden ornaments and tools came with the garden; the finial from a greenhouse was used to top a woven willow crown for this years Jubilee, old watering cans are garden ornaments and a wheelbarrow has been given a new lease of life by being planted with lettuces.
At the back of the garden is an enormous fig tree, a survivor from the original garden; this is at its peak in September when figs are dripping from the branches. Even though the vine-house is gradually collapsing it still contains a grape vine, which emerges through holes in the roof. Even in its dishevelled state it is still beautiful. Uniquely the remaining panes of glass are a mixture of pieces that are tinted red or green. A smaller Victorian glasshouse, at the centre of the garden, is currently being renovated hopfully the vine-house will also be restored in time.
Grass paths run around the gardens taking you past colourful beds where poppies and verbascums have self-seeded amongst shrubby perennials and vegetables
The River Bride rises and runs through the garden and as Liz and Ienjoy a cup of tea by it, I marvel at the electric blue demoiselles dancing by the reeds. The peace is broken by a loud splash. That was a trout, says Liz. There are eels too. There are also lots of deer in the damson orchard and vineyard. Fortunately the deer, which are partial to tender green shoot, are kept out of the garden by the walls.
As well as keeping out pests, great and small, the walls create ideal growing conditions for the plants within. Fruiting trees trained against the walls get extra heat from the warmth of the sunlight absorbed by the bricks. The walls also keep out the wind as Liz explains. We have our own microclimate here. It can be a howling gale outside but calm in here. In fact we can pretty much sit and have tea outdoors most days of the year.
Liz, who worked in London for 22 years, did her horticultural training at Kingston Maurward near Dorchester before becoming a gardener. Part of her role is to bring in volunteers to help with maintaining the walled garden. Many people who visit, come back to work here as a volunteer, its such a lovely place to spend time in. Most go home with some reward from the garden for their work be it vegetables, fruit or flowers. Liz has also had help from a group from thePrinces Trust.
The finial from a greenhouse was used to top a woven willow crown for this years Jubilee
Visitors also benefit from the gardens produce including plants that are propagated on-site. During my visit in July I bought a couple of bunches of intensely blue lavender and figs when I visited in September. People give donations in exchange for wedding flowers and the gardens also provide flowers to the local church for Harvest Festival. At Christmas time the team make wreaths and garlands that are sold inLondon.
Local Dorset foodie, Christine McFadden has linked up with the project to run cookery workshops which includes a visit to the garden to harvest herbs and vegetables with Liz on-hand to provide information about the plants. Whenthe on-site barn restoration iscompleted the Walled Garden Workshop will have space to run courses on site, not only on growing vegetables but also on how to make wreaths and garlands.
Clearly with on-going restoration and new planting there is always something different to see at this delightful garden. During my visits Irelished the peaceful atmosphere and the sights and sounds of its plants and resident wildlife; there is always something rather special about a garden that has been tended for centuries.
Visiting Littlebredy Walled Gardens
Open: 2pm5pm, Wednesdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays (EasterSeptember)
Entry: 3 for adults, children free, dogs on leads welcome
Group visits: These can be arranged for walkers who want a pit-stop with tea and cake, gardening groups or art groups on a field day email or telephone to discuss
Cookery Courses: For details of cookery courses with Christine McFadden visit thedorsetfoodie.com or call 01308 482784
Further Information: The Walled Garden Workshop Littlebredy, DT2 9HL, 01305 898 055, email email@example.com or visit wgw.org.uk
Other gardens to visit thismonth
Here are just a few of the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) venues open during September in Dorset for a full list visit ngs.org.uk
In September the trees and shrubs in this garden are coming into full glory and the vegetable garden will be at its most prolific. The garden is all about structure and shape, using the topography of the lovely West Dorset valley to advantage, with views to the hills beyond. The nearby church of St. Michael and All Angels will be full of flowers, and homemade teas are available in the village hall.
Open: 2 Sept (2pm-5pm), adults 4
Rampisham, DT2 0PT
Pen Mill Farm
This romantic garden, with acid-loving mature trees, is set in a secluded valley on the Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire borders. A tributary of the Stour cascades into the lake, and flows onward. In late summer the wide collections of salvias in the herbaceous beds come into their own, and many will be for sale on the plant stall.
Open: 16 Sept, 2pm-5pm, Adults 3, homemade teas
Penselwood, BA9 8NF
A 17th century farm house and barns with a walled garden set in the middle of the village. Mature trees surrounding a lake, with shrubberies, colourful herbaceous borders and a vegetable garden.
Open: 9 Sept, 2pm-5pm, adults 4, homemade teas
Stourton Caundle, DT10 2JW
This Dorset Wildlife Trust Wonder Garden has both natural swimming and wild-life ponds. Herbaceous borders, shrubs, and trees will be turning colour at the end of the season. Children and dogs welcome, with pond-dipping available, and a swing and tree platform overlooking Duncliffe Woods.
Open: 30 Sept, 2pm-5pm, adults 4, homemade teas
East Orchard, Shaftesbury, SP7 0BA