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March 28, 2014 / Apley Estate - Hamiltons

Apley Walled Garden – 1 year on

Now the Walled Gardens have been going for just over 1 yr, I recently wrote this article for the national press, to send with a compilation of before & after photos:

23 June 2013, AWG progress 5, compressedApley Walled Gardens back into production after 60 yrs

The first anniversary of the Apley Walled Garden project has just passed in February. Lady Harriet Hamilton launched the project a year ago, to bring the gardens back into production having been out of use for 60 years. “It’s a cause for celebration, to see how far we’ve got compared to our original proposal & to see clearly in which direction we’re now going,“ said Lady Hamilton.

Key features

The walls were heated, enabling the production of exotic & unseasonal fruits & vegetables centuries before international trade began; The gardens are particularly large at 4 acres; The walls are in extraordinarily good condition considering their age (some are pre-1775); There is a rare pair of pavilions on the ends of 2 of the internal walls.

Speedy progress

“The speed of progress has been much faster than expected, thanks to a team of committed volunteers guided by our Head Gardener Phil Allen, appointed to head the project” began Lady Hamilton. “ Another key factor was meeting with the son of the last Head Gardener & the last Assistant Head Gardener, who were both able to show exactly what was planted where, when they both lived in the Gardens.”

A key & early decision was to remove 4 inches of top soil, thereby removing 60 years of weed build up & revealing (we discovered much to our delight) perfect loamy soil ready for use. The top soil was put outside the garden walls where its weeds have been treated. Little by little, it’ll be reintroduced into the gardens. We’re using a combination of modern technology (chain saws to remove the many self-seeded trees) & traditional gardening techniques such as careful crop rotation, the use of rapeseed & sunflower oil to kill aphids & lying pumpkins on slates to stop them rotting as they grow. 22 Feb 2013, AWG progress 6

Objectives

In 2013, our intention was to create a Unique Selling Point (USP) for Apley Farm Shop, selling old, interesting & unusual varieties of fruit & vegetables whilst enabling our customers to achieve the lowest possible food miles. But we found that Farm Shop customers were not as adventurous as we’d hoped, so in 2014, we’re producing only one third unusual vegetables & two thirds of well known varieties. Plus, we only produced vegetables in 2013. So this winter, we planted fruit canes & fruit trees which will start yielding in 2014, to add to our range of produce.

“Once customers have tasted interesting vegetables like purple & white heritage carrots, most find the plain orange ones quite aren’t so appealing” enthused Lady Hamilton.

We’re enabling Apley Farm Shop to have the closest possible relationship to its suppliers – the Walled Gardens & Apley farms (the Estate’s own Home Farm & 15 tenanted farms) – with the chef, the gardener & the Farm Shop manager working very closely together.

It all links up perfectly with the beautiful Apley Farm Shop motto, ‘Taste Discover Enjoy’. We’d really like to begin a Taste Revolution, quietly starting in these magical gardens. Fresh produce used to be so tasty, local & free of unnecessary chemicals. We’re aiming to bring back all those positives.

Recipes

As often as possible, free seasonal recipes will be available for customers, for all fruit & vegetables they buy in the Farm Shop. Equally, whenever possible in The Creamery Café too, they will receive the recipe with their order, so they can then know which ingredients to buy from the shop to enable them to cook it at home (with a discount if they buy all the items).

5 Nov 2011, GM - AWG 12, compressedProduction

In 2013, we only produced on 30% of the total area within the garden walls. In 2014, we’ll be extending that to 90%, to enable us to meet orders from Apley Farm Shop, The Creamery Café & the University of Wolverhampton.

“We’ve developed into a small market garden industry more than a Walled Garden Restoration project” explained Lady Hamilton. “Ideally in 2014, we’d like to win some more contracts from local caterers & restaurants seeking specialist food grown in this unique & historic setting.”

Last year, we were 90% able to meet the very high demand for salad from The Creamery Café Restaurant, but the greenhouses this year will help us meet that demand.

By October 2013, Apley Walled Gardens were providing Apley Farm Shop with £1200 of produce per month on average. 

Greenhouses

We’re especially delighted that 3 of the greenhouses will be back in use this year. The melon pit & nectarine house will be covered with plastic sheeting & new wooden batons. One hundred years ago, Foster & Pearson installed the carnation greenhouse for the Foster family. They are still in business, so we contacted them, they found the original invoice & are now supplying replacement glass & wooden frames. This will all mean our growing season & the range of our produce will be hugely extended.

The remaining three greenhouses are in very poor repair. Over the next year we will review possible future uses and options for funding their renovation.

University of Wolverhampton

Another unexpected development was winning a contract to supply the Telford Campus of the University of Wolverhampton with vegetables, as well as game when in season. “The catering manager passed the Apley Farm Shop daily, heard about the Walled Garden project in the local press & dropped in one day” explained Lady Hamilton. “We help them meet their sustainability targets & their motto, ‘Feeding your expectations’. Such contracts really help garden projects like this to make ends meet, as income from veg box schemes & tours is minimal. We hope it will be the beginning of a long standing & mutually beneficial relationship.

Tours5 Nov 2011, GM - AWG 2

The gardens remain strictly private & are open by appointment only – on private tours or publicised Open Tour dates. Phil Allen & Lord Hamilton have addressed some local interest groups such as Gardening Clubs & Women’s Institutes, who then book private group tours. Anyone can turn up to an Open Tour, without pre-booking. Held on the first Tuesday of every month, between March & October, they allow visitors to watch first-hand the garden’s development.

The future

Having had some initial TV, radio & press coverage, we’re now seeking to significantly build on that, to cover the development process.

More information

The website www.apleywalledgarden.co.uk has more detail on the Walled Garden Development. For further detail, email the Head Gardener Phil Allen on headgardener@apleyestate.com or call him on 07746 01 30 50.

 

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