Gardening, Learning and Health at Weston Park

How an English country house garden wants to transform young lives and futures

By Weston Park

The south front of the House at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

A World of Learning at Weston Park

Weston Park stands in the heart of England and has been welcoming 5-7000 school children each year. We're now looking to focus on the gardens at Weston Park and, with a project to restore the walled garden, to share the benefits of growing food and healthy eating.

Weston Park has a fascinating history and is set in a thousand acres of parkland laid out by Capability Brown in the 1760s. Big country houses like Weston were always self-sufficient and one of Capability Brown's important improvements was the building of a vast new kitchen garden which could grow food for the House's former owners, the Bridgeman family, and their household. The kitchen garden remained productive from the time that it was built until the 1980s.

Capability Brown's Map of Weston Park (1765/1765) by Lancelot BrownWeston Park

Capability Brown's Grand Plan for Weston Park

Capability Brown was really the nickname of Lancelot Brown. He came to be known as 'Capability' since he was always telling clients that their properties had 'capabilities'. Weston Park was no exception...

West-right section of Capability Brown's map of Weston Park (1765/1765) by Lancelot Capability BrownWeston Park

At Weston Park, not only did he suggest that Sir Henry and Lady Bridgeman should create two pleasure grounds, but he also thought that they needed a large walled garden which would enable them to grow food for the table. This they went on to build to the north of the House

Survey of the park at Weston, showing the west side of the landscape. (2017) by Staffordshire Archives/ Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The Completed Vision

This map, dated 1806, shows Weston Park after Capability Brown's time. The walled garden that he had suggested can be seen as the two rectangular enclosures numbered '42'. The centre wall has a number of buildings, filled in pink, which were glasshouses for tender plants

A Walled Garden of Wonder

The walled garden was very much its own world, where classic English vegetables like potatoes and carrots were grown but also crops that originally were from overseas

Photograph of the Conservatory at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Weston Park's Jones & Clarke Conservatory

The family's gardens at Weston Park included a spectacular domed conservatory that enabled tender flowering plants to be grown

A Place of Entertainment

This was the perfect place for the family and the guests to admire flowering plants that were non-native to England

The Conservatory at Weston Park, seen from the east (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

A Rebuilt Conservatory

A conservatory still exists, but its framing is now timber, rather than cast iron, and it was made by Foster & Pearson who also supplied the walled gardens with their working greenhouses

Looking through the Conservatory at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The Conservatory at Weston Park, seen from the east (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The Foster & Pearson Glasshouses

Structures, like the Foster & Pearson glasshouses, were invaluable for providing shelter for plants that were not used to hard English winters and we know that delicate plants were in the gardens at Weston Park and other English country houses from at least the eighteenth century.

Inside the Conservatory at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Botanists and nurserymen were collecting seeds from abroad and sharing them with other gardeners. Philip Miller, the chief gardener at the Chelsea Physic Garden was enormously influential with new introductions.

Philip Miller's "Gardener's Dictionary" (1759) by Philip MillerGarden Museum

The Gardener's Dictionary

Miller not only wrote on the subject of gardening, including his Gardeners Dictionary, but he acquired and exchanged seeds from around the world. His contacts included John Bartram, the Quaker farmer, botanist, explorer and horticulturalist from Pennsylvania. These horticulturalists encouraged places like Weston Park to take a global view of gardening with a constant quest for ever more exotic food that might impress and give nutrition.

LIFE Photo Collection

Exotics in Rural England

In the eighteenth century, walled gardens like Weston Park's were used to cultivate not only native food but also items that were non-indigenous. Of these, by far the most prized was the pineapple

Pineapples at Weston Park

The pineapple house still stands in the walled garden and we know that there was success in pineapple growing at Weston Park. Family letters from the 1780s tell us about pineapples being sent to friends and family.

Pineapple and Banana Pallets (2016) by Gustavo Otero | Colection Museum of TomorrowMuseu do Amanhã

Pineapple as a symbol of Hospitality and Endless Possibility

Today, our view, as an independent conservation and educational charity is that if pineapples could be grown in cold eighteenth century England, then there's nothing to stop us in our contemporary ambitions - and that applies to the learners who join us at Weston Park!

