The Walled Garden


As the latest owners of Abercamlais, one of our first projects is the restoration of the walled kitchen garden. Built in the 18th Century, the garden spans 1 hectare and was said to be self-sufficient in everything but salt, providing for a household of 26, along with guests and staff.

There were at least two gardeners; one of whom lived close by in the garden cottage, as well as gardener’s boys who assisted in taking the plants, fruits and vegetables in their barrows from the garden to the house.

Restoration of the walled kitchen garden began in 2016. The old dipping well in the centre of the garden was unearthed, although early maps also suggest it might have been a fountain. Dipping wells provided convenient access for drawing water, usually taking advantage of underground springs that fed nearby water sources. Using a pulley and a rope, buckets were lowered into the well to provide a constant supply of water for the kitchen garden.  The brickwork and drainage system have also been revealed.

There is a potting shed positioned across one wall of the garden and inside is a fireplace. This may have been used to heat the wall for the fruit trees.

Apples, plums, pears, peaches, nectarines and figs were all grown in the kitchen garden and there were a few surviving plum trees on one wall. We are currently planting the garden with a variety of fruit and vegetables.

There were five frames originally in the frameyard. The walls of the frames were heated, probably with coke or coal. There are double walls of brick and stone. The frames were placed over a layer of manure and straw. The constant heat would have allowed the growth of tender vegetables and fruits.

Keep up to date on the progress of work over at our News page and see the photos below that record the changes over the seasons and years…

“The kitchen garden at Abercamlais was a huge one surrounded by high greystone walls, and it had a small round pond in the middle, in which Aunt Mary had planted waterlillies. It was the first time I ever saw those charming flowers and they have fascinated me ever since.”

Memoirs of Frances Mary Barbara Slater, nee Garnons Williams, (1889-1968).

“The greenhouse had such lovely Devoniensis roses and a huge scarlet Cacti.”  July 1876

From the diaries of Catherine Hort (1833-1892), wife of Garnons Williams.

Left: An invoice discovered in the Abercamlais archives detailing the purchase of various fruit trees in the years 1911 and 1913.

‘It is now upwards of seventeen years since Your Majesty did me the honour to appoint me Your Gardener at Kensington and St. James; during which time I have made a great variety of experiments on Fruit and Forest Trees, and introduces the mode of Pruning and Training recommended in the following Treatise.’

A Treatise on the Culture and Management of Fruit Trees, William Forsyth, F.A.S, F.S.A, 1803, Abercamlais Library.

William Forsyth (1737-1804) was a Scottish botanist and head gardener for George III. He trained at the Chelsea Physic Garden and in 1784 was appointed Superintendent of the Royal Gardens at Kensington and St James’ where he stayed until his death. He was also a founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society. The genus Forsythia is named after him.

As well as instructions on the growing, pruning and training of fruit trees, Forsyth’s book lists many different fruit varieties, including 72 common pear varieties as well as 14 summer pears, 10 autumn and 6 winter. He also describes 100 apple varieties, 65 grape varieties, 63 plum varieties, 65 peach varieties, 41 cherry varieties and 66 peach varieties. This gives some indication of the range of fruit that it was possible to grow; many of which may now be rarely seen in the modern fruit garden or indeed may have died out altogether.

‘As cherries are a very considerable article of traffic in the London markets, and the markets of most towns throughout the kingdom, employing such a great number of people during the Summer season in gathering, carrying to market, and felling them, the raising of them is certainly worth any gentleman’s while, as well as the trees may be rendered ornamental as well as profitable, by planting them in shrubberies &c…

If the young shoots are properly trained, they will produce fruit the following year; and in the second year they will produce more and finer fruit than a young tree that has been planted ten or twelve years.’

‘Never cut the stems of young plum-trees when first planted, but leave them till the buds begin to break; then you may head them down to five or more eyes, always observing to leave an odd one for the leading shoot: remember to cut sloping towards the wall, and as near to an eye as possible. Thus managed, the shoots will soon fill the wall with fine wood.’

‘Pearson’s Pippin is a nice Apple, about the size of a large Golden Pippin, of a yellowish colour, and the form a little flat. In Devonshire, they put these Pippins into the oven just after the bread is drawn, laying a weight over them to flatten them, in the same manner as they do the Beefin in Norfolk, and bring them to the table as a sweetmeat.’

‘I began with cutting down four old and decayed Pear-trees of different kinds, near to the place where they had been grafted: this operation was performed on the 15th of May 1786. Finding that they put forth fine shoots, I headed down four more on the 20th June in the same year (for by this time the former had shoots of a foot long), which did equally well, and bore fruit in the following year. One of the four that I headed down was a St. Germain, which produced nineteen fine large well-flavoured Pears next year (See Letter B. PLATE VII – above), and in the third bore more fruit than it did in its former state when it was four times the size.’

Left: ‘A Drawing of an old decayed Beurre Pear-tree, restored from an inch and a half of bark, which now covers a wall sixteen feet high.’

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