Visit Titsey Place gardens near Oxted
PUBLISHED: 14:21 15 September 2014 | UPDATED: 11:59 20 January 2016
Explore the late season splendour of the historic gardens at Titsey Place, near Oxted, where the Victorian walled kitchen garden should now be at its zenith...
Need to know
Titsey Place Gardens, Titsey Hill, Oxted RH8 0SD
Open: Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays until Sunday September 28 (1-5pm)
Admission: Gardens only, £4.50; children, £1
Share your Surrey gardens photography @ www.surreylife.co.uk/photos
Dating back to the mid-16th century, Titsey Place is one of Surrey’s largest surviving estates, set in rolling parkland under the North Downs near Oxted. Home to the Gresham family since 1534, it is now run as a charitable trust aiming to preserve the estate and open the house and gardens to the public. Enjoyed by generations, there are 18 acres of formal and informal areas to wander around with stunning views across the Darent Valley.
For me, the highlight of a September visit is undoubtedly the ornamental walled kitchen garden. Restored in the 1990s as an illustration of Victorian horticultural techniques, it is brimming with ripened crops and colourful flowers at this peak time.
Walls that talk
When the restoration of the kitchen garden began, however, it was just a shadow of its former glory. At its peak in Victorian and Edwardian times, it would have supplied immense quantities of edible and decorative produce for the household with a large team of gardeners. But by the 1990s, although there were still some vegetables being grown, the walls needed repairing and the glasshouses had to be replaced.
In addition, 16 new beds were laid out complete with borders and pathways. Box hedging quarters the two upper compartments and two wrought iron gazebos, smothered in climbers, draw focus at the centre of each.
Today, fruits such as quinces, redcurrants and gooseberries are trained against the walls. Espaliered apples create living frameworks, gourds scramble over willow frames, glossy tomatoes gleam in ‘tomato avenues’ and a collection of lavenders edge the eastern side.
In the new glasshouses, the rows are packed with orchids, soft fruit, vines and potted plants, while filling the beds are resplendent collections of vegetables interspersed with summer flowers.
At the helm
The latest in a succession of head gardeners to continue the legacy at Titsey Place is Rhod Jones who took up the position in February after working for 20 years at Ashburnham Place in East Sussex restoring a Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown landscape, which included a walled kitchen garden. “I was ready to take up a new challenge,” he says. “Now we’re building on the work started by my predecessors in re-establishing and developing the Victorian kitchen garden here at Titsey Place.”
A team of just five gardeners manage the garden, a fraction of the number there would have been in Victorian times, employing methods from the past along with modern labour and time-saving advances.
“We endeavour to showcase many Victorian horticultural techniques but in the spirit of Victorian development also embrace new horticultural innovations such as computer controlled heating and ventilation systems,” says Rhod. “We are not strictly organic, as we use pesticides on the pathways, but we minimise our use of herbicides where possible and use a variety of biological controls for whitefly, aphids and mealy bug on the glasshouse crops.”
Try this at home
Visiting the walled garden at Titsey Place is bound to give you some great ideas for growing your own vegetables, herbs and fruit; you just need to scale it down to suit your space. Many of the layout, design and companion planting ideas can be adopted in the home garden, especially the creative use of willow domes for your beans or get inspired by those decorative gourds.
In September, the scene is one of golden rudbeckias, ruby red dahlias and towering sunflowers of every kind amongst the zenith of the productive harvest.
Get the look...
• Create late season colour with dahlias, chrysanthemums, asters, rudbeckias, heleniums, sunflowers and sweet peas
• For a late season harvest, grow tomatoes, pumpkins, onions, beans, kale, corn and asters, with red and white currants training on walls, and grapes and ornamental gourds adorning arbours
• Mix flowers and produce together in beds, rows, borders and edges
• Get to know the microclimates of your garden, as these will determine what you can grow in different sections. A sheltered, sunny spot is important with most vegetables needing eight to 12 hours of sun
• For best results, enrich the soil. Rhod recommends using well-rotted compost incorporated within a crop rotation system in order to maintain a good fibrous growing medium
• Don’t forget the element of height – peas or beans mixed with nasturtiums, scrambling over tripods, could be both tasty and aesthetically pretty placed informally amongst garden plants
• Mix the colours of shining chillies with rainbow stems of chard or edge flower beds with textural chives for attractive, edible details
• Other tips from Rhod include keeping pots, tools and equipment spotlessly clean to avoid pests and diseases; erecting supports and protection netting before you plant; and creating effective irrigation as you can’t rely on the rain