How fitting that the first post about the Kitchen Garden should be illustrated by the first tree planted in the garden. The tree pictured is an apricot, often thought of as a fruit of warmer climes, but it should thrive in these gardens against a south facing wall.
Apricots were first introduced to the UK by the Romans and have been popular in walled gardens since at least Tudor times. The original, working Kitchen Garden at Hampton Court was in use between 1689 and 1842. It would have supplied fruit and vegetables to the Royal household throughout the year. In an era before supermarkets and mass importation of food, being able to provide a consistent supply of the King’s favourite delicacies would have been of the highest importance and the gardeners of the time were expert in forcing crops early or artificially extending the season.
In the 18th century, apricots could be ripened as early as April using nothing more high tech than piles of dung. The manure would have been piled six foot high against the rear of the wall, as it broke down it would release heat and warm the wall. It would have needed replenishing every month to keep the heat constant, but it was said that by using this technique, one could be eating gooseberries by January, cherries in February and currants in March.
The unheated walls around the edges of this Kitchen Garden will provide shelter and a warmer microclimate for an array of fruit. Therefore, as well as apricots, we shall be growing nectarines and peaches alongside less tender crops such as apples, pears and plums. As we don’t have a king clamouring for apricots in April, we will be spared from making manure mountains and instead look forward to an August harvest of these delicious fruit.