Planting and plotting with Boconnoc's Head Gardener
As the nights start drawing in and the summer season begins winding down into autumn, our minds move to a slower pace of life. Nestled in the outstandingly beautiful grounds of Boconnoc, our Kitchen Garden is still bursting with seasonal fresh produce, nurtured and tended to by our conscientious Head Gardener Stuart.
Stuart plays a vital role in the eco-system here at Boconnoc, with over 300 acres of land to manage no two days are the same.
We caught up with him in the Kitchen Garden to find out what challenges the changing seasons bring and his plans for a more sustainable future.
Please tell us a bit about yourself, how long have you have been a part of the team at Boconnoc and what do you enjoy about your role?
“I’ve been a member of the Boconnoc team for over 20 years now, working with three generations of the Fortescue family. The gardens and grounds of the estate require careful management all year round, this, alongside the planting and maintenance of the kitchen garden mean I’m always kept very busy.
I love watching the seasons change and spending time outdoors at this time of year, I enjoy the crisp mornings and watching the wildlife in the garden. The birds are attracted to the upturned soil, so I’m often joined by wrens, blackbirds and a friendly robin who enjoy watching me work.
Have you faced any challenges this year?
When working with the environment there is always the challenge of the British weather!
This year’s incredibly hot weather has meant that some fruit and veg were put under stress and went to seed earlier than they would have normally. One example was our raspberries went over early this year so couldn’t be used as the desert for an event. This meant the chef had to act quickly and adapt her menu and our event team had to let clients know by explaining the situation. This has been a useful reminder to make sure clients are aware menus are subject to change. These are the type of challenges that you can’t predict, nature certainly likes to keep me on my toes.
That’s why we are constantly experimenting and trying new ways to encourage a natural eco-system in the Kitchen Garden. This year I have been trying to outwit pests by trialling companion planting.
By planting French Marigolds next to the carrots, we’re aiming to stop the Carrot Root fly who lay their larvae in the base of the carrot plant, ruining the crop. The flies hunt by scent so the idea is that the strong scent of the marigolds attracts them first before they find the carrots. The marigolds also act as a camouflage for the carrot plants.
We have also planted Nasturtiums in with cabbages to see if that helps stop the cabbage white butterfly.
Both of these strategies seem to be working well so far, fingers crossed.
Have you had any other successes?
Soil health is so important in a kitchen Garden, this year we have been using some of our own compost. Three years ago we started making our own compost as there is a huge amount of natural compost around. We use leaf mould, ash from the woodchip boiler, grass cuttings and food waste from the holiday accommodation and events. The compost is spread on top of the soil with some organic fertiliser, as we begin to trial a no dig system in some areas. In principle this method avoids disrupting the important micro-organisms and soil life such as worms and insects that help feed plant roots and keep the soil healthy.
Eventually we hope to move to a no dig system for the whole garden but at the moment it’s a trial-and-error method to see how the plants behave.
This year we managed to avoid using any plastic grow bags for tomatoes by using our own compost, this felt like a great achievement as they did really well.
We have been trialling an age-old method of storing produce that was used on the estate when the market garden was in use before the 1970s. Apples and potatoes are being stored separately in wooden crates. Kept under the correct conditions produce can be kept fresh for months, avoiding food waste.
Our onions, garlic, carrots and beetroot will be lifted and stored in the potting shed and should last until next spring.
You can read more about over-wintering produce and sustainable eating in this article – ‘The Art of Storage’ by Tia Tamblyn
We have ambitious plans for the future, all working in harmony with nature.
By moving towards going entirely organic and ‘no dig’ we hope to extend our planting season and create a wildlife friendly garden that our guests can enjoy.
We would like to encourage people to learn about where their food comes from, how to avoid food waste and how enjoyable growing your own can be.
This year we grew heritage carrots which come in a rainbow of colours such as purple, red and yellow and they tasted exceptionally sweet.
We will soon be harvesting the root veg that grows throughout the winter such as
parsnips and leeks. We’ll be leaving a section of carrots and beetroot in the ground this year, allowing them to flower so we can take seeds for planting next spring.
Supporting Season led produce
The benefits of having our own kitchen garden allows us to have fresh produce at our fingertips. We are led by the seasons and offer our guests what is growing at the time. This is so important to us as we try to reduce the demand for ‘out of season’ produce which needs to be shipped, transported and refrigerated, often with a huge carbon footprint.
The produce from our kitchen garden also tastes sweeter, fresher and is full of nutrients, supporting our body’s nutritional needs according to the season it’s grown and harvested in.