Plotting a new look at Flatford's Valley Farm

PUBLISHED: 17:14 23 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:53 20 February 2013

Plotting a new look at Flatford's Valley Farm

Plotting a new look at Flatford's Valley Farm

It's hard to believe that just months ago this model kitchen garden was a neglected jungle

How does your garden grow? Very well, according to Dave Piper, who has overseen the transformation of Flatfords Valley Farm kitchen garden.
Now burgeoning with vegetables, herbs and salad, just months ago Valley Farms kitchen garden (near the well known Bridge Cottage) was unrecognisable as anything other than an overgrown, rabbit-infested jungle.
It took an inspired eye to see the potential for restoration of this neglected plot. Fortunately for the National Trust, Paul Andrae, our visitor services assistant, could see beyond the nettles. The Field Studies Council, our tenants at Valley Farm and Flatford Mill, welcomed Pauls idea of reinstating what was once a wonderfully productive garden.
And so a plan was hatched. Back in 2007, a small National Trust volunteer gardening team was established at Flatford, whose activities are co-ordinated by Paul. For a long time, Paul had been keen to extend the scope of this team to include the restoration of this large piece of land at the rear of Valley Farm.
You may not be familiar with Flatfords Valley Farm, a 600-year-old Great Hall House and one of the best examples of such a building in Suffolk. It is set a little back from the road you walk down to reach Willy Lotts Cottage and the Mill.
The piece of land in question was a formal kitchen garden, with original box hedging bordering four separate sections still in evidence. Herringbone brick pathways remain from the original garden, although they had become somewhat buried and obscured by weeds.
Thanks to funding from Defras Eat into Green Living campaign, which paid for some of Pauls time as project manager and some of the hardware required, work got underway at the start of the year.
It has been a real team effort. Ickworths head gardener Sean Reid visited us and advised on a plan for the gardens development. The robust skills of Suffolk National Trust Volunteer Group were called in for some of the really heavy duty clearing work, and installation of rabbit proof fencing around the whole plot. Then the hard labour of digging began.
As soon as any ground became ready, the crops started to go in too. If you join one of the National Trusts guided walks, chances are youll enjoy a tour of the kitchen garden as part of it. The neat rows of vegetables will be the envy of many, as will the rich black soil which has ensured a bumper crop so far. Beans, peas, courgettes, potatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, cabbages, chard, rocket, you name it, are all flourishing.
One of the aims of our work here is to help people make the connection between what they eat and where it comes from. We know we are lucky to have this fantastic space available to us, so with this in mind, one area of the kitchen garden is being developed to showcase what you can do in a small growing space. The volunteer team is busy building raised beds which will be filled with all sorts of compact fruit and vegetable varieties.
We are extending the kitchen garden plot so we can develop an orchard, featuring local varieties. You walk past a very old mulberry tree on your way into the kitchen garden, and theres a lovely big walnut tree, so were adding to the fruit and nut repertoire.
Its not just on a guided walk that youll be able to enjoy what Valley Farm kitchen garden has to offer. Residents at the Field Studies Centre at Flatford Mill are very well catered for during their stay. Meals provided now include produce from the kitchen garden.
The tea-room at Bridge Cottage is justifiably renowned for the wide range of tempting treats on offer. We have been, and continue to be, proud to support the local economy by sourcing produce such as drinks, fruit, vegetables, jams, chutneys, cheeses and ice cream. All our cakes, scones, cheese tarts, soups and sandwiches are freshly made on the premises each day.
Now, many of the dishes you choose from contain vegetables from the kitchen garden. Our catering manager Jan Burtles has had a lot of fun incorporating the freshest of fresh produce into recipes. The chocolate beetroot cake has already proved to be a big hit. You can also buy any excess produce when you visit, and pick up a recipe while youre at it.
Earlier this year we hosted a Food Glorious Food Pumpkin Party at Bridge Cottage. Grown-ups and children alike were invited to plant pumpkin seeds in newspaper pots, two per person. The idea is that they bring one of the plants back for us to grow in the kitchen garden and keep one at home, then come back at harvest time to enjoy the fruits of their labours.
Its simple things like this which demonstrate how easy and fun it can be to grow your own vegetables. Log on to or call 01206 298260 for more information and to find out about National Trust guided walks around the Dedham Vale.


Beetroot and chocolate loaf

250g self raising flour
28g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
125g casting sugar
Pinch of salt
85g dark chocolate, melted (cocoa fat 70%)
85g butter, melted
125g raw grated beetroot, peeled weight
2 eggs beaten

1. Heat the oven to gas mark 4/180 C/350 F. Grease and line a 2b loaf tin.
2. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder.
3. Stir in the sugar, beetroot, melted chocolate, butter and the eggs.
4. Turn into the tin, and bake for 50-60 minutes until firm on top and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Pumpkin soup

800g piece of pumpkin, peeled with seeds and fibres removed and flesh cut into cubes.
1.5 litres water
2 tbs olive oil
2 onions chopped
40g parsley, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large saucepan simmer the pumpkin cubes in the water until they are very tender. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan and saut the onions until golden.
2. Puree the pumpkin and liquid in a blender or food processor, or press through a sieve, and return to the pan. Add the sauted onions and the parsley. Season to taste and heat through.

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