In 1991, Duchess Deborah and head gardener at the time, Ian, completely reorganised the Kitchen Garden. Until this point, it had never been open to the public and was organised rather like allotments. Following the reorganisation, the garden and greenhouses have been split into three areas of produce:
The cutting garden takes up several of the large flowerbeds you encounter as you first enter the kitchen garden and also makes use of one of the distinctive Victorian greenhouses on the far side.
A colourful array of flowers blossom here throughout the year under Becky’s care, before being arranged beautifully by the floristry team for the private household, bouquets which go on sale at the estate farm shop, weddings and other events.
Flowering at the end of March and beginning of April, the anenomes brought early colour to the garden, but currently in bloom there are abundant ranunculus, tulips, frittilaria and Icelandic poppies. The poppies should be flowering throughout the rest of April and into May.
This month Becky is sowing seeds for hardy annuals (like sweet peas) and half hardy annuals (like zinnia and cosmos). She sows batches in succession to ensure that the fresh flowers are available in appropriate quantities over a number of weeks.
Some of the hardy annuals that were germinated in the greenhouse (like cornflower and ammi majus) and spent the winter sheltered in cold frames are now ready to be planted out into beds. Becky uses a yearly garden journal to record what she does each week and month, ensuring she continues to keep everything ticking along nicely with the seasons.
Each morning, Glenn (who looks after the vegetable beds in the kitchen garden) calls the house chef to ascertain what fresh produce is required for the meals planned that day. Then he packs up all the best ingredients to be sent down to the house for preparation and consumption.
During April, Glenn has been sowing broad beans and peas, which will be ready for planting out next month. He has also been planting white and red onions, potatoes and lettuce out into the raised beds. Cauliflowers and cabbages are now out in these beds too, and will be ready for summer harvest. At the top left corner of the garden, you can see a bed filled with upturned pots… These are covering sea kale, which blanches the leaves and makes them sweeter and more tender to eat.
Glenn also grows edible flowers - like these Viola and Primula - to add extra colour to dishes.
Stefan is responsible for ensuring a steady supply of seasonal fruit is available in the house. He also cultivates fresh herbs throughout the year so that the house chef can add delicious extra flavours where meals need it.
As you walk through the kitchen garden this month, you will see the plum trees in flower. Stefan may even be pruning them!
In the greenhouse, there are constant maintenance tasks to keep on top of, including removing the side-shoots from the tomato plants, which helps to keep the plants growing vertically, which ensures he can have the maximum number of plants thriving in limited space. (The varieties of tomato currently being tended to in the greenhouse are golden sweet, indigo blueberries, sun baby and orange santa.) He has also been planting melons, bilberries and strawberries.
Throughout the kitchen garden, everyone is busy weeding, staking and mulching. This year the gardeners are also trialling the use of straw to keep the weeds down. Have any of you tried this? We would love to hear how it has worked out for you if you have! Please leave comments on our facebook page. Also, if you would like to see more beautiful photographs like the ones in this blog, we recommend you follow Becky on Instagram: @beckycrowley_
If you would like to learn more about the history of the Chatsworth gardens, why not join us for a talk on the Great Gardeners of Chatsworth?