A trip to Hampton Court Palace isn’t what I normally do with a Tuesday, but that’s what I did this week. My intention in writing this post is not to offer an account of the intricate parterres of the Privy Garden nor of Queen Mary’s passion for exotic plants etc. You can find all that sort of thing in typical reports of the gardens. No, I want to share some alternative views, things that wouldn’t usually get noted or enthused about.
The 18th century kitchen garden is the area I wanted to see above all else. As I’d visited with someone who was keener to investigate the buildings, I didn’t feel free to fully indulge my geekery (it wouldn’t be fair!) so I didn’t look for the historical esculents I was keen to spot e.g. Sweet-Maudlin, Trick-Madam, Hartshorn, and Rampion. I did spot Elecampane (Inula helenium). A flower pot gave a quote from Pliny: Let no day pass without eating the roots of Inula, to help digestion and cause mirth. Much better than causing flatulence, like another of the composite family edibles, Jerusalem Artichoke!
The thing that attracted my attention the most in my curtailed perambulation was the way the tomatoes were arranged – up wigwams!
At first, I didn’t realise how interestingly they were trained. I thought the vines were simply encouraged up the stakes of the wigwam frame, as it all looked a bit bunched up. But then I noticed each plant had a twin stem, one branch tied along a pole, the other wrapped round string attached to the tips of opposite ones. It was a method I’d never seen before. I’m not sure if it’s a long-forgotten technique, or modern experimentation, but my guess is the latter.
The backdrop to these tomatoes is a block of flax plants going to seed. This plant (Linum usitatissimum) is the source of linen. A sign explained that these were being grown to assist the curators of the Historic Royal Palaces, who are investigating how Tudor royal tents were made.
I peeped through the windows of the Gardener’s Pot Shed, and took these pictures..
And I just had to take a photo of the chief kitchen gardener’s t-shirt! No mistaking who’s boss there then!
I couldn’t do justice to the Great Vine (in a different part of the gardens) but I was amused by an illustration on the info board so took a picture of that instead. Apparently, this single vine produces 270 kg of fruit a year which is comparable to three gardeners and their tools…
The Privy Garden is probably the part of the grounds that Hampton Court is most famous for. I’ve read a description that it’s “as formal as a fugue” and though I’m not a big fan of very formal gardens, I can appreciate their historical context. But the only thing I was desperate to take photos of were the Wood Pigeons, appearing impossibly large as they attempted to eat the berries of lollipop-trained Honeysuckle.
Birds once again captured my focus in the Great Fountain Garden. The water feature itself was drained, and I watched the crows paddling about in the puddles as they picked at things in the mud of the brickwork base.
Bees of course attracted my attention across the gardens, and as well as the usual suspects I was chuffed to spot (and even identify) a bee I’d never seen before: the Small Scissor Bee. As its Latin name (Chelostoma campanularum) suggests, this is a bee associated with bellflowers. In fact, it is oligolectic (restricting pollen gathering to a limited range of flower, in this case flowers belonging to the Campanula genus)
One of my favourite pictures was accidental. Both Tudor and baroque walls form the backdrop for a very pretty plant: Thalictrum davidii.
It would have been nice to have had extra time to look around more. But the kitchen garden at least is free to wander around, so I may well pay another visit. And maybe buy some heritage veg from the stall to take home for dinner.