Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Horticultural day out: Hampton Court Palace (including kitchen garden!) review

List of foodstuffs planted in the kitchen garden
My husband and I try to ensure that we have a family day out every weekend. It's usually to somewhere within 90 minutes drive of our home in South West London because the GarlicBaby tends to get a bit squeaky on long car journeys, and we go everywhere from museums, to farms, to gardens, to National Trust properties. I'm going to start going reviewing the horticulturally linked adventures that we have.

A couple of weeks ago, we spent our Saturday at the beautiful Hampton Court Palace. We'd only been there once before, for a magical summer picnic and evening of fireworks and classical music from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the summer music festival. Go and see it by the way, it was an extraordinary event.

Our most recent trip, however, was to see the marvelous new kitchen garden. Hampton Court Palace once had six separate kitchen gardens, about an acre apiece. And the one that is being rebuilt by their wonderful team is envy-inducing on a ridiculous scale. This is a place where the brassica patch is larger than my entire patio and the kale plants are five times larger than my cats. In short, it made me immediately start scheming and trying to think of football fields that I could steal to grow something similar. You can really believe that the plots could support hundreds of courtiers and servants at the Palace.
The main patches had ruler-straight edges, with perfect vegetable specimens Each vegetable patch had a border of herbs and not a weed could be seen on the perfect gravel paths. This is truly a kitchen garden fit for a king.

The garden that's being reconstructed is based on the plans drawn up in 1736 by John Rocques. The staff at the Palace are replanting the kind of fruits, vegetables and plants that would have been found in the garden before the 1840s. Every inch is being sensibly used, with fan-trained fruit trees and apple and pear cordons lining the edges.
Illustration showing the garden as it will be when finished
The garden is currently free to enter which means that everyone can enjoy this marvellous reconstruction of a piece of horticultural history. Doesn't it just make you want to grab whatever is ready and start cooking? Most of the planting was done in 2014 when the plot was checked for archeological artefacts and so I can't wait to visit again and again over the next few years as the trees mature and the harvest becomes visible. 
Pretty good-looking spring onions, bordered by sage plants

Inspiration: Something I've finally seen in enough kitchen gardens to try is edging beds with herbs. I've decided to try it with hardy herbs in my raised beds this year. 

Child-friendliness: Excellent. Whilst our GarlicBaby is too small to do anything but peer around him as he was wheeled up and down the paths, we saw multiple families there enjoying playing identification games with their children as they looked at the various plants. The Palace itself is a marvellous place for children to explore, with real log fires, appropriately furnished rooms and the characters of the time of Henry VIII wandering about and playing out the seduction of Jane Seymour. The staff there are so knowledgeable and make you feel that nothing is too much trouble. All in all, a lovely day out. We can't wait to return, Hampton Court Palace is going to become a regular haunt. 

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