by Jules Hudson
There is something magical about the concept of a walled garden. Is it the benign microclimate that coaxes tender treasures to perform, or the physical link with generations of gardeners whose skilled labour produced a rich, deep soil that any allotmenteer would covet, or just that childlike sense of entering a secret world hidden from outsiders? Archaeologist and historian Jules Hudson is primarily beguiled by the walls themselves and what they reveal about the evolution of horticultural and social history.
In Walled Gardens he sets out to explain how anyone can enjoy these stories once they learn to read the language of bricks, mortar and crumbling ironwork. ‘In being able to distinguish a mushroom house from a fruit store, or an expensive brick wall from an earlier stone one,’ he writes. ‘We can begin to chart the pattern of investment in a garden. In so doing we gain insight into how the garden was valued by those who owned, built and subsequently maintained it.’
From 15th-century gardens built adjoining the main house, with low walls simply intended to keep animals off the crops, to elaborate Victorian creations complete with hot-water heating systems and vast glasshouses protecting an array of tender plants collected from around the Empire, Hudson charts the development of these amazing spaces. And in so doing he explains the 18th-century craze for growing pineapples in the heat of rotting manure, how the walls built by Winston Churchill in his garden at Chartwell reveal ‘a man who simply loved having a go, regardless of expertise’, and how 21st-century gardeners are reinventing the walled garden concept to suit the economic realities of life today.
National Trust, £16.99