Chiswick House Trust Denies Cause For Concern

After Kitchen Garden Association voice fears for their future

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The volunteers who run the Kitchen Garden in Chiswick House’s Grounds have voiced their concerns over the future of their popular project. A spokesperson for the Kitchen Garden Association said, “The Kitchen Garden has been informed by the Project Director in charge of the works in the Gardens that it would be unwise to take bookings for children/education groups for any time during 2009 because of the level of works planned to be undertaken.”

She continued, “This would clearly be a serious blow to the work of the Kitchen Garden. We are trying to plan for some interim fallback measures if this outcome turns out to be unavoidable. However at the same time we are urging the Trust to reconsider a more flexible approach to access for children during 2009, especially since some of the works have been re-scheduled as events unfold.”

Chiswick House Trust has denied there is any cause for concern. In a statement a spokesperson for the Trust said, “The Kitchen Garden Association is a highly valued part of the activities at Chiswick House Gardens. At an early stage in the restoration programme the Association were advised of the likely closure of the walled garden and loss of access for the duration of 2009 due to Health and Safety considerations.

“By agreement this has since been partly rescinded to allow the Kitchen Garden Association volunteers ‘managed access’ to enable them to maintain parts of the garden while restoration works take place. Unfortunately, but for very understandable reasons, school sessions will not be possible as children are not permitted into the walled gardens and education centre due to construction processes and vehicle activity.”

Hundreds of local school children have visited the Kitchen Garden and have learnt a great deal through helping with both planting and harvesting the food that is grown there.

“No decision or formal discussion by the Trust has yet taken place on the nature of any future arrangements with the Kitchen Garden Association; however the Trust is very much committed to including The Kitchen Garden Association within a major new education initiative for Chiswick House and Gardens, which is in imminent development.

“The Trust recognises and appreciates the superb work of the Kitchen Garden Association in developing inspiring and imaginative education activities and in the increasing participation of the local community in the walled garden that they have helped to bring about.”

The walled gardens were originally part of the neighbouring Moreton Hall estate which the 6th Duke of Devonshire purchased in 1812, pulling the old 17th Century house down and incorporating the gardens into a larger productive area to support Chiswick House. Prior to 1812 the Southern Walled Garden was a wilderness garden – a non productive structured garden of trees and shrubs enjoyed for strolling, socialising and quiet contemplation.

The current restoration of the Southern Walled Garden and the derelict Northern Garden includes the repair of historic walls and gates and the reinstatement of historic path layouts in sympathetic and access friendly surfaces. The Southern Walled Garden will be dedicated to horticulture with one quarter laid to lawn for garden events and activities. The Northern Garden will be cleared of the remains of a neglected nursery and scrub to provide a grassed orchard with historic varieties of fruit trees which the Kitchen Garden Association have played a key role in helping to select.

In order to learn more about the garden and inform the restoration works archaeologists excavated within the walled gardens this summer. Their finds included a structure which is believed to be associated with a stove house in which fruit trees exotics and early spring flowers would have been grown. It may even have been a conservatory of some sort, or a resting place in the surrounding “wilderness” where exotic plants were displayed.

Also in the Southern Walled Garden, a domed brick well capped with a shaped slab of Portland stone was recorded. The date of the well is not certain but is likely to be 18th or early 19th century. Many of the trenches produced evidence for earlier planting beds and one showed evidence of a gardening practice called “subsoiling” or “trenching” in the 19th century. This involved digging and mixing top and subsoil deposits to create deeper planting beds.

This investigation has helped further the understanding of the development of the gardens at Chiswick House and their history will be interpreted as part of the restoration project.

October 3, 2008