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Fruits of their labour

PUBLISHED: 10:55 09 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:19 20 February 2013

Marian Welham admires fruits of labour at Parham Hall Gardens

Marian Welham admires fruits of labour at Parham Hall Gardens

Marian Welham admires the produce produced at Parham Hall Gardens

Fruits of their labour


Marian Welham admires the produce produced at Parham Hall Gardens


Were in the frame yard in Adam Pauls historic walled garden at Parham Hall inspecting a row of sturdy white-painted cold frames.
Theyve been repaired a few times but theyre the original frames from my grandfathers day and I remember them as a child, says Adam.
His immaculately restored Victorian kitchen garden with its fan-trained fruit and perfectly straight rows of vegetables and cutting flowers, remains true to its original purpose of providing food for the household, except that today theres enough fresh produce left over for the local farmshop as well as for sampling by students for whom theres no looking back once theyve tasted an English hothouse cucumber straight from the glasshouse.
Just totally different from the stuff you buy, says Adam.
Since the garden was restored in 2000, Adam has been passing on his professional horticultural skills to students of all levels including Royal Horticultural Society members, apprentices from the Womens Farm and Garden Association, and v
v students bussed in from Otley College where he lectures in heritage fruit and vegetable production. Now he is launching a new course aimed at mothers (or fathers) who want to improve their gardening skills in a way that fits in with their family commitments.
We are able to offer a little bit of everything that you would have seen in a classical garden such as Audley End but rather than a walk round the garden and a short demonstration, here you can be completely hands-on, Adam explains.
A typical day on the Learning for Leisure course would kick off with coffee at 10 am before students get hands-on in the garden covering the subject of the day, which might be anything from propagating strawberries to looking at garden design. The syllabus is enough to tempt the most hesitant gardener and ranges from sowing sweet peas and broad beans in autumn to growing melons and peppers in spring and to soft fruit propagation in summer. Time-honoured methods of a century ago are combined with modern organic techniques because, unlike his Victorian forbears, Adam tries to keep spraying to a minimum.
Also if students want something that particularly interests them, there is the flexibility in the programme to cover that, says Adam. We break about 12 noon for sandwiches or a snack, then we carry on until 2pm.
No aspect of gardening is too fiddly or detailed for Adam, who became a master at violin making in the Italian city of Cremona before launching himself into the world of horticulture. He gained an Advanced National Certificate in fruit production at Hadlow College in Kent in the early 1970s and, since then, he has adeptly run two careers completely separately so that when he is not lecturing at Otley or teaching in his own garden, he is making violin, violas and cellos entirely by hand in his thatched studio.
In this quiet corner of Suffolk, it is easy to imagine the days when Adams grandparents owned Parham Hall and a full-time gardener looked after it.
It was laid out very much in the Victorian way with hoggin paths and box hedges all round the beds and very simple rustic rose arches to mark the juncture of the paths, he recalls.
After the war, his father, a fruit farmer, decided he couldnt afford to keep a gardener and turned the walled garden over to commercial gooseberries but eventually Adam found himself planning how he might restore the garden to its traditional role. He called in Paul Miles, a former National v
v Trust adviser, who has had a hand in restoring many historic gardens.
I said to Paul, you can do whatever you like as long as the concept is functional. Its not meant to be decorative, other than the fact that you eat it or pick it.
In the event, Adams wife Susan, brought up in Singapore among exotic cannas and frangipani trees, has brought colour and an artistic dimension to the garden. A circular seating area is approached through rose-covered arches from which four wide paths radiate, stretching off into neat rows of vegetables, fruit cordons and espaliers, a soft fruit cage and traditional glass vinery on one side of the garden and a small orchard of pyramid trees on the other.
Food is produced year-round as the art of the Victorian gardener was to get a succession of crops, even in lean periods. Salsify and scorzonera, both grown for their roots, are already coming up and the red radicchio chicory Verona Palla Rossa, Florence fennel, and Calabrese F1 Marathon bear witness to Adams years in Italy.
Students learn how to lift and force rhubarb or the Witloof chicory that produces plump, leafy heads known as chicons in winter.
I have all sorts of frames, forcers and cloches and, since I dont open to the public, Ive got more of a selection than some of the big gardens because they havent time to bother with this sort of thing, says Adam.
In autumn students pick pears from the cordons and he will bring out a plate and knife and cut up the fruit for them to try.
They can then get a sense of the enormous difference in flavour between one variety and another, he says. Theres also a traditional apple store so they can see how the Victorians would have stored their apples.
One look in the potting shed where spic and span pots are piled up ready to use is enough to show that the garden is run just as a traditional head gardener would run it.
It has to be so that anyone who comes on a professional course can see how it should be done, says Adam. And woe betide anyone who walks on the grass or gravel without scraping the mud off their boots first.
Theyre told off because if they go to work as a head gardener, they have got to learn to respect any environment they go into, he says.
Anyone signing up for the Learning for Leisure course will experience a more gentle approach.
We provide coffee and biscuits and its a nice friendly atmosphere, Adam says. My principle is for them to learn to a high standard and to enjoy it.
If it rains, they can simply repair to the lecture room with a table that doubles up as a potting bench. Its tucked behind what must be one of the most beautiful herb gardens in Suffolk, all within this amazing walled garden.


Learning for Leisure at Parham Hall, Parham, near Framlingham costs 165 for the whole 14-week session or you can pay per term. Ring 01728 723670 or 07800 593902 for more details or e-mail sue_paul@hotmail.com

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