A Summary of the History of Croome Walled Garden
The Coventry family lived at Croome from the late 16th century until 1948. The documentary evidence of their interest in gardening begins in the late 17th century, when family papers in the Badminton archive show that the wife of the 2nd Earl, who was Anne Somerset of the Beaufort family, had a passion for gardening and plants; she befriended William Shenstone and they worked together on a garden at Croome. The kitchen garden, that later became the walled garden, seems to originate from the early 18th century, when Gilbert Coventry of Hidcote inherited the title as 4th Earl and made massive changes to both the house and the garden.
The earliest plan of the walled garden dates from about 1750 when George William Coventry, the heir of the 5th Earl, seems to have been allowed to begin changes to the whole of Croome’s parks & gardens under the guidance of his friend and mentor Sanderson Miller. The plan, by John Doherty, gives the dimensions of the garden and shows the change from a square shape to the rhomboid that we see today; this created a garden of over 7 acres, which is arguably the largest 18th century walled garden in Britain or Europe. The purpose of this change was so that a beautiful Classical greenhouse, high on the eastern perimeter, could be included within the walls which, according to the accounts, were under construction at this time. Before this, the area was probably surrounded by hedges.
In 1751 the 5th Earl died and his son, George William, became the renowned 6th Earl of Coventry and took over his inheritance with verve and panache. By 1752 the massive walls must have been finished because there is a bill of that date for ‘100 artichokes, 1 doz. red currants, 4 doz. white, 5 doz. gooseberries and 20 vines’. The Croome archive (now at the Worcester Record Office) contains over 600 bills for vegetables, flowers and fruit, from between 1750 and 1820. Maggie Campbell-Culver* says that “There is no doubt in my mind that the Bills contribute significantly to the specific history of the site and perhaps even more so, to the overall garden history of England.” It was in 1752 also, that the new Earl brought in ‘Capability’ Brown to alter the house and continue and extend the work on the gardens and the Park. He, together with Robert Adam, made changes in the walled garden; hot houses for melons, pineapples, peaches and vines were built; in 1766 a circular, stone-curbed pool was created and Adam designed the sundial.
The records show that the garden continued in high production throughout the rest of the 18th century. Sometime in the early part of the 19th century (c. 1814), a 13ft. high, free standing ‘hot wall’ with five furnaces, was built slightly off centre and running east west. This wall is a very early example of such a structure and is one of the historical gems of Croome garden.
Throughout the next century and a half the Croome walled garden was used in the manner of all such Victorian/Edwardian gardens, although simply because of its size, more than household fruit and vegetables were probably grown. Flowers for the house and roses must have flourished there too and we know that the 9th Earl had a fresh carnation for his buttonhole every day, summer and winter.
The walled garden at Croome is at least 250 years old and unique not only in its size and its history, but also in the fact that the 18th century records survive almost in their entirety and together they form a whole which is of national importance to garden history and to the history of Britain, and Worcestershire in particular. The two can only be read together. This is a whole lot more than the usual 19th century walled garden of which there are hundreds of examples (important though they are too).
Jill Tovey, Archivist for the Croome Estate Trust