Wonderwalls!

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East-facing wall, made of whinstone

You know, all this talk of energy conservation’s not new. Solar power, in particular, was used by the Victorians in the design of their walled gardens in order to prolong the growing season and achieve above-average yields, including of some quite exotic fare, like pineapples! The walled gardens played a key role providing fresh fruit and vegetables to the Big House and the surrounding estate and the growing season had to be stretched for as long as possible.

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Gable-end of the south wall, showing the flared base

Here at the Scottish Country Garden, we have a two-acre walled garden. It has 3 metre-high walls and is surrounded by protective woodland. This creates a unique microclimate that is, for much of the year, several degrees warmer inside than out, exemplified  by the lawns inside growing 2-3 times faster than the grass outside, and in active growth for roughly a month longer at either end of the season. The garden is positioned to maximise the power from the sun’s rays on the south-facing border at the hottest time of the day (just after noon) and in fact, in common with many gardens, it’s not square, but more of a parallelogram!  But the cleverest trick is how they built the walls. The best material is clearly brick – it stores the heat – but bricks were expensive in Victorian times (not aided by the Brick Tax of 1874) and much dearer than locally hewn stone.

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West-facing wall, of brick, with apple and pear ‘pillars’

Most of our walls here are, then, built from locally hewn whin stone (there is a quarry not far away which still extracts this stone), but where it mattered, brick has been used. So we have whin east-facing and north-facing walls (getting relatively weak morning sun or no sun at all) and brick west-facing walls (which get all the afternoon sun). Interestingly, though, while the outside of the south wall (which receives full sun) is made of brick, the inside south-facing wall (which is the north wall of the walled garden, still with me?!), comprises a 2/3 base layer of whin, with the top 1/3 brick! Perhaps the architects felt that the relatively sheltered south-facing wall inside the garden didn’t need as much heat-storage as the south–facing wall outside? (They were probably right!) But perhaps it was in recognition that many climbing plants, while they like full sun on their faces, like to have their roots in the shade.

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South-facing wall, with whin base and brick upper

In Victorian times, the gardeners would grow different crops on each wall: along the south walls would be apricots, nectarines and peaches; the north-facing walls would house gooseberries, currents, morello cherries as well as late varieties of plums and pears. Sweet cherries, early plums, apples and figs faced east, with more peaches, greengages and early pears facing west.

Here, we have most of our apples and pears growing on the east and west-facing walls, and on the ‘outside’ south-facing wall (round in the kitchen and secret gardens). Inside the walled garden, we have some elderly plums, wall-trained gooseberries and a very rapidly growing magnolia, amongst other things, growing on the south-facing wall, with a further plum and a cherry growing on the west-facing wall.

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‘Outside’ south wall, of brick, with apple and pear fans

Best place to be in winter? Definitely inside the walls!

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18 Responses to Wonderwalls!

  1. Thomas Jefferson used the same idea. 🙂 I’ve never been to a true walled garden but have seen many on TV. Since I don’t think that counts, it seems an all expense paid trip to England is in order. I’m sure my boss and bank will understand. 😉

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  2. pbmgarden says:

    Enlightening article. The stone and brick wall add such character to your garden.

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  3. I love the atmosphere of walled gardens. There is that additional warmth and the feeling of enclosure which makes us feel comfortable and stable. So I believe those lovely walls look after us as well as the plants.

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  4. alistair says:

    Ah, a walled garden, just what I need, dream on. Such an advantage in a climate such as ours. I have been having a good look around your site and am very impressed. Thanks for faving my blog on blotanical and I will look forward from time to time seeing what you are getting up to in 2013.

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  5. I love this blog with each post I read. Not only was I mesmerized by all the info about the walls, I was in awe of how lovely they look with all the wonderful fruits growing along them. It made perfect sense that the walled garden would be a solar magnet….how much they knew about gardening that I never knew!!

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  6. Anna B says:

    This is really interesting. Like Judy I agree people of the past knew what they were doing! I just love your walled garden and every post gives an amazing insight into what you are upto and a real feel of your gorgeous garden. Thanks for sharing such an interesting post!

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  7. Judy says:

    Very informative post – the early settler of all our countries really were brilliant people. They used their wonderful common sense to be successful at projects and in times that still amaze us today. What foresight they had! Your walls are wonderful – thanks for sharing their history.

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    • Thanks Judy! The Victorians were certainly great inventors! Some of the big estates had heated walls- double- skinned with flues which conveyed the heat from stove houses behind the walls. Pity the poor gardeners boys who had to turn out in the middle of a winters night to stoke the fires…!!

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  8. hello, thank you so much for following and faving my blog which has drawn my attention to your blog, I really enjoyed this post about your wonderful (imo) walled garden, I only have about an acre and have sometimes dreamed if I had the money I would love to have a wall (yes brick) around my garden,

    I look forward to following your garden journey during 2013, meantime I will spend some of the weekend reading a few of your previous posts,
    happy new year, Frances
    ps thanks for linking to my blog, I will return the compliment,

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  9. I never realised that the builders had used different materials for different parts of the walls……..I visit one walled garden regularly so I must go and inspect those walls.

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