Saturday 26 April 2014

Chiswick House Kitchen Garden Open Day

Chiswick House has a rather splendid kitchen garden that isn't normally open to the likes of you and me. But today they opened their doors to let us have a look behind the high garden wall that normally keeps us out. We happened to be in the neighbourhood, cooling our heels whilst Emi went to a birthday party down the road, so we popped in to have a look.

For me there's something special about a walled garden: a secret place, where horticultural gems are preserved for the enjoyment of a select few.  And what's lovely about this garden is that the select few, who normally get to enjoy it are the local volunteers who maintain it. It's a place that's available for anyone who wants to enjoy a spot of therapeutic gardening. Today they were out in force, tending the beds, and they seemed to be a jolly little community of like-minded people who'd become good chums through their shared interest.

Now I have to say that the scale of this garden is daunting. It's huge: way bigger than anything I'd want to have to maintain. It was originally laid out by Sir Stephen Fox in 1682 as the garden for his adjoining property, Moreton Hall, which the sixth Duke of Devonshire purchased in 1812. The house was demolished and the kitchen garden was incorporated into the grounds of Chiswick House. So, back in the day, the garden was designed on a scale that would feed the many mouths that had to be sustained on an estate of this size.

What's nice about it is that it still feels very functional; it's a useful place that's also pretty. William Morris, the great mover-shaker behind the Arts and Crafts Movement, once said: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful", and I think he'd be jolly impressed by the way in which the volunteers, who work here, have taken that principle outdoors and applied it to their garden.

There are lots of apple and pear trees that have been pleached to grow along knee-high wires around the perimeter pathway: so pretty, and so useful. There's lots of space behind for growing other things, and the precious wall area is left free for growing figs and other soft fruit that need a little more help from the heat of the brickwork in the sun to ripen.

There's a lovely area for growing all the kitchen and medicinal herbs. Once again, it's not only pretty, it's also full of useful things.

They already have a number of harvestable crops, all ready for the kitchen.
From top left, going clockwise: rhubarb, Cavolo Nero cabbage, asparagus (not quite ready, yet) and Swiss Chard
And then there is a section of the garden given over to flowers: a cutting garden, from which they will be able to fill any number of splendid vases with glorious arrangements of cut blooms. The huge bed of irises will provide fabulous spikes of deep purple flowers for great architectural arrangements, or maybe they'll use their roots to make orris root powder, which is the traditional fixative used in making potpourri.

They have a little shop, where you can buy some of the produce that's in season, and plants that they've propagated in the garden. Today they seemed to be doing a brisk trade in rhubarb. The proceeds go to support the maintenance and further development of the garden.

Dogs aren't allowed inside, so we had to take it in turns to have a look as Maxi couldn't be trusted to behave himself outside on his own.

If you'd like to go along they'll be throwing the doors open on a number of other days throughout the year. You can check out the dates here on their events page: Events. It's a lovely garden to go to and browse for ideas, and it's always good to support a local initiative.

All the best,

Bonny x

As shared on Mosaic Monday


  1. Thanks for sharing your garden visit! A kitchen garden this size is amazing.. The plants look like they are doing wonderful..Thanks for sharing, have a happy day!

  2. Thanks, Eileen. I'm just happy that I don't have to do the weeding! Have a great week, Bonny

  3. Useful and beautiful! That's a brilliant concept. I have to remember that when I plan my new gardens this winter.

    1. Yes, Christa. William Morris once advised: "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful" and I guess that philosophy works for the garden as well. Good luck with planning your gardens for next year. The ones that you've photographed this year were truly stunning. All the best, Bonny