Now, a change of pace – Rosemary Jones arranged for Jane Sills to come and talk to us at our last meeting – here is her account of the evening –
Approximately 35 miles north of Fowlmere & Thriplow lies the historical market town of Ramsey. Our speaker, Jane Sills, came to talk to us about the Victorian walled kitchen garden that is situated on the site of a Medieval Abbey in the town. The only part of the Abbey visible today is the ancient gatehouse. The walled garden is believed to have been created in the 17th Century when one of the large ecclesiastical buildings was converted into a home. For more than 100 years, the garden, of which the walled garden was a part, produced all the fruit, vegetables, herbs and cut flowers for the various owners of the house. In 1938, the house was bequeathed to Cambridgeshire Education Authority by Diana Broughton, (mother of the present Lord Fairhaven of Anglesey Abbey) and the property became a school.
During the 50’s the gardens were taken over by a commercial market gardener. The walled garden was mainly used for the cultivation of scabious and other flowers which were transported by train for sale at Leeds Market. From the 70’s, the garden fell into disrepair.
Fortunately, the walled garden was rediscovered and surveyed in 1996 by the Cambridgeshire Gardens Trust. By 2004, ownership issues were resolved and a locally based group of keen volunteers set up the Ramsay Abbey Kitchen Garden Trust to restore the garden.
Jane’s “before photos” showed the enormity of the task that lay ahead. The 10 foot brick walls enclosing the acre of garden were largely intact, but the area was entirely overgrown with shrubs, nettles, weeds and the remains of old garden structures. With the aid of lottery funding and other grants, volunteers slowly cleared the ground and laid paths, dividing the plot into four areas in the traditional Victorian style. Eventually planting began. The Trust decided to specialise in growing Cambridgeshire species of plants. The garden, now fully cultivated, boasts an apple tunnel with local varieties such as Histon Favourites and Huntingdon Codlin. There are Cambridge strawberries, gages and plums, and Maris and King Edward potatoes, all which were all first bred in the county. More recently, a splendid greenhouse has been constructed to replicate the original on the north wall. This was thanks to a gift from John Drake – a favourite speaker at our Club in days gone by, a distinguished RHS judge and one time holder of the national collection of acquilegias – some time ago John enthusiastically showed Club members around his Fen Ditton garden. Jane’s talk certainly brought back fond memories and whetted the appetite for a visit. The garden is open on Sunday afternoons 2pm to 5pm until October. Produce from the garden is available for purchase.