Even the weather could not hide the transformation

Meldon Park kitchen garden.
Meldon Park kitchen garden.

Meldon Park Kitchen Garden was visited one rainy day last week but even the weather could not hide the transformation taking place within.

The estate has practically been in the Cookson family since 1832 and the once productive kitchen garden became a tree nursery at one stage, as many did in the 1950s and 60s. Present owners are James and Emily Cookson. James recalls his parents beginning the present transformation from Christmas tree production to a kitchen garden 40 years ago, something he is determined to continue.

The kitchen garden borders at Meldon Park.

The kitchen garden borders at Meldon Park.

His own family was inundated with fresh fruit and vegetables when he returned to Meldon Park with them, and wisely decided to develop this facility then open it to the wider public. The result, since the Kitchen Garden opened three years ago, shows the number of visitors has risen to 10,000, a figure they expect to increase over the coming months.

The garden is south-facing with high walls on three sides. Mature trees growing beyond these help filter the wind, maximising warmth and creating ideal growing conditions. Large areas of lawn and herbaceous borders, part and parcel of old walled gardens, are found within. Fruit trees with branches covered in lichen, a sure indicator of clean air, add great character. And they are no doubt still productive in season.

Soft and top fruits, traditional vegetables, salad crops and herbs have an understandable priority here because of demand from the gorgeous onsite café. This is run by Emily Cookson and was recently honoured in the ninth Countryside Alliance Awards (Rural Oscars) as Best Start-Up Business.

James Cookson and his gardening team are pursuing plans to keep café chef George Handyside supplied with a variety of fresh vegetables year-round. Salad leaves and herbs are popular at present but the planting out of vegetables that have been hardened-off in the cold frames is well under way. A range of beans, pak choy, beetroot, cauliflower, carrots, spinach and garlic is part of the plan.

Next year they hope to add a unique maize to the menu and introduce a living salad bowl allowing customers to purchase a range of salad leaves, herbs and edible flowers not usually available.

Lunch in the Kitchen Garden Café was delightful with the cheerful welcome, ambience, service and quality of food. Set in a splendid conservatory with excellent views out over the walled garden, photographs on a wall indicate the transformation that has taken place here. A resident greater spotted woodpecker even turned up to entertain at a feeding station just outside the window.

Dahlias in the Bishop series, pelargoniums and lemon verbena caught the eye in the plant sales area, all well-grown, healthy plants at a reasonable price.

There is something very captivating about old walled gardens anyway but one that is being restored, coming back to life and giving such pleasure to visitors, will always have my vote.

All strength to the Cooksons’ elbows in this wonderful venture.