Asparagus for the Christmas Table: Walter Nicol at Wemyss

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“Asparagus may be brought to perfection in hot-beds at any time from November, till it comes in the natural ground.  Those who wish to have it at Christmas, should begin to prepare a bed, or beds, about the middle of November.” Walter Nicol, The Gardener’s Kalendar, 1810.

In the 1790s Walter Nicol (1769-1811) was employed by General William Wemyss (1960-1822) to build and tend the gardens at Wemyss.  Nicol’s gardening techniques and aspirations for forcing fruit and vegetables were ambitious and radical.  Under his instruction, the walled garden incorporated a complex set of hot-houses, greenhouses, flued pits and a vented garden wall warmed with coal fires; all to encourage the growth of fruit and vegetables in all seasons.

General Wemyss - whose lifestyle would have been considered extravagant by any standards - would almost certainly have enjoyed the novelty of homegrown asparagus at the Christmas table.  However, the entire chapter of his book dedicated to instructions for forcing asparagus tells us just how precise and labour-intensive Nicol’s gardening methods were, not to mention the quantities of coal required to keep the furnaces burning and vegetables growing during a Scottish winter.  Indeed, it was the extent of coal consumption in the walled garden that drew Nicol’s employment at Wemyss to a close.

 Extract from The Scotch Forcing and Kitchen Gardener, 1797 (pp.7-10)

“The forcing of Asparagus in flued pits; in my opinion, is by far the most eligible method… the trifling consumpt of fuel, even where it is most valuable, ought not to deter any, who are lovers of gardening. The pit is about four feet in the back, and three in the front, deeper than the bottom of the flues… stir up the bed about two feet deep and add a little tan or dung; then level the surface with old rotten tan...let the surface be levelled in a sloping manner to the sun, about six inches about the bottom of the flues, allowing for the tan settling so much; then let the [asparagus] roots be placed and covered, as directed for the common hot bed.

“Make no fires, if the thermometer stand as high as 48 to 50 degrees; and, if necessary, cover with mats at night; also, admit plenty of air through the day if the weather will permit.  When it is necessary to make fires, let it be done with caution: a small fire made in the evening will generally serve the whole night.  I have sometimes found it convenient to make a small fire in the morning that I might have it in my power to admit air, and at the same time keep up a proper degree of heat.

“Water will be required in a plentiful degree as the fire heat will absorb the moisture considerably.  Let a due observation of the state of the tan, the health of the buds, and the direction of a gardener, always determine the point.

“When the buds have advanced to the length of three inches above the surface, they are then fit for cutting, as, by that time they will be six inches in whole: and that operation must be performed with great care as the buds will rise very thick.  The tan being of a loose nature, there is no difficulty of thrusting down the finger and thumb to the crown of the root; and, as forced roots are of no use afterwards, I prefer twisting off the bud to cutting it, least the other that are rising should be injured.”

How To Go Your Own Way

There are always endless tips on gardening programmes and magazines telling you when is the “right” time to do this or that. On the whole they are probably correct BUT there are times in my gardening schedule when I just ignore this advice totally, go my own way and hope for the best.

I did this two years ago when I suddenly thought in the middle of June, that I was bored with my old rose beds and decided there and then to dig up the entire lot and plant Delphiniums in their place and so I did. The logic being that had I waited for the “right” time which would probably have been sometime in the late Autumn, then my help would have been considerably less at that time of the year so obviously it made sense to strike there and then with willing (well quite willing!) hands to help.

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It took 3 of us almost a week to dig them all out, replant them and then organically refresh the old ground. The roses themselves truly didn’t mind much, and okay they “wept” a bit and looked rather sorry for themselves, but with copious amounts of water daily, they soon perked up and looked spectacular this Summer as if they had been in the Long Border forever and as for the Delphiniums they too were a stunning sight of spires both Royal Blue and White....that rhymes!!

Charlotte

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A Welcome from Charlotte Wemyss

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Welcome to our new website which we hope you will find not only informative but also inspirational.


When I began the restoration of the walled garden in 1994 there was nothing here at all, save for 5 apple trees, a few geese, redcurrant bushes, rhubarb patches and rolls of defunct barbed wire buried deep into the ground. It was a place of utter dereliction.


In those far off days I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and I leapt in without any real plans or thoughts as to what I was trying to achieve. Over the years I have changed several flower beds, moved things around, discarded a lot of the herbaceous and replaced many beds with block planting. Gardens are constantly changing which is half the fun. I am not a planner by nature, I am far too chaotic and you won’t find neat labels attached to every plant! I tried at the outset and I was either left with a label and a dead plant or neither, so although I try to name what I can, it is not guaranteed to be done!

Michael is the Tree Man and the wild garden is now full of beautiful and exotic trees (most of which ARE labelled) and we have a wide and varied selection of herbaceous plants and a huge collection of David Austin English Roses.

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One of my passions is Clematis in varying forms and May is the time to see the Montanas which drape themselves liberally up trees and over the walls, they are impressive to say the least. Throughout the rest of the year there are several other varieties of Clematis which grow and continue to flower right up until the end of the year in some cases. I do often have a selection of Clematis for Sale.


We are open again from April 2019 until the end of July and although there is not much to see in the Walled Garden until May, the woodland garden is well worth an earlier visit. We start with a fantastic display of Erythronium Revolutum which really are a stunning sight but it’s difficult to pinpoint when they will appear as they can sometimes be a good month apart. The earliest they have appeared is March 12th and latest I have ever seen them was May 7th.  It all depends on the winter and early spring conditions.  If you would like to see the Eryths please give me a ring in early March and I will be better placed to predict the time of their appearance, or you could keep an eye on Instagram, Facebook and my Blog which I aim to keep running throughout the main growing season. The bluebells also are a delicious sight along with the white pheasant eye Narcissi.


If you are artistic and would like to come and paint, please feel free to stay all day and bring a picnic and if you would just like to come and spend some peaceful time in beautiful surroundings then please also feel free to come and stay as long as you wish with or without your picnic. The gardens here have something for everyone, you don’t have to be an avid plants person or gardener to enjoy what we have to offer.


We look forward to seeing you whenever you choose to come (never at weekends though) and do bring your furry friends on a lead if you wish.


Meanwhile a huge thank you to all of those who visited us this year either in groups or just passers-by, and please rest assured that you are all most welcome. 


Charlotte