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Garden writer Wendy Pillar visits the beautiful Victorian kitchen garden of West Dean near Chichester in West Sussex to see how it has adapted to life in the 21st century

At the heart of West Dean Gardens is a walled kitchen garden that in the early 20th century supplied the estate with staple vegetables, exotic fruit and cut flowers.

Edward James inherited the 6300 acre estate, which appears in the Domesday book, in 1912. He was a renowned patron of the arts, particularly of Surrealist artists like Salvador Dalí and René Magritte, and the house saw a lively social life. Concerned that crafts would be lost after the world wars, James left the estate in the hands of a charitable trust to preserve skills in traditional arts and crafts, in 1964. Today it is an award-winning college for conservation and creative arts.


The damage caused by the storms of 1987 and 1990 turned attention to the 90-acre grounds. A happy coincidence saw gardeners Sarah Wain and Jim Buckland, newly arrived from Australia, inspired by the Victorian Kitchen Garden TV series and looking for a challenge at just that moment. The walled garden had been used as a garden centre, the magnificent greenhouses were derelict and the kitchen garden was overgrown with weeds – a challenge it certainly was!

The kitchen garden was probably the easiest part of the restoration. Still in decent heart under the weeds, the soil was spread with a generous layer of manure, which was dug in – a mighty task! Then the greenhouses were renovated, the original timbers being in surprisingly good condition. Mostly 80 years or more old, the fact they had survived was testament to the original builders, Foster & Pearson of Beeston, Nottinghamshire. Some of the bases of the greenhouses are up to 200 years old, with new timbers and glazing added around 1910.

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About Kitchen Garden Magazine

Welcome to Kitchen Garden Magazine In this issue: ON THE VEG PATCH This month Joyce Russell takes over our jobs on the plot feature. Joyce is busy tending to leeks, preparing bean trenches, sorting seeds and lifting celeriac IN THE GREENHOUSE KG regular Martin Fish moves into the greenhouse and polytunnel from this issue and is having a winter clean up, preparing the soil for spring crops and pruning grapes THE CULTIVATED PLOT In the first part of his new series, Graham Strong gets his new plot into shape for spring sowings MEET THE BLOGGERS This month we meet Hayley Moisley, a young blogger with a bright future in the world of allotment gardening