Even the vegetables have great stories to tell at Hampton Court Palace!

The humble pea came to the rescue of a city under siege! Back in 1644 during the English Civil War the city of Newcastle was under siege and the people were starving to death when a consignment of Carlin peas came through just in time to keep the city’s population alive. Vicki Cooke, the wonderfully titled Kitchen Garden Keeper, delighted in telling us this story as we stood next to several rows of Carlin peas,  which are clearly no ordinary pea!

Here are the famous Carlin peas and that’s not Vicki!

Hampton Court Palace is well known for its impressive historic buildings, impenetrable maze, annual flower show and enormous gardens. They’ve now added another good reason to visit as they’ve just opened their new Royal Kitchen Garden. I say ‘new’ but it really dates back to the time of Queen Anne when she decided that the land that Henry Vlll had used as a jousting yard, would be much better as a kitchen garden – good decision!  It was the main royal kitchen garden, supplying the other palaces. and was a working garden from 1689 to 1842. The scale is incredible as what we can visit is just one-sixth of the garden that operated at that time.

The walled kitchen garden – imagine it 6 times bigger!

I was invited to view the gardens before they opened to the public and was treated to a tour given by Graham  Dillamore, the Garden & Estates Operations Manager, who you can see standing among the peas in the photo above. He explained that they had ‘broken ground’ only last August and were amazed at how well the gardens were progressing after such a wet winter. He is clearly an expert gardener and it was encouraging to us amateurs to hear that even the professionals suffer from the unpredictability of nature. The soil was in bad shape when they first looked into it and needed a great deal of feeding and preparing before they could do their first planting, but look at the results! They have used the original plans dating back to 1736 to lay out the paths and passageways between each section of vegetables.

Fabulous lettuces

Back in the days when Kings and Queens were the centre of society,  a Head Gardener could really make an impression if he produced exotic fruit early in the season. So they introduced raised beds filled with rotting manure which gave off heat during the cold winter months, hence they were known as ‘hot beds’. Topped off with soil these beds could produce melons in spring and just imagine the King’s delight and the Head Gardener’ proud smile!

The gardens are full of unusual varieties, not just the peas, and each plant has a little flower pot to tell you what it is – a lovely touch.

It takes a lot of work to make gardens of this size flourish and I was impressed by the planting, so neat and well tended. There 3 full-time staff, a trainee and lots of willing volunteers. Check out these edges, the regular planting and spot the gardeners hard at work:

Wonderful edging for the fruit and herb bed

Lettuces all in a row!

Staff and volunteers hard at work

As we were leaving we could smell the heady aroma of roses in full bloom so we took a little stroll through the gorgeous rose gardens where you can see the palace in the background.

Imagine the perfume from all these roses!

The river at Hampton Court is truly beautiful, so I must show you just one more photo before I close.  It’s a quintessentially English view and you can see why they built a palace here!

The Thames at Hampton Court

I loved what they have done with this new kitchen garden space and look forward to seeing how the kitchen gardens progress over the seasons to come.

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