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Where there’s tea, there’s hope...

Walled gardens have a long and fascinating history, but some have fallen into disuse. Poppy Baggott launches a new series focusing on ways they can be brought back to life.

The UK is home to a huge number of walled gardens – both private and open to the public – some of which are still glorious testaments to a different age of architectural and horticultural frivolity, and some which time has forgotten.

There are many different styles and sizes, and while some are still used as they were originally intended, others are now providing opportunity for diversification.

There is a certain something about walled gardens, and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s protagonist Mary Lennox puts her finger on it in the novel The Secret Garden: “sometimes since I've been in the garden I've looked up through the trees at the sky, and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing.”

Owners of walled gardens will also be familiar with the sensation of sentimentality battling practicality when faced with the financial burden of ongoing maintenance to a largely impractical relic of a bygone time.

However, those facing the walled garden dilemma should take heart; in the next few issues of Rural Matters, I will be looking at walled gardens and the opportunities which they have presented to those willing to think outside the box.

Galbraith is involved in the management of a hugely diverse property portfolio of which walled gardens form a part. As ever, where there is land, there is opportunity, and Galbraith is well placed to assist with marketing, negotiating leases or simply putting parties together.   

When I started on this series of articles, my thoughts naturally turned towards a garden close to my heart. It is a few years now since I wrote, brimming with amateur excitement, about our own diversification into growing tea in a walled garden in south-west scotland. At the time I sagely predicted that the road to the first cuppa might be a long one, and I was right. Three years in, and that cuppa is still proving elusive. 

Like many start-up businesses, we have met frustrations along the way and the learning curve has been steep, but we have been encouraged by the expanding community of tea growers in scotland who are willing to share their own experiences and wisdom – even more so as a result of meeting Beverly Wainwright, an award winning tea maker and tea consultant with a wealth of practical experience in tea growing and processing, and a back-story worthy of film rights.

She gave up a successful career in Edinburgh and embarked on an adventure to Sri Lanka where she helped the then struggling Amba tea estate to find its feet. This involved setting up a smallscale tea factory, creating a line of rare hand-made teas which are now in demand worldwide and also ensuring that it contributed to the community via a workers’ share scheme.

Returning to scotland, Beverly decided to put her faith in her expertise, and created the scottish Tea Factory, located at Comrie Croft in Perthshire. The building is small but picturesque with breathtaking views and was the result of backing from a mix of funding sources, including a grant from Leader and Beverly’s own savings.

In addition to processing tea for independent Scottish growers at the factory, Beverly is a licensed trainer for the UK Tea Academy and also runs courses on making and tasting tea.

Last summer we contacted Beverly, who came down to Auchencairn and spent the day with us providing advice on pruning to promote maximum leaf growth. she also advised us to contact the scottish Agricultural College (SAC),now part of scotland’s rural college, about soil and leaf sampling, so as to be able to address any deficiencies in the soil and give the plants the best chance possible. Fortunately, because Beverly had submitted samples previously, the SAC was able to conduct appropriate analyses for tea plants, which included testing for significantly more elements than a basic agricultural soil test. This has been very valuable in providing us with a basis on which to move forward.

We took the results of our soil samples to a local agronomist, and following his advice have purchased some fertiliser from the local agricultural merchants to give our plants a boost for 2020.

For many starting out growing tea – or indeed in any new enterprise – the assistance of a mentor can be invaluable, but this inevitably comes with a cost. realising this, Beverly contacted the Farm Advisory service, which offers mentoring grants for those new to agriculture. The FAs confirmed that tea growing would be classed as an agricultural enterprise for which the mentoring grant would be available.

The grant would go towards the costs incurred over four days spent with Beverly as a mentor and can cover a variety of topics such as learning about tea cultivation or how to process it to achieve the best end product. We are in the process of applying for this grant, and if we are successful we will be able to enlist Beverly's help over the summer.

There is still a lot of work to do, but it does feel like one day soon I will wrap my hands round that first cup of Auchencairn tea.

The past few years have been hard work, but one very significant plus is that the walled gardens which were slowly being reclaimed by nature are now in use again and we hope will one day be returned to their original splendour.