The Walled Garden at Shenley Park
PUBLISHED: 10:33 17 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:55 20 February 2013
Once a productive vegetable and fruit garden in the 16th century, the Walled Garden at Shenley Park is now a tranquil place to relax and enjoy the pretty planting and scenic views, as Philippa Pearson discovers
IN its heyday, the magnificent two-acre Walled Garden at Shenley Park provided a provenance of fruit and vegetables for the mansion at Porters Park, a private estate on the site. Later the garden provided fresh produce and respite for patients when the Park became a mental hospital in the 20th century but it wasnt until the early 1990s after the hospital closed that the by now neglected garden was transformed by Shenley Park Trust. The Trust was set up in 1992 to develop, manage and maintain the 45-acre rural Park for the people of Shenley and neighbouring parishes and set about developing the Walled Garden, firstly clearing away debris from old greenhouses and walls that had perished during the great storms of 1987. Sadly, the storms devastation and years of neglect meant it wasnt feasible to restore the garden back to its former kitchen garden glory and a new layout and purpose for the garden was embarked on.
Still enclosed by walls, the site is unusual as it slopes seven metres from the top to the bottom of the garden and special frost tunnels, originally created to drain away the cold frost air, can still be seen in the gardens lower walls. The new design emerging from the rubble of shattered greenhouses featured two marquee lawns separated by three terraces with an amphitheatre at the bottom area. Work on clearing the garden was carried out during the first four years by community service workers on a Saturday and Sunday: 11 large skips of glass alone were removed. Even today whilst digging in the garden, pieces of glass and foundation stones from the greenhouses are still unearthed.
In early spring, the fruit trees have a glowing carpet of yellow and blue from daffodils, crocuses and anemones
Some plants were saved, mainly the existing apple tree cordons and standards on the west side of the garden and these produce a stunning display of blossom in mid-spring whilst apples from over 100 different varieties are pressed and juice bottled on site then sold in the Orchard Tea Room. Special Apple Day events take place in October. Many of the apple trees are quite old, some dating back to the time of the Porters Park Estate. In the hospital era, the orchard and Walled Garden were re-stocked by Mr Stanley Lord in the 1950s so the trees at least date back to this period. In 2008 further apple and plum trees were planted on the east side of the garden in front of the pear cordons that grow against the wall along from Gardeners Cottage. In early spring, the fruit trees have a glowing carpet of yellow and blue from daffodils, crocuses and anemones planted in 2006 by Head Gardener Liz Ensor and her team. With a link to the gardens heritage as a productive fruit garden, Liz has also introduced soft fruit underneath the standard apple trees, with more planned for the future.
The two-metre high terraces provide areas of level lawn in between and space for massed planting of shrubs and roses, all mixed with seasonal perennials whilst a viewing point gives the chance to enjoy the outstanding views over the surrounding countryside. A raised planter has been added to one terrace and Liz has filled this with fragrant trailing rosemary, very aromatic on a warm day. All plants are propagated in three new greenhouses, mostly constructed from the salvaged remains of the 18 derelict greenhouses, and plants are for sale in the Banana House area. This large greenhouse was once used for growing bananas and other fruit that demanded frost-free and tropical growing conditions. Sadly, the Banana House couldnt be restored but whilst you peruse the plants for sale in the area where it once stood, take time to reflect what wonderful produce once came from this area to supply the tables for the lords of the manor.
Visit Shenley Walled garden
There is a special opening for the NGS on Mothers Day, Sunday,
March 14 from 2 to 5pm. Admission 3, all proceeds to the NGS.
The Walled Garden and plant sales area are open all year Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm (except in extreme bad weather). From Easter until September 30 the Garden is also open on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays from noon to 5pm. Free admission. Refreshments and plant sales available.
Sometimes the Garden is closed for private functions. The number of private functions is restricted to a certain number each year but they are essential to provide income for the upkeep of the Garden. The Garden is usually closed on the day of a public event such as a concert or a play for setting up purposes.