Beautiful gardens - Sheepdrove Estate, near Lambourn
PUBLISHED: 18:21 13 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:31 20 February 2013
Sheepdrove Estate, near Lambourn, maybe well-known, but its owners' gardens are seldom open to the public...
Sheepdrove Estate, near Lambourn, maybe well-known, but its owners gardens are seldom open to the public...
Thirty years ago, Juliet and Peter Kindersley, of Dorling-Kindersley publishing fame, fell in love with the windswept West Berkshire downs. They bought a dilapidated farmhouse to follow their dream of self-sufficiency and, as the years passed, they bought land to convert to organic farming.
Sheepdrove Farm is now well known, but the Kindersleys also have three small gardens. The walled Kitchen Garden that supplies the green and sustainable Eco Conference Centre has tasty rows of vegetables, salad and soft fruit, while flowers and tender creatures such as chillies are tucked up in the greenhouse. The flowers and vegetables in the Farmhouse Garden are interwoven to create an explosion of colour and vitality. This area is the particular interest of artistic Juliet Kindersley, while her hay meadow nearby is full of wild flowers.
The Physic Garden is small but perfectly formed. The planting was designed by organic herb queen, Jekka McVicar, who also provided the initial organic plants.
Head Gardener Philip Robshaw has been working at Sheepdrove for five years. Already a veg man by inclination, he has found the Kindersleys enthusiasm infectious.
I like the grapevines and I am getting into herbs too, but my favourite is the onions. I absolutely love growing onions! He grows four or five varieties from seed. I think they keep better if you grow from seed rather than using sets, which is a good thing as it helps provide a continuous supply for the Conference Centre, he explains.
We also provide fresh herbs for tinctures to Neals Yard and we are now looking into supplying dried herbs as well, says Philip. The range of organic herbs is extensive. Including Alchemilla, bay, Nepeta, lavender and rosemary, there are separate beds for medicinal and veterinary herbs and those used in aromatherapy and for cooking.
The gardens are run on biodynamic principles, and Philip, Peter Kindersley and several other members of the team attended a biodynamic gardening course at Highgrove.
We try to plant by the biodynamic calendar, explains Philip. And we recycle as much as possible within the site. We make our own compost and of course there is the manure from the farm. We are very lucky, not many gardens have as much compost as we do!
With wildlife spilling in from the organic farmland and the enthusiasms of the Kindersleys very much in evidence, the gardens at Sheepdrove are personal, good-hearted and delightfully idiosyncratic. The veg is mixed in with the flowers; wildlife is encouraged with a plethora of bird- and bat boxes and there is a decidedly party atmosphere. Philip sums it up: It is not a tidy garden. For us it is more about being in tune with what is going on around; the wildlife and the changing seasons. Thats much more important than worrying about straight lines!