The Mill Gardens are unique food and flower gardens where crops, vegetables and fruits are grown in an ornamental setting alongside wild flowers and cultivated garden plants. Cereals such as oats, rye, wheat and barley are grown in rotation with other crops like potatoes, onions and cabbages and showcase a number of farming and growing best practices. Please click here for our Mill Gardens Planting Guide.
Admission to our Mill Gardens is free and a stroll in our gardens will take you on a relaxing, enjoyable journey around our ornamental flower displays, cereal crops, orchard and allotment. You can then continue your journey through to our Mill Meadow and Woodland, havens for wildlife and great for budding explorers! Please refer to our Gardens Guide for detailed seasonal information on our gardens and a map.
THE MILL GARDENS IN SPRING
The warm weather over the winter has meant that spring has arrived early this year. Spring bulbs including snowdrops and daffodils have flowered unseasonably early providing us with a great display at the start of the year. As the temperatures rise further and the days get longer, many other plants will spring into growth and the Mill Gardens will change by the day with something new in flower almost daily.
Early spring is the time for early flowering bulbs, of which we have plenty in the Mill Gardens. The river edge planting is currently a sea of yellow with thousands of daffodils ‘Tete-a-Tete’ in flower, while our new planting of crocuses are creating a purple carpet in our orchard. The wildflower verge at the entrance to the gardens looks stunning as well, teeming with crocuses, daffodils, grape hyacinths and later on our dainty tulip ‘Cynthia’ will make an appearance. These are all joined in the Mill Gardens by Chionodoxa ‘Pink Giant’, which is not really gigantic but has adorable star-shaped pink flowers.
Later in the spring we are expecting our tulips to put on a spectacular display, having planted hundreds more last autumn. The pale Tulipa ‘Apricot Beauty’ will appear first and be joined later by the dark and frilly Tulipa ‘Black Parrot’ and the green and white Tulipa ‘Spring Green’. We have also planted the delicate lily-flowered Tulipa ‘West Point’ in our cut flower patch and these should look lovely on the tables in our Riverside Café.
Having put a tremendous amount of effort into protecting our cereal crops throughout the winter, these have now established nicely. They should soon start to grow again and we expect these to flower around May.
As always, spring cabbages will be the first crop to find its way into our kitchen this year. Spring greens in April will be followed by fully hearted cabbages in May.
Early spring is also the time to plant potatoes, onions and shallots and soon we will be sowing turnips and beetroots, which form part of the crop rotation of our Norfolk Four Course System.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Winter was the time for planning what to grow this season. With plans and seeds in hand we can’t wait to start sowing in earnest. The first lettuces are already germinating in the glasshouse and should be ready for planting out in April. We have also already sown peas and broad beans, but will have to wait until the end of March to sow the bulk of crops, with tender vegetables like runner beans and squashes not to be sown before the end of April. The anticipation is becoming unbearable!
Our hazel tunnel at the centre of the gardens looked stunning clothed in squashes last summer. This year it will first support sweet peas early in the season and then provide a home for our climbing French and runner beans. The area around the hazel tunnel will be home to our legumes. In addition to old favourites like peas and broad beans we will also be trialling some more unusual varieties – so watch this space!
Our soft and top fruit all were pruned during the winter. Soon the pear trees will be flowering again, something we look forward to every year.
JOBS FOR THE SPRING
This is a busy time in a gardener’s calendar and the list could be endless, but here are some important things we will be doing in the Mill Gardens this spring:
- Sow, sow, sow! Hardy vegetable and annuals will be sowed during early spring followed by more tender varieties in late spring. Successional sowing will continue all summer for lettuces, beetroot, kohlrabi and many other vegetables.
- Planting shallots in early spring and potatoes, onions and shallots in mid spring.
- Feeding and mulching our soft and top fruit.
- Start cutting the lawn as it starts to grow.
- Start placing support around ornamental plants as they come into growth.
- Pollard willow trees.
- Lift and divide overgrown clumps of perennials .
- And most importantly – keeping on top of those pesky weeds!
MILL GARDENS DESIGN
The Mill Gardens were designed by Chelsea Flower Show winners Ian Kitson and Julie Toll who took inspiration from ancient field layouts, hedge patterns and the flow of the River Ivel. Just as the Bedfordshire countryside is divided into fields by hedgerows, the different areas of our gardens are separated using yew hedging. A winding path, emulating the flow of the River Ivel, leads you through the Mill Gardens.