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An Introduction to the Walled Garden at Harewood House

Heritage Fruit & Vegetables

Recognising the contribution gardeners and farmers made to the war effort

As part of the Seeds of Hope exhibition in the Walled Garden we have been growing an interesting selection of heritage fruits and vegetables that we researched and believe may have been grown here during the First World War.

Old seed catalogues and articles published in the 1918 Gardeners’ Chronicle, a monthly magazine for Head Gardeners, enabled us to develop planting plans and resources from a few of the specialist seed suppliers still growing these old varieties today, such as Thomas Etty, Garden Organic and Pernnard Plants.

In 1914 Britain imported over 60% of its total food supply. British farmers focused on the production of livestock for meat and dairy, a far more profitable and much less labour-intensive product than arable crops.

As the war progressed, the Government became so concerned that Britain may run out of food, in part due to the sustained bombing campaign, that they decided to take action and in February 1917 introduced rationing for the first time and launched a ‘Ploughing Up’ campaign. This ordered farmers to convert pastures into arable fields to produce vital crops such as wheat, oats and potatoes.

In November 1917 the Harewood Estate received its order and the 5th Countess of Harewood actively encouraged her own tenant farmers, gardeners and other local farmers to employ women on the land.

Over the next few months, we will share with you just some of the examples of what we believe would have been grown in the Walled Garden to provide food for the Harewood Estate’s staff, the soldiers convalescing in the auxiliary hospital in the house as well as for sale in the in the local village shops and markets.

With our Kale looking particularly vibrant in the garden this month, the first blog will highlight its virtues and varieties. Read more about Seeds of Hope.

Maria Mahon, Kitchen Gardener

The Story behind Seeds of Hope

5 questions with….Nicola Stephenson, Harewood House Trust Exhibitions Producer

What’s the story behind Seeds of Hope?

We wanted to find a way of marking the end of the First World War, in this the centenary year, and rather than dwelling on the well-reported horrors, when we thought about what was happening at Harewood in that period, we found so many interesting stories linked to life in and around the Estate, such as keeping the local population (and Navy) fed, the House as an auxiliary hospital and the work and activities people did to lift their spirits and keep going despite their personal worries about family and the war. It soon became clear that the Walled Garden and the gardener’s Bothy had a real story to tell.

How did the Seeds of Hope project develop?

The Walled Garden lies on the opposite side of the Lake and although our visitors have always had the opportunity to go there, not many people were. We felt they were missing the chance to see a very magical part of Harewood and that there was an opportunity to bring both outdoor and indoor spaces to life. For that we needed some real creativity.

We had been aware of Lord Whitney and their work in Leeds and beyond for some time. A collaboration of young creative directors, many of us had seen their highly acclaimed immersive work at Leeds Town Hall, The World Beneath the Woods, and we loved the approach of creating an immersive environment to tell a historical story and to bring this project to life, so that it could appeal to young and old. And what they have created has really transformed the space for the good.

Tell us more about the process of the collaboration?

Rebekah Lord and Amy Whitney make up the creative duo of Lord Whitney, in addition to a team of exceptionally talented artists, musicians and set designers, including Buffalo who created the soundscape. They first came to Harewood in the winter, when it was cold and the garden was empty and looking huge and the Bothy had not been converted – a daunting introduction! Over the following months they developed and presented their vision, through research and conversations with people such as Head Gardener Trevor and Rebecca Burton in our Collections department. A narrative began to emerge based on the historical research but telling the Seeds of Hope story through a number of characters. In addition, they developed a layout for the garden, stocked with heritage vegetables, goats and chickens, encouraging visitors to step back in time to a 100 years ago.

The visual and audio soundscapes (based on a song of the time called The World is Waiting for a Sunrise) were created for the Orchard and the old green houses, planted with 1,269 sunflowers, representing the number of soldiers treated in the hospital during the war. The music shows how sound can transform a space and has surpassed our imagination and that of our visitors.
As we uncovered more stories about the time, through callouts to the local community and through research, we could see Lord Whitney become completely absorbed with the stories, and whilst this is a work of fiction, it is very much based on historical fact.

What did you learn working in this way?

This has been a completely new challenge for the Trust, as it’s the first time we have worked across all the different collections in this way; Collections, Gardens, Farm and animal management and practical matters to do with accessibility. It has been a real collaboration with new experiences and responsibilities for everyone. And it’s a long and living exhibition, which means that there is constantly work to do to keep it looking fresh and appealing.

We’ve also learnt a great deal about our capabilities…there has been an exceptional level of team work and contribution from our volunteers in planting 12,000 Cosmos plants and hundreds of sunflowers in a heatwave.

What are your highlights?

  1. Standing in the orchard and listening to the music that seems to flow from the trees, it’s poignant and moving and yet very peaceful.
  2. Standing in Mr Leathley’s office, looking out of the window and seeing his collection of bird books and seeds drying out and the view that he had over his garden. The level of detail is lovely and you get a real sense of stepping back in time.
  3. Learning more about this period of history and how it relates to Harewood – the social history stories are fascinating.

