The Vegetable Garden
24th April 2017
In 1852 Mrs Gaskell wrote in her letters about the vegetables that were growing in the garden. In another letter she tells of being given rhubarb, though whether she meant rhubarb stalks for cooking or a root of rhubarb for growing, is not clear. I suspect it was a root.
The part of the garden in which vegetables are likely to have been grown, is no more. There is a block of flats on the site. Also lost is the paddock in which, we can speculate, the cow and chickens were kept and the pigsty was situated. However, it was important to represent the productive side of the garden. Mrs Gaskell’s letters show that she took great pleasure in the vegetables that were grown in the garden and described herself planting cabbages among other garden tasks. Consequently a small vegetable bed has been established at the end of the pergola and a fruit bed created against the rear wall.
Mrs Gaskell is very unlikely to have had a vegetable bed so visible from the living and dining room. But then the garden as it is currently maintained is not a re-creation but more of an evocation of her life and works and it was important that we included some reference to the practical side of the mid-19th century garden.
Apart from perennial herbs, there is currently little to see in the vegetable bed which has recently been dug over, but it will be planted up with beans whose flowers compliment the roses on the pergola along with other vegetables. In past years we have grown coloured chard and cabbages, parsnips and leeks.
We do use “heritage” seeds and plants when these are available and in 2015 a “heritage” pumpkin seed produced the most abundant crop. The plants romped across the fruit bed and even started climbing the walls. We had pumpkins for Halloween, and enough for staff and volunteers to make pumpkin soup and pumpkin pie.
There must be something in the soil or the situation of the fruit bed. An alpine strawberry that was planted as an attractive edging to the bed, spread itself abundantly across the whole bed last year, way beyond its remit! The fruit-bed is now the home of the more sedentary gooseberry and currant bushes. Again we have used older varieties such as Lancashire Lad. Against the wall are apple and pear trees, trained as espalier plants. We have used varieties such as Doyenne de Comise and Duke of Devonshire.
Volunteer Gardener at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House
The house and gardens are open Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, 11-4.30pm.