The walled kitchen garden at Gravetye Manor in Sussex.

The walled kitchen garden at Gravetye Manor in Sussex.

Cultivated – Fence me in: Lessons from the Sun King

Christin Geall is an avid Oak Bay gardener and creative non-fiction writing instructor at the University of Victoria

What is it about being embraced? Held? Not solely by a loved one, but a garden?

Enclosed gardens have a history almost as old agriculture itself. What may have begun as a practical consideration – to keep animals out and plants in – has evolved into spaces designed for pleasure. Think of the courtyard gardens of the ancient world, the delicacy of Japanese roji wrapping around a building, the urban oases of modern life.

As Julie Moir Messervy writes in The Inward Garden, “a cloister, court, plaza or square are the architectural equivalents of the wing chair, booth, playpen, or fenced-in yard that formed the harbours of our childhood landscapes.”

Winter is a great time to examine the structure of your garden. In areas unused, can you work vertically to enclose a space and make it more inviting? Or can you divide a space using a panel, pergola, arbor or a wall?

For very little money it’s possible to sink two T-posts into the ground, wire on a panel of cedar trellis and plant seeds of an easy annual vine like Cobea scandens, the old fashioned Cup and Saucer vine, which can easily cover twenty-feet in one season.

Step up that set-up to a permanent post set in concrete or a saddle and pier block combination and perennial vines and roses will delight in covering it over the years. (You might even plant tender annuals like cucumbers or trailing nasturtiums (which climb with a modicum of assistance) to give you first-year interest while your roses fill in.

Somehow I’ve managed to talk about vertical gardening when what I really wanted to natter on about was the history of walled gardens – grand in scale no doubt, but some lessons for the home gardener apply.

I recently visited a walled garden at Gravetye Manor in Sussex, England, where two and half acres still produce produce for the manor’s restaurant. The garden is a fantastic example of all that once was and can still be grown: apples espaliered, tall Jerusalem artichokes, purple Brussels sprouts, hedges of kales, tidy rows of salad greens, herbs and edible flowers edging paths.

Gravetye’s walled garden was established in 1901 at the end of an era for these great gardens (in the UK most were built between 1750 and 1880). The decline in skilled labour during Great War and the development of refrigeration afterwards changed how food was produced and consumed and many gardens fell into disrepair. Restoration of Gravetye’s walled garden began in 2010. Head gardener Tom Coward manages the walled garden for productivity using Victorian cultivation techniques.

But back to our enclosures: As you move up the expense ladder the benefits of enclosure increase. Rock and brick store radiant heat. Plus, walled gardens block wind thus raising the temperature inside. Interesting fact: a one-acre kitchen garden could produce food for 12 people in Victorian times. Do the math and technically I could be growing food for a family of four on my large urban lot. (Yet another argument for smaller house footprints…). I do consider my own garden a bit of a playpen and delight in growing tall plants to create small private spaces.

Humans have long loved a proximity to – nay, an intimacy with nature, but we seem to love it best on our own terms; a little controlled chaos close to home. And speaking of chaos, one last European digression. On my flight over I happened upon a historical drama I hadn’t seen, directed by a man that I will miss forevermore: Alan Rickman. It wasn’t a great movie, but the title is: A Little Chaos. And the musical composition of the same name (by Scottish cellist Peter Gregson) evokes precisely the grandeur and intimacy of the garden featured in the final scene. It’s known as the Bosquet de la Salle-de-Bal at Versailles and over the course of the movie we witness its construction. In that last scene of the film, Rickman – majestic as Louis XIV, enters the sunken garden for the first time. People dance around him while he stays still, a centrepoint of glory and magnificence.

Messervy says it best: ‘enclosures…give us the security to perceive ourselves as the weighted center of any landscape…by feeling enclosed, we feel as though we are the center of the world.”

 

Christin Geall is an avid Oak Bay gardener and creative non-fiction writing instructor at the University of Victoria. She writes here twice a month on all things gardening.

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Coroner Andy Watson confirmed the death of a man in Chemainus Monday night.
Coroners service looks into death at Victoria encampment for poeple who are homeless

BC Coroners Service confirms death occurred at Royal Athletic Park Jan. 23

Learning tools from the Garth Homer Society’s LifeStreams program have gone online. (Facebook/Garth Homer Society)
Online platform launched for Greater Victoria adults with developmental disabilities

Platform includes programs, events, activities and COVID-19 resources

Jerry Dyck plans to purchase a new RV to drive across Canada in, once it’s safe to travel again. (Courtesy BCLC)
Victoria man plans post-pandemic cross-Canada RV trip after $2M lottery win

Retired electrician bought the winning ticket in Duncan

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is urging visitors to stay on designated trails after a hiker became injured in an unsanctioned area last week. (Westerly file photo)
Injured hiker rescued in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

“Safety is everyone’s responsibility.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. Two more cases of the COVID-19 strain first identified in South Africa have been diagnosed in British Columbia, bringing the total to three as of Jan. 16.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. now has three cases of South African COVID-19 variant, six of U.K. strain

Both variants are thought to spread faster than earlier strains

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Great Canadian Gaming CEO resigns after being accused of sneaking into Yukon for vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Police discovered a makeshift nightclub in a Vancouver apartment on Jan. 23, 2021, and say it wasn’t the first time this month officers have been called to the unit over social gathering concerns. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Doorman of makeshift ‘booze-can’ in Vancouver apartment fined; police look to court order

This marks the fourth complaint about social gatherings inside the apartment in January

Local musician and artist Daisy Melville created a watercolour portrait of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders from the recent American inauguration, and with help from her mom, is now selling t-shirts and more with funds going to the Comox Valley Food Bank. Image submitted
Island artist turns Sanders inauguration meme into art for good

All proceeds from the sale of shirts, sweaters and more will go to the Comox Valley Food Bank

A Kelowna couple welcomed their Nooner baby in December. (Flytographer)
Kelowna couple welcomes baby girl from Hotel Zed Nooner campaign

Nicole and Alex will now have 18 years of free stays at the hotel

Kyrell Sopotyk was drafted by the Kamloops Blazers in 2016 and played two seasons with the Western Hockey League club. (Photograph By ALLEN DOUGLAS/KTW)
Kamloops Blazer paralyzed in snowboarding accident sparks fundraiser for family

As of Jan. 24, more than $68,000 had been raised to help Kamloops Blazers’ forward Kyrell Sopotyk

(Pixhere photo)
B.C. dentists argue for COVID-19 vaccine priority after ‘disappointing’ exclusion from plan

Vaccines are essential for dentists as patients cannot wear masks during treatment, argues BCDA

Most Read