Walled Garden Diaries: Espalier Extravaganza

The first month of 2022 positively flew by and so I welcome you all to the first of my diary updates to come from the Walled Kitchen Garden at Netherby Hall in Cumbria.

January in the borderlands came and went with a wild range of weather, however, in the most, it seemed milder than to be normally expected. However, it should be said it did come with its fair share of wind and drizzle, but only a few hard frosts to look back on.

It was a busy month, with lots of different projects for me to focus on as I look to start getting everything on track, building to my first season growing in this new garden.

The winter months always provide a great opportunity to plan for the season ahead. I have taken time to choose all the crops, finalise the sowing plans, and also put together all the planting plans for the Walled Garden, outer Walled Garden, Glasshouses, and Polytunnels.

Archway featuring espalier fruit trees along with roses

With this being my first season in the kitchen garden I have come in with a few fresh ideas that will hopefully benefit the regular delivery of harvests from the plot to the restaurant.

This includes dividing the bulk of the large beds, of which there are eight that measure around 15m wide by 18m long, into blocks of long and narrow beds. Using this system allows for lots of successional sowings throughout the season and also the smaller width (circa 75cm) allows a person to straddle the beds when harvesting. This is an idea the likes of growers such as Elliot Coleman and JM Fortier have pushed over the years and I have read in market gardening books.

A major job that has been keeping me going throughout the month has been pruning the espalier fruit trees, of which there are plenty in the garden. There are in total over 200 fruit trees that are grown as espaliers on arches and walls around the walled garden and the outer garden. These include lots of apples and pears, as well as plum, damson, greengage, and more.

I have been focusing on the apple and pear trees, taking time to prune and tie them in. However, what has made this task take longer than normal is that the trees have unfortunately not been fully pruned for a few years. So each tree needed to be assessed for its overall condition, choosing which branches should be kept and trained before pruning them back and tying in the tree to form the shape.

Rhubarb forcing pots in action in early Jan’

Despite the cold, the wet, and the wind, there are plants that are growing and showing that sign of promise that Spring is around the corner. The garlic and onions planted at the back end of last year have now got strong shoots, while the rhubarb is popping through the soil to provide much-welcomed colour. Some of the rhubarb crowns, and also a few of the sea kale, are being forced to provide a feast of early tasty stalks to the kitchen.

Speaking of the restaurant kitchen, deliveries to the chefs continue throughout the year and January saw harvests of the likes of leeks, Jerusalem artichoke, sprouts, cavolo nero, cabbage and kalettes, along with regular shipments of herbs and micro-greens from the glasshouse. It is fantastic to think that even during the cold and bleak winter months we can provide fresh vegetables that go straight from the garden in the morning and onto the plates of diners in the restaurant that night.

Jerusalem artichoke harvest

The first crops of the year were sown in January, such as onions, leeks, broad beans, and brassicas, and February will see a definite ramp-up in the seed sowing in the glasshouse. The last of 2021’s crops stored over winter will gradually be harvested or removed to create the space for this year’s plants and several beds will get a good addition of mulch.

I share regular updates on my Instagram and also the new Perennial Nerd Facebook Page so make sure to follow if you don’t already. Finally, in January I also featured in a Daily Express article, giving advice on several vegetables that shouldn’t be grown together, so check that out here.

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