In my quest for substitute gardening activities during winter, I often turn to gardening books and magazines, but what I really enjoy is to immerse myself completely in some full-on gardening fantasy, ideally through the medium of a screen. I had seen adverts for The Victorian Kitchen Garden DVD collection in magazines, and thought it seemed rather expensive, and it recently occurred to me that I might be able to rent it instead. So I popped over to Lovefilm.com, marked it 'high priority', and it landed on my doormat in a couple of days. I was intending to spin out the couple of hours worth of Disc One over a few days, but ended up watching it all in the same day, then watching it again the next day!
It is quite an old production, I'd guess around 30 years old, the presenters are obviously from the Percy Thrower School, jackets and ties at all times. They waffle on a bit here and there, but they know their onions.
This particular kitchen garden belongs to a country house in Berkshire. It is a huge walled garden, with great expanses of glasshouses and coldframes, espaliered fruit trees on every wall, and perfect gravel pathways with clematis-clothed arches dotted around. There are rows of outbuildings, not only potting sheds and tool sheds, but forcing sheds, and soil sheds, and a special building to house the huge boiler which heats the glasshouses. There is a fruit store which looks like a small thatched cottage, and even an ice-house. (Forgive me if I'm confusing this last bit with Chatsworth, which is also featured in the Introduction quite a lot).
The series takes you through the gardening year, month by month, describing the day to day lives of the Head Gardener and his staff: what they would be doing, and how they would be doing it, in the days prior to the invention of plastic pots, bags of ready made compost, nylon netting and horticultural fleece. They had some pretty resourceful methods of pest control! Of course, being right next door to the stable block, they were never short of manure, including the fresh stuff for creating hot beds, but imagine how much time and effort would have gone into shifting all that amount of muck. Just as well they had a staff of around 20 people.
Wealthy Victorians enjoyed showing off at their dinner parties, and liked to impress their guests with the range of exotic produce on offer. If they took a fancy to aubergines, or pineapples, the Head Gardener was expected to produce them himself, on the estate. Not only did they have to produce enough to feed His Lordship and his family and dinner guests all year round, but enough for all the servants as well. The large gardening staff and the elaborate, purpose built equipment would have been essential, as would access to his Lordship's presumably quite generous gardening budget.
This is a relaxing, old fashioned TV series, perfect winter viewing for anyone who is dying to get on with the new gardening season, but finds themselves confined to barracks due to the cold, wet or frosty weather. You will be inspired with all kinds of new ideas. Or, if you're looking for some motivation to get you going again after the winter break, this will certainly help. So far I have watched January through to May, and I can't wait for Disc Two, with the second half of the year, to pop through the door. If you don't want to buy or rent it, you can also watch it all on You Tube.