Earlier this year gardener Steve Wright agreed to take on the mammoth task of transforming the historic walled site in the heart of the estate. After gaining the tenancy, he put in a polytunnel and, within weeks, was growing salad crops and making plans for next year’s crops.
“When I moved onto the site it was little more than a large grass field with a whole lot of nettles and weeds, and a few pigs wandering around,” he admits.
“Thankfully I had a lot of help from the estate’s Farms Department and the Grounds Team, who rotavated the land so that I could start working on it. It was hard work for them and wasn’t without its challenges. They brought in a huge tractor, which only just squeezed through the old gates with just a centimetre spare either side!”
Since then, he’s faced further challenges with the heavy rains in June and the heatwave of July. It’s not stopped work though and the first crops have made their way to the shelves of Welbeck Farm Shop and into the menu at The Harley Café at Welbeck.
“It was always the plan to collaborate with the farm shop and the café,” explains Steve. “I used to work with Ricky (Stephenson), the head chef at The Harley Café before he came to Welbeck. I gardened and supplied him with the fresh fruit and vegetables that he would include in his menus… and that’s what we’re going to do here.”
“I enjoyed working with Ricky and collaborating with him on ingredients that he’d need for the recipes he created. It’s all about producing fresh, seasonal ingredients so that people know exactly where their food has come from.”
The walled garden may still be a work in progress but already the new collaboration is working well between Steve, Ricky, and David Wall, who is Head of Fresh Foods at Welbeck Farm Shop. They pore over the seed catalogues and together plan what crops to grow to meet the needs of both the shop and the cafe. They are working well in advance and currently planning next year’s crops, which will include more heritage varieties.
Over the summer Steve has been developing the gardens, with the additional help of son Calum and wife Jo during weekends and busier times. Once the produce is picked, Steve then takes it directly to Welbeck Farm Shop, which is less than a mile away. Harvests from the walled gardens have included heritage beetroot, cucumbers, courgettes, radishes and beans as well as free-range duck eggs from the garden’s newest residents.
Ambitious plans to develop the site are in the planning too and the site is fast evolving. Since arriving, 32 chickens have been introduced to the site as well as the 24 resident ducks and it has become a hive of activity.
“We are bringing the walled gardens back to what they were, which is great,” adds Steve.
“It’s all happened really fast and it’s good to see it changing and growing. Over time we’ll have more vegetable crops and fruit and we’ll have varieties that are a little out of the ordinary. Eventually, we will also have flowers too so that we can supply cut flowers from the estate. It’s going to look very different over the next year. As they say, watch this space!”