Let’s meet… Clumber Park’s Head Gardener
We had a chat with Chris Margrave, Head Gardener at National Trust property Clumber Park, home to the beautiful Walled Kitchen Garden…
How long have you been Head Gardener at the Walled Kitchen Garden in Clumber Park?
It will be 10 years in November. When I started, the lower walled garden was just grass. We began bringing it back under cultivation in the winter of 2005/6, putting back some of the paths and extending the herbaceous borders to run the full length of the garden.
Tell us a bit about the history of the Garden.
The kitchen garden was built in the 1770s and for 150 years was the food superstore of its day, growing choice fruits like pineapples and peaches as well as staples such as carrots and peas for the Dukes of Newcastle, their family and their house guests. During the Second World War it was used by the Women’s Land Army as part of the “Dig for Victory” campaign. With help from the surrounding local authorities, the National Trust bought Clumber Park in 1946 and the garden was used as a market garden and as the site of a Camping and Caravanning Club. The upper garden and the Long Range glasshouse opened to visitors in 1986.
What’s your favourite time of year in the Walled Kitchen Garden?
Each season has its attractions. The garden is in its pomp in mid-summer when the herbaceous borders, the vegetable plots, the fruit trees and the crops and the flowers in the glasshouse are all looking good. It’s also a good time of year to stand back, take stock and plan the display and the plantings for the year to come. As a gardener, you are always learning and looking to improve on what you’ve done.
How many varieties of rhubarb do you have in the garden? How did you come to have so many?
I’m from the famous “rhubarb triangle” in the West Riding of Yorkshire and used to look after the National Rhubarb Collection. In 2010 the collection holders were looking for someone to take on its collection. We got about 60 varieties from them to add to the 30 we were already growing and now have about 130 varieties, making it the second biggest collection of culinary rhubarbs in the world. Varieties do differ in appearance, especially in the colour and shape of the leaf stalks and size and shape of the leaves.
Why have your apples been given National Plant Collection status?
That’s because they have been recognised as being of national importance by the plant conservation charity Plant Heritage which oversees the UK’s National Plant Collections. We grow over 80 apple varieties from Nottinghamshire and the surrounding counties to make sure they are not lost to cultivation. This isn’t a danger with the most famous Nottinghamshire variety, ‘Bramley’s Seedling’, but most of the others, such as ‘Bess Pool’ and ‘Sisson’s Worksop Newton’ aren’t suited to modern food production techniques, so it’s up to specialist collections like ours to keep alive these tastes of the past.
Tell us about some of the interesting items in the Museum of Gardening Tools.
A gardener’s rattle (like an old fashioned football rattle) evokes the days when under gardeners and pot boys would scare blackbirds from the ripening strawberry and cherry crops. We have glass bottles which were used to store bunches of grapes in the fruit store and a glass cucumber straightening jar which was placed over developing cucumber fruits to ensure they grew kink-free.
Do you have a favourite plant?
I’m a rhubarb anorak, so I have to say rhubarb, both the edible varieties and the less well known ornamental ones, such as the big, jagged edged, red leaved forms of Rheum palmatum. These are spectacular foliage plants with the bonus of striking pink or red flowers over 2m tall. ‘Ace of Hearts’, at 1.2m tall, is an excellent ornamental variety for smaller gardens. Its deep red leaf stalks and prominent red veins on green foliage make a winning combination.
Find out more about Clumber Park’s Walled Kitchen Garden and plan your visit: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/clumber-park