The upper walled garden at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Breaking New Ground

Although the walled garden at Weston Park had been put to grass in the 1980s, we've started to open beds and to return the area to cultivation. We have a massively popular public restaurant, the Granary Brasserie and so it helps us reduce food miles

The Kitchen GardenHighgrove Gardens

Green Shoots of Success

Our visitors are delighted to see the ground going back under cultivation and the plants are thriving. Nothing tastes better than freshly grown, seasonal food and our diners in the Brasserie and in the House itself are noticing this

Focusing on the Young

In the UK, almost 1 in 5 children are overweight or obese when they start primary school, rising to 1 in 3 when they start secondary school. These are frightening statistics -not just for the individuals but for society as a whole with health systems under pressure

Catalogue from Bees Ltd, Liverpool (1953) by Bees LtdGarden Museum

Helping to Change the Direction of Diet

At Weston Park, we are fortunate in having a fascinating heritage and a resource that is producing fresh, healthy food and we want to share the benefits of this to our young audiences - especially school groups. 

Lithographic print of vegetables (c.1905) by H.G.BanksGarden Museum

From Seed to Salad

We're changing the direction of our curricular study visits to incorporate visits to the walled garden so that children can see food production for themselves. They'll see that it can be simple and can be exciting when they meet our enthusiastic team

Digging Young Leeks, Coombe House Gardens (c.1919) by M.E. MillsGarden Museum

Is it Old Fashioned?

Some might think that growing your own fruit and veg is something that grandad did and that it's all in the world of black-and-white photography

Fork to Fork Makes Sense

As we all become more globally responsible, though, the question of seasonality (eating food in its natural season) and sustainability becomes ever more important

Planting and Sowing at Coombe House Gardens, Croydon (c.1919) by M.E. MillsGarden Museum

Reaping What You Sow

If we are to protect our planet then we not only need to take a different view of food and where it comes from but we also have to think more about the diets that we are all eating and how even food consumption - and what it can lead to - has an impact on the world

Starting Them Young

By explaining about the processes that we are using at Weston Park and sharing a little of the knowledge and expertise of our own garden team and volunteers, we are convinced that we can make a difference to our young visitors' lives

Digging for Victory

The resources of a walled kitchen garden and also the output of the food consumption that Weston Park enjoys through its team of chefs producing for the kitchen at the estate is exceptional

Head Chef, Anna Moore, and Sous Chef, Nick McMahon, selecting produce (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

Picking the Best of the Crop

Our own chefs - who really know what makes a great meal - are delighted to have the resources of freshly produced food on site. Its journey to the consumer can be measured in metres rather than miles!

Yẹ́misí Aríbisálà by Helena KrigeThe Centenary Project

Cooking up a Feast

Whilst it can be difficult to always eat fresh, since we all lead ever-busier lives, the difference that it makes can be measured not only in the pleasure of the taste of the food but also in the nutritional value too. 

Before we make a meal, though, we have to learn about our ingredients and this is why we feel passionately that it is important that we teach our young visitors about the value of fresh

Adding ingredients to ground beans (2019)The Centenary Project

One Spoon at a Time

Whether it is home-grown or freshly bought from the market, foods that offer a balanced diet are vital for healthy lives - and for future success

The gate to the Tear Drop Garden at Weston Park (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The Secret Garden

What child can resist the excitement of a garden gate in a walled garden?

The Path to Knowledge and Health

We would like to encourage greater numbers of school visitors to visit Weston Park's walled garden over the coming years to not only develop their own food knowledge but also to follow our journey in restoring this exceptional and historic Capability Brown garden

Fresh produce from Weston Park's walled garden (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

The Food of the Gods

We're already harvesting some fantastic crops of food from the walled garden and the story of their growth and use is one that every child should learn

Fresh vibrant foods - with no additives - speak for themselves. When deliciously cooked there can be no excuse for not eating greens!

Making an exit - Deputy Head Gardener Dan Charlesworth leave Weston Park's upper walled garden (2017) by Weston Park FoundationWeston Park

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