The Walled Garden today
Colclough Walled Garden has been likened to a secret garden reminiscent of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden of literary fame, largely due to its concealed location and the fact that it lay abandoned for so many years. In fact many have lived their whole lives close to the garden without even being aware of its existence. But it is fair to say that, with over 18,000 visitors last year alone, hailing from the four corners of the globe, the secret is out!
The Walled Garden benefits from a romantic, idyllic setting. The demesne at Tintern Abbey is traversed by a number of picturesque walking trails and it is at the end of the Gardener’s Walking Trail that you will find the Walled Garden, the journey in its own right as beautiful as the destination itself.
After stopping by the glorious Abbey remains en route to the Walled Garden visitors cross over the quaint carthorse bridge, which predates modern cars, catching a glimpse of the old mill, once a hive of activity where wheat and barley yielded their goodness. Proceeding up the incline and passing through the black metal gates, bent with time, you pass through the quondam (former) village of Tintern along a woodland path where bluebells and wild garlic abound in springtime.
The path is trimmed with Beech, Oak, Ash and Sweet Chestnut, remnants of the 18th century parkland landscape of rich broad-leafs, and teeming with wildlife. The native Red Squirrel population has sadly declined over the years owing to the growing numbers of Grey Squirrels. The Grey squirrel population has been checked by returning predators such as Pine Martins and Buzzards. Patient observers however can catch glimpses of the indigenous Reds along with privileged sightings of rare Woodpeckers, Egrets, Peregrine Falcons and lightning fast Kingfishers.
An alternative and correspondingly stimulating route to the garden takes you over the impressive battlement bridge, enjoying the tidal views that this bridge has to offer of the Abbey and the river, in addition to the Lime Kiln where limestone, skeletal remains of 350 million year old sea life, was burned with coal to make lime for use in the Walled Garden’s construction. Along this walk you also encounter the derelict Coach House which once housed coaches and horses but is now home to several different species of Bat.
Some 520 metres from the Abbey you are rewarded with your first glimpse of the substantial walls surrounding the 2.5 acre garden. The original layout of the garden has been reinstated as it was in the 1830’s. Information found in the OSI Historical Map from 1838 has proved an invaluable restoration aid as it shows the path structure, bridges, the outer-enclosure and the location of the vegetable and fruit trees.
The garden walls remain largely intact despite the passage of time. The main features of the stone/brick lined wall include curved corners and two intra mural structures, also referred to as bothies, on the dividing wall. The bothies also survived relatively undamaged and have since been re-roofed. The bothy on the south facing wall includes an original crude brick floor and working fireplace and it is speculated that the gardeners may have sheltered here overnight to protect delicate and rare plants from early frosts. The walls provide structure and shelter in the garden, creating a microclimate within, the brick lined walls retaining heat and providing a perfect warm surface for training walled fruit such as peaches and apricots.
The dividing wall splits the garden into two sections, the Ornamental or Pleasure garden on the east side and the Kitchen garden on the west. A river, crossed by five bridges, flows through the length of the garden. Not merely a happy coincidence but again part of the original ambitious design using the golden ratio, the river having been redirected through the garden parallel to the South Wall.
Only one of the original bridges survived intact after years of flooding and poor maintenance. It was used as a template to reinstate the 4 other damaged, crumbling and missing bridges. The bridges which had all but fallen away have been rebuilt over the Colclough stream whose crystal waters convey transitory residents of Salmon, Sea Trout, Eel and Lamprey.
In contrast to the dappled shade of the woodland walk the garden is bathed in light. Stepping into the garden you move from the lush cool green of the woodland to the rich palate of colour of the billowing borders and geometric gardenesque design. The entrance is guarded by two original Florence court Yews (Taxus baccata ‘fastigata’) and pea gravel paths flanked by a glossy Laurel hedge A dazzling array and quantity of plants are crammed into the lengthy borders, attracting an equally stunning collection of butterflies, moths and bees. The rose arches in the middle of the garden, planted with old French varieties, when in full bloom, assault the senses with an abundance of luxuriously scented white blooms including: rose ‘Adelaide d’Orleans’, rose ‘Félicité et Perpétue’, rose ‘Aimée Vibert’, and the Jacobean rose ‘Alba Maxima’.
The flowing borders of the Ornamental garden give way to the form and function of the Kitchen garden, where a cornucopia of fruit and vegetables proliferate in a vast expanse of well-ordered rows. Tuber/root vegetables, leafy greens and brassicas grow huge despite the lack of watering and intensify in flavour. Strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, rhubarb and apples grow in profusion. Peach, apricot and fig trees ripen their delicate fruit on the warm south facing wall in the Kitchen garden. The remains of a 180 year old pear tree “Winter nellis” still flowers and fruits near the dividing wall. The sheer variety, size and scale of planting are staggering and is reminiscent of the mellow fruitfulness of Keats’s ode to Autumn. The ripe seasonal fruit and vegetables are picked daily and are made available to take away for a discretionary donation.
With over 30 varieties of apple planted in the garden, unsurprisingly the garden’s eating apples are among the most popular produce, there’s one to suit every taste. A debt of gratitude is due to those who supported the ‘Sponsor a Fruit Tree’ fundraising initiative which provided a much needed investment into the garden in the early stages of the project and also established a link between the sponsors in the community and the garden.
Not only giving of their fruit freely and abundantly the fruit trees and bushes add to the rich palette of colour in the garden, the fairy tale red of the ‘Discovery’ apple immediately springs to mind, and share their delicate, fragrant blossoms with man and nature alike.
The plants, too many to list individually here, and garden developments, have been documented daily on the garden’s Facebook page over the last 10 years. In addition to maintaining the garden and looking after its many visitors’ further enhancements continue to be made. The rudimentary remains of a Victorian Vinery/Orangery were revealed as the site was being cleared and this too has also been faithfully restored and replanted with young vines and repopulated with citrus fruits.
The success of this restoration project doesn’t lie solely in the reinstatement of the beautiful and fruitful garden but in its re-animation into a valuable community resource as a tourist attraction, a source of local employment and a recreational facility hosting a myriad of local and national events and featuring on radio and television. Jane Powers in the Sunday Times acknowledges this, ‘Colclough Walled Garden is as much about community as it is about horticulture, and it excels in both areas…’