Lottery grant funds search for historic kitchen gardens

Oxford Mail: Joanna Matthews at the kitchen garden at Ruskin College's Headington annexe Joanna Matthews at the kitchen garden at Ruskin College's Headington annexe

HUNDREDS of lost walled gardens in Oxfordshire could be rediscovered thanks to a £50,000 award.

The Oxfordshire Gardens Trust has been given the money to find out what happened to the once-common walled kitchen gardens.

There are 55 historic parks and gardens in Oxfordshire listed by English Heritage.

But it is believed there could be up to another 300 walled kitchen gardens of great historical interest.

Many fell into disrepair after the First World War.

Trust secretary Joanna Matthews said: “This has been a project we have wanted to complete for a long time.

“Walled gardens had their heyday in the 1880s, but many older people will remember them. Every house would have a small garden to grow food in.

“And there was a certain ‘bling factor’ about them. You had to have a bigger greenhouse, and a bigger garden, than your neighbour.”

The Heritage Lottery Fund money will be spent training volunteers and a project manager to start researching old maps and aerial photographs.

One former walled garden at Nuneham House in Nuneham Courtenay featured 350ft of glasshouses, producing exotic fruits such as grapes and peaches. Ms Matthews said: “Being a gardener in one of these great houses required real skill. You could be asked to produce grapes on New Year’s Day, or strawberries, and that was no mean feat.

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“People would hold secrets on how this was done and would compete in local competitions.

“But sadly after the First World War, a lot of men – many of whom were skilled gardeners – were killed. Half of the men who went to war never came back.

“These are the kind of stories we want to learn about. We want to find out what happened to these gardens and the human stories behind them.”

Ruskin College’s Headington annexe, formerly a grand family home called The Rookery, has a walled kitchen garden which had fallen into disrepair. The garden, which contains a Grade II listed ‘crinkle crankle’ wall which was used to grow fruit against, is being restored by local volunteers along with staff and students.

All the research gathered will be made accessible online at English Heritage. The findings will also be presented in a brochure available to the public and a mobile exhibition that will tour the county.

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