The Victorian Kitchen Garden

Samantha PillingThe Gardens

victorian kitchen garden

The kitchen garden at Grim’s Dyke enables us to supply fresh fruit, vegetables, edible flowers and herbs for our restaurant, as well as provide a rich environment for wild bees, insects and animals – and during Gilbert’s time, this wouldn’t have been any different.

The Victorian kitchen garden was a work of art, run by its king – the head gardener. He would know how to, not only grow the different varieties of fruit and vegetables, but also how to store them too. It was expected that a one-acre plot of land could comfortably provide enough produce for 12 people.

Glass became cheaper

Glass tax was abolished in 1845, followed three years later with the invention of plate glass AND the abolishment of window tax – meaning low priced glass. This enabled the Victorian kitchen garden to have glass houses and cold frames – and more growing space. They could have grapes on their table much later in the year, impressing their dinner guests with both the resulting bunches and bottles of wine.

The importance of being walled

The typical kitchen garden was walled on all four sides, with each wall providing protection and stability for fruit trees. It wasn’t uncommon for the walls to have hollow sections, where fires could be lit, to heat the walls and help provide a microclimate by raising the temperature of the garden by a few degrees. The North wall would be ideal for fruits that didn’t mind the cold weather, such as blackberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants. The East wall could play home to the hardier pears and apples, whilst the West wall was ideal for apples, pears, figs and plums. Finally, the South wall played host to grapes, peaches and nectarines.

You can still see some of the original garden walls beside our kitchen garden and also in front of the Garden Suites and bedrooms.

The overall layout

The plot of land itself would be divided into quarters, each separated off with a path system. There’d also be a herb border near the kitchen entrance. Most plants would be low in stature, to prevent damage caused by trapped swirling air currents that may accumulate within the walls.

The gardens at Grim’s Dyke

The gardens at Grim’s Dyke would have played an essential role in the life of W.S. Gilbert and his family. Not only would the kitchen garden provide them with all the fruit and vegetables they’d need, the stunning formal gardens provided a place to rest and relax. And let’s not forget Lady Gilbert’s pride and joy – the large sunken rose garden – still being enjoyed by visitors at Grim’s Dyke, to this very day.

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