the secret gardens

Walled Kitchen Gardens

Another well-known manifestation of the secret garden concept is the walled kitchen garden. First introduced by the conquering Roman army at the turn of the first millennia, walled kitchen gardens used to be prevalent in homes across the British Isles. The Fishbourne Roman Palace is probably the sole surviving kitchen garden from the era.

Over the next millennia, the concept of self-sustaining Roman gardens gradually gained a foothold, and many homes produced their own supply of vegetables, herbs and fruits. Many ornamental plants were also grown in these gardens to help protect the crop against the climate and intruders.

By the 14th and 15th century, bricks and lime were the raw materials of choice for the construction of walls as they proved to have the best heat retention properties, which is important for the mini-climates of secret gardens. Even England’s “greatest gardener”, the legendary Lancelot Brown, was a huge advocate of using mortar lime and bricks to build walled kitchens. Alas, the imposition of the Brick Tax in 1784, to pay for British military cost during the American Revolutionary War, made bricks too expensive for families. Various alternative materials, such as stone and wood, were used, but the effect was less than inspiring. This somewhat stopped the growth of walled kitchens.

The death knell for walled kitchens arrived in the middle of the 18th century when modern home designs excluded walled kitchens among the wealthy. Instead, they were placed at a different location in the estate. The trickle-down effect soon reached ‘commoners’, and before long, walled kitchen gardens went out of style.

With the advent of modern supermarkets and ecommerce, walled kitchen gardens appear well on the road to extinction. Or has it? The recent demand for organic products appears to have lent a second wind to dying walled gardens. Home gardens are becoming trendy again. Even cooking shows highlight the use of home grown herbs and vegetables. Will there be a revival of walled kitchen gardens? Only time will tell.

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