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Ham House gardener reaps the rewards of a visit to Versailles

PUBLISHED: 14:31 24 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:53 20 February 2013

Ham House gardener reaps the rewards of a visit to Versailles

Ham House gardener reaps the rewards of a visit to Versailles

The words 'foreign exchange trip' usually conjure up images of pen pals and home sickness, but in the case of one Surrey gardener it meant three weeks of horticultural bliss in one of the world's most famous historic gardens.

The words foreign exchange trip usually conjure up images of pen pals and home sickness, but in the case of one Surrey gardener it meant three weeks of horticultural bliss in one of the worlds most famous historic gardens.

Patrick Kelly is a gardener at the National Trusts 17th-century estate, Ham House in Richmond, where one of his main responsibilities is the care of its 400 year old walled kitchen garden.

Earlier this summer, Patrick had the rare opportunity to work at the renowned Potager du Roi (translated as the Kitchen Garden of the King), which was originally within the grounds of the Palace of Versailles and created to provide produce to the court of King Louis XIV.

This experience has been invaluable in terms of my work at Ham House because Ive been able to learn so much about the design of the quintessential 17th-century kitchen garden, says Patrick.

Versailles would undoubtedly have influenced many of the great gardens of Europe, and it is highly likely that the Duchess of Lauderdale, who lived at Ham in the 1600s, would have visited Versailles.

Working alongside the garden vegetable team on this 22 acre site, Patrick found out more about heritage seed varieties that may well have been grown at Ham 400 years ago. Some of these he hopes to introduce next spring, such as the delicious Versaillais strawberry and Teton de Venus peach, which was Louis XIVs favourite.

French gardens often highlight the historical differences in the way we view our food, which I found intriguing, he says. For instance, hundreds of years ago, a plant would be assigned beneficial properties according to its appearance, which was seen as a message from God. So, walnuts were thought to be good for the brain because of the way they looked.

With Petersham Nurseries just around the corner too, its surely not long before this little corner of Richmond is teaching the world a few new horticultural tricks of its own.

  • Ham House, Ham Street, Richmond, Surrey TW10 7RS

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