The Victorian Kitchen Garden: The Truth

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When Ruth Mott died a way of life went with her. When her counterpart, Harry Dodson died in 2005 a garden died with him. The successful BBC series, The Victorian Kitchen GardenThe Victorian KitchenThe Victorian Flower Garden and The Wartime Kitchen and Garden ran from 1987-1993 and captured a way of life that was at that time being forgotten. However, after the BBC cameras stopped rolling, the wonderful kitchen garden at Chilton Foliat was left to return to its slumber. For every garden that is saved, and there have been many fine pleasure and kitchen gardens saved in the last 30 years, including the highly successful Heligan, there are many that are left to go to rack and ruin. These forgotten walled gardens and pleasure grounds are important gardens and should be saved but sadly Chilton Foliat is now one of those that has been left to rot away. A garden that was shared and loved by millions of viewers hungry to hear the techniques and tricks of gardeners who lived over a hundred years ago is now nothing more than a shell. 

Victorian KItchen Garden, Harry Dodson, Ruth Mott

In less than twenty years the large glasshouses have had their glass removed, the lights on the coldframes have been taken away and the productive beds have been turfed over. The working sheds to the north including the pot shed, head gardener's office and the old furnace building have been left to crumble. The remaining glasshouse to the east of the BBC garden, which would have probably housed grapevines, has been left open to the elements, as you can see from the aerial shot below. 

Victorian Kitchen Garden

If you stop on Leverton Lane in Chilton Foliat by a giant red brick wall you find an ornate gateway looking into the bottom half of the garden. Look through and you will be met by one of the saddest sights in horticulture, a forgotten walled garden that we all once loved. Though Harry Dodson tried to save the garden by running a market garden there, high rents and high turnover costs meant that this attempt to save the walled garden as a working garden failed. It has been alleged that the very lead from Harry Dodson's cottage, which nestled beside the walled gardens was stolen after his death. It seems that in our age we have more respect for things that come flat packed, shrink wrapped, easily, fast and cheaply than the hard, often wonderful beauty of tending a garden. Gardens are entwined in our heritage in this county, from walled gardens, to allotments, to the garden plots serfs worked on to feed their families. Even when we speak about the dimensions of gardens we talk in rods, a Roman word. That is how far gardening goes back in the British psyche. It goes even further back in our mythical and religious beliefs. The very word means enclosure, a place of protection. The garden is everything, the garden is life and when a garden dies and we allow it to die, we should be ashamed. We are saddened that such an important garden could be left to die and if the pattern follows, as it has done so for many of our important and forgotten gardens, it will eventually fall under the planning application hammer. In another ten years these walls will come crashing down, the deep, deep, rich earth ploughed up and concreted for a housing estate, a school or a road. It is how we treat our heritage in Britain, we treat it with a thick layer of concrete and then lament when it is gone and cry for the good old days. We'd cry in pubs but we seem to have a similar disdain for them too, we have given up community for cheap television, fast pleasures and hollow promises. In someways, Life on Pig Row is trying to reach back to a time when all of us were bound by the seasons and the land, our gardens. This garden should be given to the people of Chilton Foliat to bring back to life, to tend, to grow on, to be productive once more.

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2017 update: To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of BBC series The Victorian Kitchen Garden, we are going beyond the series to the very gardeners and garden ideas that inspired it in a year long celebration of the Victorian kitchen gardener.

Images provided here have been donated to us by readers who live in Hungerford. Life of Pig Row reserves the right to delete any images that may infringe copyright.