The story of the Restoration of Barley Wood Walled Garden
The Kitchen Garden at Barley Wood dates from 1901 and was constructed for Henry Herbert Wills, director of the Imperial Tobacco Company. Although this was at the end of the Victorian period, the design was typical of earlier Victorian gardens.
Kitchen gardens were at their zenith during this period, supplying every kind of vegetable and many kinds of fruit, including figs, grapes and nectarines, to the family in Barley Wood house, their many guests and, of course, for the inside and outside staff. Although the two World Wars took men away from the estate, some not to return, unlike other kitchen gardens, Barley Wood remained much the same until the 1970's.
In the early 1970's the Barley Wood estate was sold, the Head Gardener's house and half the glasshouses becoming separate to the Walled Garden.
At some time after this the box hedges surrounding the paths were ripped out, the magnificent yew archways and castellations were cut down, and concrete and tarmac replaced stone and brick paths. Electric fan heaters whirred inside the glasshouses, with the old coal boiler reduced to scrap, and the composting and yard ploughed into the lower field. The beautiful central herbaceous borders were dug out for more vegetable production.
These dramatic changes, although sad, made considerable savings on labour and were probably the reason why, when the BBC made the series in the mid 1980's about the restoration of a Victorian kitchen garden, they mentioned that working walled gardens were "capable of being counted on one hand", Barley Wood being one of the remaining few. Many, many others were turned into car parks, built upon, used as enclosures for livestock or just left to become overgrown and fall down.
Between the late 1980's and 1993 a combination of partial and complete neglect had resulted in the domination of the bramble, thistle and stinging nettle, where once asparagus, sweet peas and other vegetables were kings. Fruit trees, once meticulously trained to form espaliers and cordons, were unrecognisable and reached many feet above the walls.
Whole lights and many panes were missing from the glasshouse roof and sides, and its once slick winding gear had rusted solid. The timber barn, which housed the fruit store and estate workshops, was now clogged with ivy inside and out, its doors and windows smashed, the roof sagging on its rotten piles and its only occupants now rats and mice.
In 1993 the kitchen garden, orchard and workshops were purchased by the present owner.
From 1993 until 1998 a steady programme of work cleared all the brambles, nettles and thistles away, laying all the productive areas to grass. The fruit store and workshops were also made weather proof once again. May of 1998 saw the start of reconstruction at Barley Wood Walled Garden. During 1998 concrete and tarmac paths were replaced with brick and gravel, edging stones lost under the downward movement of soil, dug up and set back in place.
The tempo increased in 1999 with the fruit store and workshops being rebuilt. Scores of fruit trees planted and a new asparagus patch. An enormous soak-away dug in the lower vegetable ground cured a large area of sodden soil and in really wet conditions the Garden's very own spring. The glasshouses were totally stripped, all rotten wood being replaced and every pane of glass removed.
The winding gear for opening lights were freed and once more working. Dangerously leaning parts of walls were rebuilt, and the old composting yard once again became part of the Garden.
With the end of the building work in sight, our Head Gardener started in the Autumn of 1999 and with his assistant, began the mammoth task of researching and planning the Garden as far as possible as it would have been at the start of the 20th century.