Leeds Castle attracts over 650,000 visitors annually to the 900 year old moated castle and surrounding gardens and parkland. Always looking to keep the visitor offer diverse, changing and interesting, Land and Heritage have produced a feasibility study and outline plans for a new market garden. The garden will provide vegetables and flowers for use on site and external sale, increasing the Castle’s income and profitability while also enhancing the visitor experience.
There has been a castle in the same location for 900 years, where it has been the playground of Kings and Queens, undergone numerous facelifts and additions, and continually embellished with parkland and garden as fashion denoted. The grade II parkland contains large lakes designed to show the castle at it’s best, and to the west is a vast viewing terrace of Tudor origin. Today the many visitors enjoy fine pleasure gardens, a ‘wild’ golf course, formal gardens, mazes, grottoes and play areas.
Throughout time the landscape has often changed, from hunting and deer park to productive ‘garden’, so typical in Kent, to ornamental parkland with exotic tree collections. Following successful design of the new 26 acre pleasure gardens, Land and Heritage were asked to explore the possibility of a new market garden within the grounds. The Head Gardener, Andrew McCoryn had selected a site at the end of his domain, which as late as the 18th century had been a vineyard surrounded by orchard and hop gardens. He was clear that he wanted to see vegetables and flowers grown for beauty and practical use, providing produce and decoration for the restaurant and castle. It should not stop there however, and should be a place of learning at a number of levels and ages.
Matt had previously established the vegetable gardens and the plant sales nursery at Sissinghurst Castle, a proven success with a number of years consistency behind it for both beauty and profitability. No two gardens are the same, so it was important to review the experiences of other places, so visits were made to the gardens of Chatsworth House, Wicor Primary School, Blooming Green Flowers, West Dean, Chartwell, Scotney Castle and a welcome return to Sissinghurst. These valuable observations along with the generous input from staff at each site allow for a comprehensive, tailored proposal to be constructed that will work for Leeds Castle.
The resulting plan is for the creation of an onsite plant production nursery, which will grow plants for use in the garden and for sale to the visitors. The large vegetable garden will produce high quality, high value salad, soft fruit and vegetables for use on site, and again for sale to visitors, perhaps even through a smoothie bar within the garden. There will also be a cut flower garden providing flowers for weddings, hospitality rooms and public areas, whilst being a great environment for learning whether as a group or individually. The proposals are not only break even, but generate a healthy net income for the foundation, whilst can be used on important conservation and development works.
The next step in the process is to take the entire site through a master planning exercise. A consultant team has been selected and a 10 year development plan is anticipated in 2019. The master plan will focus fund raising and business activity and take the charity to long term growth and sustainability.