A View from the Bird Garden

Just as the summer holidays are getting into full swing, so the Humboldt penguins’ annual moult does too. As you visit the penguin pool over the next few weeks you will see some very plump and scruffy looking penguins waddling about. This is a natural part of their life-cycle which occurs after breeding season.

Being an aquatic bird, they must change all their feathers at once to ensure that they remain well insulated and able to swim efficiently when they are hunting. A few weeks before they moult the penguins experience a huge increase in appetite (which is the best time to book a ‘Meet the Penguins’ Feeding Experience, as this is when you’ll really get a good crowd around the fish bucket).

The reason for this increase in appetite is to ensure they have enough body fat to live off for up to 10 days, as they are unable to enter the water to hunt while they are moulting. Their feathers lose their waterproofing qualities during this time. Geoff is currently in the lead, having already started losing big chunks of feathers, which are being pushed out by the new ones growing underneath. By the time August arrives he will be sporting brand new pristine plumage and be the envy of the rest of the colony!

Many of the other residents of the Bird Garden are nesting and raising young themselves, but it is not only the birds who have been carrying out parental duties – one of the keepers, Lisa has been working day and night hand raising two Brown Lory chicks for the past month. This is because their parents, Charlie and Peppermint (who can be seen by the Mini-beast Trail, near the flamingos) had been trying to feed them feathers and other unsuitable items.

You can follow @HarewoodHouse on social media for some behind the scenes footage of these two new noisy additions, and make sure to follow the Bird Garden activities on #TakeoverTuesday.

How it feels to be a volunteer – Trust Director, Jane Marriott

Trust Director, Jane Marriott working in the gardens.

I have always been impressed by the dedication and passion our volunteers demonstrate through everything they do for us at Harewood. However, digging up old tulip bulbs on a sunny afternoon with the garden volunteers in the Walled Garden, I also realised that there is a camaraderie and generosity between the volunteers that makes even the most mundane tasks enjoyable.

Our volunteers come from such a variety of backgrounds and with different reasons for volunteering and that is why they are such a fascinating group to spend time with.

In our garden group, there was a huge diversity of backgrounds which was reflected in our conversations, ranging from the weather’s impact on gardening this year (we concluded that we had leapt from winter straight into summer, with no time at all for the spring season!) ….. to new ways of working being championed by a major retail bank. This particular company had banned mobile phones in the workplace and conducted all meetings standing up. Perhaps something to consider….?

As we turned over the soil, chatted in the sunshine and worked our way up the borders, I was struck by two things: how lucky I was to have a job where everyday I get to meet fascinating new people, outside in such a glorious setting and secondly how fortunate we are, that even in the frantic pace of life today, people are still prepared to give their time up for our charity and make such a difference.

The volunteers are a great advert for Harewood – they are passionate about the place, warm in their welcome and they share our ambitions for Harewood, which we are all determined and excited to realise over the next few years. It was a privilege spending time with them, even if I did perhaps, do more talking than digging!

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Getting Hands-On During National Volunteer Week

Volunteering at Harewood

There are over 200 active volunteers working in the Harewood House Trust, giving around 20,000 hours of free support each year to maintain and promote the House, the Gardens and the Bird Garden.

During National Volunteer Week at the beginning of June, members of the Harewood House Senior Management team turned their backs on their paperwork to get hands-on with the volunteers, and spent a half day working side by side in an area very different to their own.

Over ten members of staff took part, which included Trust Director Jane Marriott picking up a spade in the Walled Garden and putting in some of the groundwork ahead of the soon-to-open Seeds of Hope exhibition. Damian Clements, Head of Finance, cast aside his numbers to lead a new charge – that of the Shuttle bus that transports visitors around the Estate. And Trevor Nicholson, Head Gardener, buried his head in the Spanish Library, researching plants from 1918 together with weather conditions recorded in journals during that time, ahead of the new exhibition.

Many volunteers have been with the Trust for over ten years, with new volunteers joining all the time. They possess such a wealth of knowledge of the Collections, of stories relating to people and places and in addition to that, a real passion, dedication and commitment to their work.

The experience across National Volunteer Week was a huge success and the plan is to roll the opportunity out to further staff members across the Trust.

Volunteering at Harewood

Damian Clements, Head of Finance; “This was a great initiative. I had a fantastic experience with Skipper Tim. It was lovely to spend a couple of hours seeing what he gets up to on his rounds and there’s even more to it than I realised.”

Comment from Jules Caton, Interim Marketing Advisor; “I found it a real privilege to spend the time feeding chickens, meeting goats and collecting eggs and I very much enjoyed meeting the team who were working in the Walled Garden. This was a great experience.”

To keep up to date with news and behind the scenes from the Harewood House Trust, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.