Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Woodbrooke gardens and grounds - the walled garden

My first post about the Woodbrooke grounds and gardens looked at the ornamental areas of the gardens and some of the wildlife and conservation areas. This time, I want to look at the walled garden; and in another post later on, I'll look at the other 'edibles', outside the walled garden.

Woodbrooke now calls itself a 'study centre', indicating its varied uses for adult education courses, retreats, conferences, meetings and other events. Formerly it was known as a 'college', and at its inception in 1903 it was, for a short time, called a 'settlement'.

If you double-click on any of the photos
you will get an enlarged version,
enabling you to see more detail.

Woodbrooke - the building
Built in 1830,Woodbrooke was the home of Josiah Mason (founder of Birmingham University) and his family. The present site was then farm and woodland just south of Birmingham - at that time a town, much smaller than the city is now. The original building is within the part rendered and painted cream.

This protective covering was probably added because the brick was not of the highest quality. The custom at the time was to quarry the materials for bricks nearby and to produce one’s own bricks on-site.

The likelihood is that the quarry was then landscaped to form the lake in the woodland area. The building was later used by George Cadbury to house his family and a considerable number of servants until some time after his second marriage.

When George Cadbury took over the house he added a walled kitchen garden. The head gardener and team of gardeners worked to supply fresh fruit and vegetables to feed the household, as well as cut flowers to decorate the house. The reliance on walled gardens faded after World War 1 - so many young men failed to return from the war, and this was a very labour-intensive way of supplying food. Many such gardens fell into disuse and ruin. In recent years there has been renewed interest in them, and many projects exist to rebuild and restore them. Restored and functioning kitchen gardens can now be found in some National Trust properties, and other stately homes open to the public. But there are also smaller and more modest schemes, and the Walled Kitchen Gardens Network provides expertise, support and encouragement.
At Woodbrooke, recent gardeners have been bringing Woodbrooke's own walled garden back into production.

At the far left back of this picture you can just see a gateway in the south wall of the garden. It's a wrought iron gate and was put in just a few years ago - to let the cold air out! The walled garden slopes downwards slightly from north to south - this is good for being angled to the sun, but it also means that cold air pools at the south end of the garden. This makes a frost pocket in the winter, and in the spring, when nights are still chilly, a puddle of cold air lingers well through the day - so nothing would grow there. So the iron gate creates a gap in the solid wall, so the cold air can continue to flow downhill and out of the garden, instead of collecting at the south wall.

The top (north) end of the garden has the greenhouse and cold frames, as well as the gardener's workshop and the compost bins.

view along the cold frames -
the covers are off as it's a warm,
sunny day - salad seedlings growing

Compost bins

The central area is laid out as a herb garden.

Plan of the herb garden

Also at the north end (thus on a south-facing wall) is a fig tree, trained against the wall for the warmth it provides.

 . . . and it bears figs!

The south end of the garden is a grid of shallow raised vegetable beds.

The eastern (west-facing) side is the soft fruit area

and the western (east-facing) side is a cutting garden, growing plants that provide cut flowers for the public areas of the buildings.


Also on the western side is a solar-powered water feature and pond - when the sun is shining, the water flows, and when it isn't, it doesn't!

The greenhouse has tomatoes gowing well, in sacks filled with Woodbrooke's home-made compost.

And is also used to raise young plants, some for later planting ouside, some (less suited to our climate) are grown wholly inside.

Basil plants and aubergines grow well in the protected environment.

Basil plants

Young aubergine plants getting maximum light at the top of the greenhouse.


Runner bean seedlings being raised in the greenhouse for later planting out - they will grow tall, climbing up rows of canes. 

Just in the corner of this picture, you can see some netting stretched over hoop made out of left-over hose, remaining after a plumbing job elsewhere in the building.

The netting is to protect the cabbages, both from pigeons and from cabbage white butterflies which will try to lay their eggs on the leaves, and the caterpillars will then destroy the crop. To the sides are small plants of kohlrabi - these will grow quickly and be harvested before the cabbages grow big and shade them. This is known as a catch crop.

Other catch crops are sown alongside the potatoes - radishes and salad rocket will grow much faster than the slow-matturing potato crop.

Produce from the walled garden finds its way onto menus in the dining room. Bunches of mixed herbs are taken to the kitchen, reminiscent of the Victorian kitchen gardeners who would take trugs of produce to the cook. The menu will say that a dish is 'with Woodbrooke herbs'. Seasonal food from the garden reminds us that year-round imported produce is a recent phenomenon, and not necessarily beneficial.

Garden volunteers with freshly picked radishes.

Produce from the garden appears on the menu as 'Woodbrooke radishes' or 'Woodbrooke beans', etc.

At this time of year there is a wonderful glut of rhubarb!

Here you see visitors at last year's garden open day being shown around the walled garden. Woodbrooke gardens are open this year, as part of the National Gardens Scheme ('the 'yellow book'). Come and visit us on Sunday 20 June, 2.30-5.30pm. There will be lots of ecological extras, excellent tea and cakes, craft stalls, the gardener and garden volunteers on hand to guide you. Come and join us!

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If you want to post a comment, and are having technical difficulties, you can email your comment to me at Good.Lives@woodbrooke.org.uk and I can post it for you.

If you are reader from outside the UK, please remember to post your comment in English - I won't post anything if I don't know what it says!
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