Growing Dartington’s historic walled garden

A pilot project began almost one year ago to bring a secret garden on the Dartington estate back to life.  With the help of our supporters, we hope to transform it from a pilot project to a successful on-going concern.

The walled garden near Space studios lay virtually untouched for years, until a hive of horticulturalists took it on. Now Dartington’s diners can eat kitchen garden food that has travelled 200 metres by wheelbarrow.

‘If it wasn’t for Nick Gooderham, I wouldn’t be here today, says Sarah Coates, sitting in the shade and overlooking a sea of lush salad leaves and vegetables, glossy green in the sun, which have been meticulously tended by a volunteer work force in Dartington’s historic walled garden over the last year.

Sarah Coates Walled Garden

Sarah and a team of volunteers have quietly transformed this previously hidden spot at the edge of the hall’s Grade II* listed gardens. They’re growing food that travels zero food miles – well, about 200 metres by wheelbarrow – for the Green Table café and White Hart restaurant. This is the first stage of garden designer Dan Pearson’s masterplan for the former kitchen garden, to create a productive and educational growing space.

‘The no dig, minimum tillage horticultural style I use, I first learnt from Nick,’ says Sarah who became a volunteer to Nick, after her Sustainable Horticulture course based at Schumacher College. The hands on skills she learnt in his market garden led her to set up School Farm Organics. ‘I’ve always loved growing vegetables my whole life,’ says Sarah. ‘It all goes back to my father as he was a keen gardener and vegetable grower. I was a bit of a tomboy and loved spending time outdoors, helping dad in the greenhouse and the garden.’

Sarah Coates as a child in her Nottinghamshire family garden

‘When Dartington asked me if I wanted to take on the walled garden I didn’t have to think about it,’ she says. When she first saw the garden which has been used for several small projects over the years, ‘There was no life, no worms in the soil. I was excited about the new challenge and looking forward to growing edible crops.’ she says.

So she gathered around her a group of volunteers, from School Farm Organics, horticulture trainees from Groundwork South and residents from the local community, who are motivated by many things – to feel better, to learn horticultural skills from Sarah or even to enrich their CV. ‘We’ve managed to create something really fantastic in a short space of time, with very little money,’ says Sarah. ‘All the volunteers have rallied round. We even have a separate team of people who come in the evenings and weekends to water.’

Continuing the walled garden is dependent on raising money for the project through philanthropic gifts. ‘It has meant a lot to a lot of people, this space. Those passing through are really happy seeing what it has become. The gates are open and we’re always happy to chat to people,’ says Sarah. ‘We are using it for what it should be. What better than to grow food for people?’

How you can get involved

With over £7,000 already raised, we are well on our way to our £12,000 target – but we still urgently need your help to keep our historic Walled Garden in use as a productive food growing area and zero-carbon food source for businesses on the estate.

Click here to find out more about why this appeal is so important – or if you’re ready to give, you can start your donation directly below. 

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2 thoughts on “Growing Dartington’s historic walled garden

  1. The walled garden shouldn’t even be an issue for fund raising! It must happen as it’s essential to the ethos of Dartington and is part of Dan Pearson’s vision of Dartington’s future!
    Sarah Coates and her team are passionate about the project and will always go the extra mile no matter what so what is the problem? Dartington need to be more forward thinking and respect their very hard working and committed team of gardeners! If they can afford the likes of Dan Pearson to advise them about the future, then surely they can pay the grafters a decent wage and give them some encouragement and commitment?!

    1. Hi Christina, we completely agree that the walled garden is a vital part of our estate. However, it’s worth remembering that Dan Pearson’s work here – including his vision for the gardens – was largely funded by philanthropy, and the plan all along has been to realise the project in stages through further fundraising (which will happen in a variety of ways; appeals like this being one of them). Our orginal announcement about Dan’s work laid out this approach and you can read that here.

      We hope this makes sense. Our financial issues have been well documented…and while we are working extremely hard to achieve a sustainable future for the Trust, as a charity, fundraising will always be a key part of how we finance ourselves – and the support of people like yourself will be crucial in sustaining our estate and the things that happen here.

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