sunshine in walled vegetable garden at Knightshayes Court
Winter sunshine in the walled vegetable garden at Knightshayes Court, Devon

Having just returned from a business trip to Devon in the last couple of days, I want to share the usefulness of visiting gardens for inspiration, ideas and even growing tips. This was not the purpose of my visit down to the southwest, but with a few hours to spare, I was able to enjoy the spectacular National Trust kitchen garden at Knightshayes Court, just outside Tiverton. I had read that “the restored and fully productive kitchen garden is a treat for everyone who enjoys local produce.” Yes indeed, but so much more, even in winter – and this was a good example of what can be gained from many of the National Trust properties that are presently bringing their former kitchen gardens back into use. This one just happens to be more developed than most.

herb borders at Knightshayes Court
Ideas abound in the herb borders at Knightshayes Court

Kitchen gardening on a grand scale is no different to what we can be attempting in our own, much smaller plots. Stately homes may well have the advantage of space, and perhaps a walled garden, but otherwise, as at Knightshayes, a four year rotation plan is as important as it is to us more modest gardeners. Herbaceous borders, too, are clearly important for providing a continual supply of cut flowers and foliage to decorate the house. Culinary herbs flourish; and already salads and sweet peas are planted out, with some protection – against the wind I guess, for the milder Devon climate, and well-manured and composted soil, pays dividends.

Knighthayes with new 'Outside In' polytunnel plantings.
New garden initiatives inspire and inform, as here at Knighthayes with the new ‘Outside In’ polytunnel plantings.

To get the most out of any garden visit, ensure you first read the background to the place; and take with you a notebook, pen and camera. If so inclined, a sketchbook and paints will help you to record atmosphere, which is just as important as what is actually growing. Note garden layouts, and varieties grown, and any innovative aspect that catches your fancy. At Knighthayes, it was their latest project that captivated me,  the ‘Outside In’ garden is in fact a series of very deep raised beds positioned inside a large polytunnel, and home to heritage vegetables – it will be stunning come mid-summer. Replicating the idea at home? Just use your ingenuity!

planning chart April-June
The topics in this planning chart
are not set in concrete, but give
an idea of plans for April-June

From Knightshayes, forty miles south to the offices of Dobies, and a team-meeting to forward e-newsletter and blog plans for the coming months. We do not meet in person that often, though content is formulated in three-monthly blocks. What we offer you is continually evolving; we are committed to bringing you an increasing number of topics, all interlinked with Dobies seeds, plants and equipment (this week’s email direct from Devon focussed on strawberries and the ‘top ten veg’ recommended by Dobies vegetable specialist Peter Moreton). Plus a storyline that will take you through the reclamation, planning and productive stages of three mini-gardens that were created originally for gardening magazine features. Watch this space – all will gradually be revealed over the next few weeks.


N.B. This virtual tour of Knightshayes may well inspire you to think about your own gardening needs. Clicking on the links will take you to relevant sections of the Dobies website.

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