The Arboricultural Historian

Walled Kitchen Garden – A Journey back In Time

Ever since I was a university student, I’ve had an enduring passion for the history of arboriculture, and how changing arboricultural practices over time have helped to shape the culinary culture of our islands.
The story of walled kitchen gardens is a lengthy odyssey which has its origins in a time before trains, electricity, cars and supermarkets. An orchard – cum – vegetable garden is one of the most ancient forms of gardening, however, a walled kitchen garden took on a new importance during this time.

One way in which to impress and entertain important visitors or possibly visiting foreign dignitaries was to provide exotic fruits. Fruit trees, including apricots and peaches, grew best and ripened earlier when planted against an enclosure’s walls.

The 1700s saw great debates about the size, shape, and layout of walled gardens and the best methods for growing fruit, vegetables and flowers. Heated glasshouses in the 1800s allowed tender and exotic delicacies to be grown, but as transport improved and produce became easier to buy, kitchen gardens became more of a luxury.

Between 1800 and 1939 walled kitchen gardens were at the height of their productivity, but the outbreak of World War I in 1914 can now be seen as the start of their decline. Few, if any, were built after that date.

So 2014 is a fitting year for the dedicated people at the Isle of Wight Gardens Trust to uncover the fascinating story of walled kitchen gardens and their role in the history of Island life. We will also see how walled gardens are used today and travel forward in time to consider how they might be used in the future.