50 years ago a young Martin Gee started his apprenticeship in the Walled Garden at Weston Park, the celebration of this achievement is also an important chapter in his family’s long connection with the estate.
The Gee family’s association with Weston Park stretches back to 1803 when they moved to the estate from Weeting Hall in Norfolk. Over the last 200 years they have held roles from gamekeepers to gardeners in a story so woven into Weston, that in the entrance to the 17th century house hangs an oil painting of The Ploughing Match, featuring John Gee by Weaver.
However, for Martin, it has always been about the gardens – from the formal laid out gardens, to the naturally formed landscapes created under the eye of Capability Brown. Indeed, the Walled Garden was part of Capability Brown’s vision for Weston.
In 1978 Martin took on the management of the Walled Garden including the Kitchen Garden, where the Maze and Orchard now stand.
For many years the garden fed both the family and their staff, with its own three full time gardeners. However demand gradually reduced following the death of the 6th Earl and the area was grassed over.
50 years later the Walled Garden is again producing fruit and vegetables; though this time rather than feeding the family it is now being enjoyed by customers in the Granary Brasserie & Bakery.
The journey to its current form began in 2005 when Martin oversaw the re-introduction of the Orchard using heritage varieties of apples, pears and damsons. 14 years on and they have started to bear fruit.
Leading the project is Dan Charlesworth, Assistant Head Gardener, who has drawn on Martin’s years of experience and is rightly proud of the sheer amount of great tasting vegetables coming out of the ground.
Martin says, “It’s a joy to see the Walled Garden back to full production levels. The fruit we’ve been using for the crumbles, chutneys and jams served in the Granary Brasserie & Bakery, has been joined by courgettes, squash, cabbage, spinach, runner beans and more.”
This year’s abundant harvest has been having a having an impact across the estate; from wholesome soups to super healthy cakes. Even lunch for estate staff has featured wonderful stews and accompaniments; though the gardening team probably never want to see a courgette again!
The seasonal vegetables are also making an appearance on the Granary Brasserie menu, from the braised beef with roasted butternut squash to the rainbow chard that is served with line caught cod; and Sunday roasts are served with Walled Garden vegetables. Allotment Cake is also going down a treat in the new Granary Bakery!
Here’s a recipe to get your five a day – in cake form!
Allotment Cake recipe
125g courgettes, peeled
125g parsnips, peeled and grated
125g beetroot, peeled and grated
280g caster sugar
240g sunflower oil
375g plain flour
5g bicarbonate of soda 3g baking powder
8g ground cinnamon
375g fondant icing
1. Heat the oven to 170˚C.
2. Mix grated vegetables and set aside for later.
3. Whisk the egg and sugar, then slowly add the oil to emulsify.
4. Sieve the dry ingredients and fold into the egg mixture. Then add the grated vegetables followed by the lemon zest and mix well to combine.
5. Pour mixture into a greased and lined 23cm cake tin and bake for 1 hour and 30mins or until cooked.
6. Allow to cool in the tin for 10mins and then turn onto a wire rack to fully cool.
7. To glaze: melt the fondant icing in a microwave with a little water for 10secs at low power until liquid. Then add the beetroot and stir gentry to combine. Then pour liberally over the cooled cake.
8. Leave to set.