Back in May this year (2009) Kevin and I were at the Holdenby House* Garden Show; we were supposed to have a PermOrganics stall there but unfortunately we didn’t have enough ready for it, so we decided to go along to the show anyway.
Whilst wandering around, we happened upon a sign, pointing us in the direction of a cruck house farmstead…so off we went to explore! When we got there, we discovered a reconstructed 17th century cottage (although not a true cruck house) and a very neglected garden. We both thought it was a shame that such a place was so overgrown, so noting the contact details of the people responsible for its upkeep, we resolved to get in touch!
Although the cottage is within the grounds of Holdenby, the owner (James Lowther, descendant of the Duke of Marlborough) has given over the care of it to a regiment of the Roundhead Association (oh, the irony!). We got in touch and had a meeting with them the day before my birthday. The day after my birthday, we began work on the garden! Four of the regiment (the Earl of Essex's Regiment of Foote, which we've now joined to do some Living History with) came over to help clear the land, and together we made good headway.
Since then, we've dug four food beds (planted and sown two, with more to be done today) and one for herbs at the front. The plan is thus;
- Create eight food beds in total
- Plant fruit trees on the slope at the end of the house, with possibly some invasive dyers there too!
- Create a dyeplant bed at the back
- Englarge the herb bed at the front
- Be as authentic as possible (so no potatoes or caulis as they were very much high status foods!)
Fortunately, I have a wealth of information regarding what was grown by the common person during the mid-17th century, plus I have loads of recipes (which fill in the gaps). I also have a facsimile of a 17th cent. seed catalogue!
At the moment however, we’re concentrating on getting the land working, so have put in things from our garden (pepper, aubergine, broccoli) for now but come spring next year, we’ll be growing heritage/heirloom crops!
The best thing however, is how much Kevin has got into this! He’s never been a gardener but now he’s really keen, and even nips up several times a week by himself to check how things are and to do a bit of groundwork! He’s even making suggestions as to what we should be growing! I love how engaged he's become with this!
The rest of the regiment has been great; they organised a work party to go over last weekend (when we were away in York), and have offered to do a lot of the heavy work which I can’t do very well because of my back. They’re also going to be doing some repairs and restoration to the cottage. :-)
Long-term, we’re hoping to be able to get all the repairs to the cottage done, put some more appropriate furniture and tableware inside, and do some living history there. Holdenby has visitors to the gardens every Sunday in the summer, so it would be great to be able to give them a glimpse of 17th cent. country life! In addition, local schools visit, so I want to put together some fact sheets, and perhaps even some worksheets too (plant identification etc.).
’Tis all very exciting!
These two photos (above and below) are pretty much as we first saw the cottage in May...
Below: By August the first three beds had been dug. From the right of the picture; two beds have crops growing away nicely (although something decided to dig up the carrots in the bed on the far right!).
Above: Bed #2.
Below: The herb bed at the front of the cottage (well, the half of it which has stuff growing!); I have plans to extend it out into a more pleasing shape but it can wait - there's no hurry!
Today the plan is to get the broad beans into bed #3, dig over bed #4 and make a start on the other beds in preparation for getting in the cabbages, leeks, kales, onions and garlic. Once they're done, we'll move over to the dye bed!
*(Holdenby is a stately home, built in 1583 by Sir Christopher Hatton, Elizabeth I's chancellor. At the time it was the largest privately-owned house in England. After Hatton died, the house passed to James I and then to Charles I. During the English Civil War, Charles was kept there under house arrest (1647), and at some point shortly after, the house was sold to a Parliamentarian who reduced it to the size it is now – still pretty large, despite being only an eighth of its original size! After Charles II came to the throne, Holdenby went back to the Crown, and in 1709, it was bought by John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough. It’s been passed down the female line ever since.)