Almost from the moment we arrived here our priority was to grow food, so any patch of ground we managed to uncover was fair game. During the building works we grew a few veg at the very top of our land, under an oak tree. Completely unsuitable for a vegetable garden but it was better than nothing for our first year.
By 1996 the veg had migrated down into the newly created beds in what is now the Cottage Garden, while we marked out their permanent home with bamboo canes in our field. In the summer of 1996 my parents celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary and the rest of my family descended on us for the weekend. Ian scythed a large square of long grass in the field to facilitate a game of frisbee and we announced that, by the following year, this would be our new kitchen garden. I don’t think anyone really believed us at the time but by the following spring the first crops were in the ground.
The Kitchen Garden was our landmark garden and required a huge leap of faith to start planting in the middle of a windy field surrounded by rabbits and weeds. To us it was just one part of an overall design which would eventually take shape across the whole plot. To everyone else it was a vegetable plot in the middle of a field – and how stupid was that?
Having marked out the beds, we needed to provide protection from the wind and the rabbits. We had a yearning for a walled kitchen garden in the tradition of the old Victorian country estates, to provide protection but also warmth and different micro-climates to grow a variety of trained fruits. Walls, though, would have been horrendously expensive to build and a major headache to maintain and were never, therefore, a realistic option.
We opted instead for hedges, which are far from maintenance free, but are unlikely to collapse and crush you and are far better for wildlife. And once they are grown, they make a very effective windbreak.
We chose hornbeam for the hedges because it grows well on our heavy soil and makes a good formal hedge. a lot of people mistake it for beech (as did we in our naiveté when we first arrived) but beech needs much freer drainage than we have here and hornbeam, I think, has a more interesting leaf – particularly the new growth which, in the Spring, has a beautiful bronze tinge.
So at the end of March 1997 it was off to the English Woodlands sale and back with 225 hornbeam plants. Once all the plants were in the ground we sat back to admire our work. It was then that it occurred to us that our old house in Eastbourne including front and back gardens, plus the other 3 houses and gardens in the terrace would all have fitted within our new Kitchen Garden – a realisation which brought home the enormity of what we had started.