It’s like a mini universe, isn’t it? Your garden that is.
Everything happens in it, insects buzz around doing their thing, flowers come and go with the seasons, it offers the great outdoors when you are ready to get outside once cabin fever sets in after the long Irish winter.
It holds its own during the harshest months, soaking up deluge after deluge and coping as best it can with the high winds thrown at it.
During the summer it provides somewhere to entertain, for the kids to play, yoga, football whatever the household is into.
Work with it and the magic of seed, soil and moisture will also provides the kitchen with the freshest of fruit and veg.
Walled gardens take this to a new level, the high walls creating microclimates and little ecosystems of their own.
So easy to forget the world outside those walls when you are working within.
The history of walled gardens in Britain and Ireland is very much associated with the Victorian era when they were the height of fashion amongst the Big Houses.
It was during this period that they became synonymous with kitchen gardening.
The concept of building gardens within walls dates back far earlier, to the Persian empire, but it was in the second half of the 19th century in the UK and Ireland that they became nearly exclusively food producing.
The shelter the walls created meant that the temperature within the enclosed garden was a few degrees higher than outside the walls and thus a greater variety of plants could be grown more successfully.
The walls retain the heat from the sun during the day and release it gradually and this is why these walls are so perfect for growing many of the more tender fruit varieties such as peaches and nectarines.
There are nearly as many designs for the walls and the gardens as there are walled gardens themselves.
Some walls have a hollow within allowing fires to be lit inside to heat them. I have seen one or two with curved corners as opposed to right angles.
I presume that this is to avoid corners and thus shade and cold pockets and perhaps more uniformity in temperature.
Every inch of the walls and the space within was utilised and nothing in the design was left to chance.
Cold frames, warm frames and pineapple pits were common in Victorian times and they became quite the status symbol and if you ever wondered why there are pineapple ornaments adorning many pillars of old country houses, this was to show off that they could grow the tender fruits in their garden.
Many of them have been restored over the last number of years and there are some great examples to visit throughout Ireland such as Woodville in Galway — woodvillewalledgarden.com, Farmleigh in Dublin — www.farmleigh.ie and of course the Walled Garden in Fota
Another one recently restored is the walled garden in one of my favourite corners of the planet, Parknasilla in the lovely county of Kerry.
Many of the former ‘Big Houses’ are now hotels and ideal places for working walled kitchen gardens, as there is a ready market for the produce and the economics work.
Better and more financially sensible for the hotel to serve food produced on site, and so much nicer and better for the guests to eat fresh food from the grounds.
Most of the ones recently restored serve a number of functions, with ornamental plants, many of which are used as cut flowers, growing alongside edible crops.
The garden in Parknasilla really is a little world all of its own, each area is part of a wider crop rotation cycle, seaweed is harvested from local beaches during the winter to mulch beds in advance of spring planting.
The produce is used in the hotel, waste is composted and put back into the soil in the garden.
Indeed looking at the ‘To Do List’ of the gardeners, Mike, David, Pat and Patrick you can see how self contained the whole thing is.
* ‘Redressing the ridges with our own compost.
* Harvesting Pumpkins, Squash, the last of the Carrots & Turnips and a selection of herbs.
* Composting all the waste flowers and vegetables (The finished plants).
* Clearing the Greenhouse for the coming season.
* Harvesting seeds off the flowers - for example — Nasturtiums & Sunflowers’.
This can only be good, as food isn’t travelling for miles, compostable waste isn’t being thrown out and needlessly filling landfills, and also, very importantly, skills are being used, learned, remembered, and passed on.
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