Restoring and running your own walled kitchen garden is a very steep learning curve. Yes, I know we should have sown lots of successions, and in fact we did, but the seeds that went in first just ground to a halt until the later planted seeds caught up, and then they all rushed to shoot out of the beds and crop like mad, as if to deliberately give the Kitchen team a Vegetable Challenge!
This year has been a resounding success, with the garden almost producing more fabulous fresh vegetables than the hotel can use. We recently had a full week when we didn’t order a single carrot, spud or raspberry in, every single vegetable on every single plate leaving the pass, was picked in the walled garden. That felt good. We even managed to supply the Chefs with enough fresh Monmouthshire strawberries to serve 100 at lunch on the Friday. Never mind low Food Miles, that lunch even had low Food Yards! We were able to give away a few boxes of veg to some loyal customers in return for a donation to a local charity. It’s not exactly Riverford, but it was a great ‘feel good’ thing to do.
However, whilst it’s been gratifying to see the garden come on stream properly, the new fruit cages increase yields massively, and the test beds show great promise, it’s not all been completely plain sailing. As part of our push on towards gaining certified Organic status we tried some companion planting of marigolds and nasturtiums to keep the bugs away from the vegetables, and it would be fair to say this has not been an unqualified success. The caterpillars seem to enjoy the Cavelo Nero even more than the customers do, and I suspect they eat more of them too. The only thing growing fat on the Hispis is the pesky Cabbage White butterflies! We did however have a much better crop from the nasturtiums. As some varieties are coming to the end, we are now clearing the beds for successions of root and winter vegetables, along with some planting for early spring harvesting.
Our first Walled Garden Open Day on 1st August saw well over 150 keen green-fingered types visit to see our stuttering progress. The grass was stripy, the sun shone, all the vegetables were dutifully labelled, our Head Chef did cooking demonstrations, revealing some top tips from a high quality commercial kitchen and we had to turn people away from the restaurant at lunchtime. We made vegetable based cocktails, purely medicinal obviously, gave garden tours and sold our own jam and chutneys. A great day and we plan to do it again soon. Suggestions that we join the National gardens Scheme were put down to too much sun and a great many cocktails.
As I write the Great Glasshouse is slowly taking shape. It’s bigger than we thought, much bigger, but thoughts of grapes, melons and oranges hanging from the inside mean that the excitement is mounting. It’s easily big enough to drive a tractor through, and would probably be big enough for a game of indoor touch rugby. Planning for raised beds, the rain water harvesting tank and sprinkler system need to now be finalised. By the next time you hear from me we may well have scored our first try …