The walled kitchen garden at West Dean Gardens was the original "top ground" or upper kitchen garden, with the existing layout developed in the 1990's. Today the area is laid out using the classic Victorian design of two cross paths bounded by a perimeter path producing four central beds and a series of borders at the base of the surrounding walls. The central beds are the main growing areas for annual crops and operate on a four course rotation of potatoes, brassicas (cabbage family), legumes (pea family) and salads and root crops, with the potato quarter being manured and double-dug each year as it moves around the rotation. The wall borders accommodate perennial crops with soft fruit in the westernmost; asparagus, rhubarb, seakale, and globe artichokes etc in the easterly; and auriculas, lily of the valley and cordon currants and gooseberries in the southern.
The warm, south facing border is reserved for bringing on early spring crops, heat lovers like herbs for summer, then late crops in the autumn. The central flower border was a common feature of the Victorian Garden layout, being both decorative and another source of material for the voracious demands of the house. At West Dean it is known as the "hot border" with its full pomp of scarlet crocosmia, orange dahlia and yellow kniphofia in mid-summer.
The pear tunnel and the espaliered apples and pears at the rear of the border give height and structure to the site in the early part of the year.
The jewel in the crown of the kitchen garden is the 13 working glasshouses where Sarah's wonderful collections of fruit and vegetables are on show throughout their life-cycle. Magnificent examples of Victorian craft and ingenuity - built by Foster & Pearson between 1890 and 1900 - they were completely derelict before restoration in the early 1990s. The glasshouses are heated by a woodchip burning boiler which also heats the college and associated buildings using woodchips produced from West Dean Estate's commercial forestry.
Because of their age and despite restoration it has become necessary to commence a new programme of completely rebuilding the timber superstructures of the glasshouse range. This started two years ago and is scheduled to continue over the next decade to ensure their survival for another century.
A highly successful appeal Save the Glasshouses launched early this year has exceeded expectations, raising over £35,000 in donations to restore the Fig House for future generations to enjoy. Thank you to everyone who has donated for their valued support, we greatly appreciate it.
25 Years of Glorious Gardening an exhibition charting the past 25 years in the gardens through archive photographs and commentary by Jim, has attracted visitors from around the world including Australia, Belgium, France, Italy, Bavaria, Malaysia, New Zealand, India, Finland, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Switzerland, USA (Oregon, Maine, New York), Northern Ireland, Wales and the Shetland Isles.
"What care has been given to this wonderful place. The greenhouses are to die for!" Monica Tary Stuart, Vancouver Island, Canada.
West Dean Gardens are open to the public until 23 December when they will close for the winter period and reopen on 3 February 2017. Check out the web site for times, events and tickets for 2017.
For more information and to donate to the ongoing Save the Glasshouses appeal online visit www.westdeangardens.org.uk/appeal.