Early Days

In April 2016 we took a lease out on a two acre walled garden nestled in the Usk Valley near Abergavenny.

These photos were taken within the 1st couple of days after signing a lease. Oddly we weren’t daunted we felt very lucky to be part of the history of this beautiful walled garden.

History Of Construction

The walled garden is aligned south-west to north-east, some 105 meters long by 80 meters wide, covering about 2 acres of black friable soil. It is built in Flemish bond, two bricks thick, of deep red colour which has of course weathered to a paler pink, especially where most exposed to the elements. There would have been no problem in conveying brick to Llanover along the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal, connected to the park less than half a mile away by several roads. Flat stone coping run along the entirety of its length. Single doorways lead into the garden from the centre of three sides, while the north-east wall is pieced by two double door or gateways about a third of the way down the wall from each corner.

It has been suggested that the walled garden was built at the same time as the laying out of the water garden in the 1790’s (1). In the Benjamin Hall papers dated 1829 to 1830 appears a voucher for the receipt of money paid for hauling 14 cart loads of dung for the garden in September 1829, a few months before the creation of the ornamental garden around the new house (2).

Buildings

By 1979 when the survey for the 1st edition of the Ordnance Survey was carried out, a range of building existed within the walls. This expansion in productive capacity  may well have accounted for the increase in manpower recorded in the wage books between 1876 and 1879. There appear to be two long building backing onto the wall and facing south-east, behind a range of buildings bordering the northerly of the longitudinal paths. The path system was now simplified and quartered the garden in the conventional pattern running inside the walls and at a distance of several feet from them.

An accurate identification of the function of the buildings as a group can be learnt from the inventory in 1866 on the occasion of the departure of the gardener, Edward Davies (3). The buildings beside the wall would have compromised the early, middle and muscat vinery and the early, second early and lat peach house. The buildings away from the walls are likely to have been pineapple pits and cucumber, melon and potato pits. The buildings at the south-west end of the wall, which the 1889 revised edition of the Ordnance Survey show to have been attached to the wall, could have been flower houses. A tall structure would have been necessary to accommodate the 19 creepers planted out in each the two houses. The revised edition also shows more clearly two structure on either side of the path approaching the central pond. These may have been intended for crops needing copious amounts of water such as cucumbers or melons. The course of a fast flowing stream with water straight off the mountains parallel to the walled garden, hydraulic rams or water pumps had been invented in 1792, but did not come into general use until 1860’s (4). It would have been no major fear of engineering to move water from the stream to the circular pond in the middle of the garden. The identity of some of the sheds is also known from the inventory, which included mushroom house, fruit room and dung shed. The dung is likely to have been brought along the carriageway from Llanover Court because the coach house with stabling occupied the northern wing of the mansion. That the vinery and peach house were heated is substantiated by reference to the vinery stoke hole and the peach house stoke hole.

History Of Plant Production

The 1850 invoice lists seed of 22 different vegetables as well as mustard, cress and herbs. Even cauliflower plants were sent from Hammersmith. The 1866 inventory does not mention vegetable standing crops. Its range tend to be more exotic. A production cycle of pineapples with 50 pineapple plants currently in fruit, succession ripening of grapes of which 6 early variety canes were already fruiting, and 51 pots of fruiting strawberries within various glasshouses and pits, attest to a high degree of technical competence and attention to detail for early in the month of April.

As with many walled gardens on rural estates it has been used for a multitude of purposes. The raising of pheasants behind chicken wire  in the south west corner and the perfection of horsemanship on the manege ground in the southeast corner of the garden are uses that had replaced the production of fruit and vegetables in the era of cheaper food.

1 Cadw ICOMOS register of parks and Gardens 1993 Llanover Park

2 Llanover archives, Gwent Public Record Office, D1210.156

3 Llanover archives, Gwent Public Record Office, D1210.865

4 Susan Campbell,’ Charleston Kedding. A History of kitchen Gardening’ 1996 p.40

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