Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Great Vine at Hampton Court Palace

On Sunday July 29 the Walled Garden at Lydiard Park opens its doors as part of the National Garden Scheme.  Admission charges are adults £2.50, seniors £2 and children £1 with all proceeds going to the NGA.

And if the cold, grey British summer weather is playing havoc with your hot house plants, spare a thought for Gillian Cox, Keeper of the Great Vine at Hampton Court Palace.

Planted more than 240 years ago by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, the present keeper has a fatalistic approach to her famous charge. Although vines are long lived plants 'there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven,' and when the Grim Reaper calls time, well - it's been 'grape' fun.

With exotic fruits available in supermarkets the year round it is difficult to imagine a time when grapes were a luxury item. The Black Hamburg was something of a status symbol when Capability Brown planted it in 1769.  The original cutting was given to Brown by Charles Raymond from a plant at Valentine's Mansion, near Wanstead, Essex.  Today the vine measures 12 feet (4 metres) round the base and the longest rod is 120 feet (36.5 metres).

At a talk in the magnificent King's Apartments, Gillian described a year in the life of the vine she has carefully attended for more than twenty years.  She explained how, if left to its own devices, the vine would produce an abundance of fruit and then shut down and lie dormant for a year or more.  Too many grapes at this stage in the vine's long history might even spell it's end, so careful pruning takes place early in the year.  An average crop is about 600lbs with the grapes ripening at the end of August and sold in the Palace gift shops during September.

The present greenhouse dates from 1969 when a new aluminium framework was constructed over a former wooden one.  Daily visitors once numbered 6000 but on a bleak, wet day in July my daughter and I were the only ones in the viewing area.

The prestigious Hampton Court Flower Show has just three more days to run.  For more details visit the website on, while the Great Vine can be seen any time - Hampton Court Palace is open Monday-Sunday 10.00 to 18.00.

And closer to home don't forget the NGA event in the Walled Garden at Lydiard Park.  For more details about this and the Swindon Youth Theatre presentation 'Johanna's Miracle Garden,' visit the website on 

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