As I write the dark air is cold and still, and I recall glittering remnants of the morning’s frost lingering on the leaves, in the walled garden where I work. At the same time I am remembering a different walled garden visited in high summer, with views over a bucolic valley, sitting in a gentle haze below us. This one is Barley Wood Walled Garden, in the village of Wrington, Somerset, which was built to serve a large house, at the very end of the Victorian era and which like many fell over the decades into a state of disrepair. It has been restored by its current owners in the past twenty years.
The walled garden is predominantly given over to the production of vegetables and walled trained fruit and all of this is managed by Mark Cox, a passionate grower who produces an astonishing quantity of produce and a very wide and varied range of vegetables.
Mark is an entertaining host, and our visit on a July Saturday, started with the enormous compost bays, crucial for this fairly recent convert to no dig gardening – he vividly describes the hard labour of digging the expanse of beds he works, and the lightbulb moment when, after visits and reading, he began to convert.
Barley Wood provides vegetables for a weekly box delivery scheme, and also for the Ethicurean restaurant, which sits at the top of the garden. The chef’s and Mark love to experiment with unusual vegetables, and as we walked through the beds and sections of the garden we were shown some of his favourites .
Wrinkled Courgettes (courgette Rugosa fruilana), a golden yellow and definitely wrinkled, with firm yellow flesh. As easy to grow as any courgette, tastes great and in Marks words ‘keeps on giving’.
Sticcoli. This is a tender stem broccoli, edible stems which taste similar to asparagus, and some prefer it. It is high in vitamins A and C and once established, keeps on providing its delicious spears.
Agrettti, which we tasted as we walked. We may know it as Monks Beard, related to Samphire, with fleshy, needle like leaves which also look a little like chives. Delicious raw – a sort of salty, soft, and mild, but more usually steamed or sauted.
This is a gardener who spends time in the winter searching the seed catalogues for different and unusual vegetables, and uses a range of seed companies. One or two cropped up several times including the Real Seed Company.
We also tasted wall grown greengages ripening in the sun, the leafy tops of white ‘albino’ beetroot, and thin slices of the thick stems of bolted lettuces, who knew!
The message is that we can eat a lot more of the food we grow than we do, AND, we can grow a vast range of interesting produce if we look around.
This is a garden tended with love for produce, and one to give us ideas.
We shall have to go again, do get in touch if you’re keen .