Look for inspiration in the kitchen gardens at Beningbrough Hall, near York

There's nothing tastier than fresh fruit and vegetables straight from the garden so why not dig in with help from an expert, says Stella Matthew

Kitchen gardening has taken on a new meaning at one of the National Trust’s most popular and family friendly properties in Yorkshire. Head gardener Des Cotton and his team send produce from the kitchen garden at Beningbrough Hall, near York, to the restaurant where visitors can feast on seasonal dishes.

And during this month, head chef, Stephen Roberts is setting up his table in the garden. Having picked whatever has taken his fancy on the day – being summer he is spoilt for choice from the many salad ingredients and fruit – he will turn them into a dish during a 20-minute cookery demonstration.  And for those who want to try it themselves there are recipe cards to take home. 

All the produce is grown in the Victorian Walled Garden which was rented by a market gardener when the National Trust accepted Beningbrough, in 1958. They then kept it grassed for picnicking and events.

But in 1995 it was turned into a vegetable garden becoming one of the National Trust’s first walled garden renovations, and it is still one of the few to have been turned over to produce. Most of what is grown finds its way to the Walled Garden Restaurant, whether soft fruit, salad ingredients, vegetables and even the lavender which is used in scones. There is also an exotically named salad leaf, Oriental Muzana. ‘Is a bit like rocket but not as bitter. It’s hardier than rocket and hassle free,’ said Des.

Fruit and vegetables specific to Yorkshire have their own place in the garden. There are beds of rhubarb, traditionally grown in West Yorkshire, and of liquorice. Both feature in dishes in the restaurant.

Part of the re-creation of the Walled Garden included restoring old varieties of apples and pears, all grown in pairs and of which there are about 38 apple varieties and about 20 of pears.

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‘An old gardener who had worked here in the 1950s came back one day and was able to tell us exactly where all the fruit trees had grown,’ said Des, who has a team of three full-time gardeners, a fungi specialist and 12 voluntary garden guides.

These guides do a standard walk of an hour for people who want a bit more information and some of the history, and also offer tastings of fresh produce from gardens.

It is easy to linger in the Walled Garden but that would be to miss the estate’s other gardens all with a relaxed and friendly feel to them, including the Edwardian Double Border with its herbaceous borders and the West Formal garden ablaze with colour from Victorian bedding plants.

There is also a Victorian conservatory, reached from within Beningbrough Hall, which dates back to 1716. This year Beningbrough was a finalist in the Guardian Family Friendly Museum of the Year awards.

The family friendly approach also extends to the two upper floors where there are hands-on interactive computer displays bringing portraits to life, all made possible through a key partnership with the National Portrait Gallery.


Beningborough Hall and Gardens, Beningborough, near York, YO30 1DD. 01904 472027. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/beningbroughOpening times: Grounds including Walled Garden, shop and restaurant from March 1st – October 31st, Saturdays – Wednesdays 11am – 5.30pm also Thursdays and Fridays in July and August. Then November 6th – December 26th, Saturdays and Sundays 11am – 3.30pm.

Seasonal tips from Des Cotton, Beningbrough’s head gardener

Oriental Muzana: Sow directly into the ground in June or July. Its shallow roots also make it suitable for window boxes and pots on the patio. It is disease and pest resistant.Sow beetroot and when the bulbs appear after six to eight weeks cut the young leaves and use in salads. Do not sow carrots in the summer months as they will be hit by root fly.Instead of growing lettuce, choose green leaf salad varieties which can be cut and come again.

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