Darren's Diary

Royal Hampton Court

At Chewton Glen I have been involved in many high profile events and projects and these are the things I most love about working for such a prestigious hotel, however when I was asked by Alitex to be a part of their Hampton Court stand this summer it really got me excited, and has been one of the most challenging and interesting projects I have ever been involved in.

I am very lucky at Chewton Glen to have a very skilled team of gardeners who make every day at Chewton Glen a pleasure with their hard work and dedication, we all share a common goal of wanting to make Chewton Glens Gardens as close to perfection as we can as well as a stupid sense of humour which quite often makes me cry with laughter.

As soon as I went back to the hotel after meeting Alitex and explained about our stand at Hampton Court they were all as instantly excited as I was and were all eager to get started, this has been important from the beginning and the stand very much represents my whole teams hard work which has been really nice to share this experience with my gardeners.

We started planning how the planting on the stand would look in November, from day one we wanted to produce an edible garden to replicate the Kitchen Garden at Chewton Glen and the work we do at the cookery school and The Kitchen restaurant.  We work closely with Adam and Steve to supply fresh salads, baby leaf salads, edible flowers and vegetable crops, it is all about being able to show guests how we grow and use the crops.  We encourage guests to come over to our nursery garden and see how we sow seeds and raise crops and pick crops, and see where their food is coming from, it doesn’t get much fresher than on the Estate.

With this in mind, we decided a miniature version of our kitchen garden with hot colours such as reds, yellows and oranges would complement the beautiful Alitex greenhouse perfectly.   By Christmas, we had our planting schedules and crops planned and the one thing we decided to do from day one was lots of successional sowing.   In February we started sowing the first crops and the successional sowing proved to be a very good idea, as we then had three very cold snaps with snow, ice and freezing fog to deal with, luckily due to growing extra crops and a flexible approach to our planting we have been able to discard any failures and gradually concentrate the crops that have worked for us to give us the stand we have today.   I think the one lesson this whole growing experience has taught me is the ability to be flexible is important for instance we had wanted to take lots of coloured Mustards with us and every year we grow literally thousands of these, however for some reason this year they have continually bolted, so we have substituted them with coloured Kales and Chards.  I wanted to get some height into the stand so we have created pots of Nasturtiums and Runner Beans grown on Willow and Dogwood sticks harvested from our estate.  

I have been keep to make the stand fun so we have asked Rupert Till to create some Chickens for us, the Chicken on a fork is our logo at the cookery school which Rupert designed so it has been nice for us that he has not only re-created this but also made me some baby chickens to run through the crops, which if you look closely at the borders you will see them running through the foliage.

Texture was also important to me and so I wanted to bring a variety of different textures of leaf to the stand, I love Fennel leaves, they are so tactile and interesting so we have grown fennel bulbs, as well as some baby sweet corn, to give height and to give something a little different Perilla with its stunning red edible leaves which provide something very different to an edible stand.

One of my favourite crops is the Patty Pan Squash, we wanted to bring some slightly unusual crops with big showy leaves and we thought this was the perfect crop to do so, to give height, structure and colour of the fruits. 

In the beautiful Alitex greenhouse we wanted to do something very different, we have grown some micro toms, which are a dwarf Tomato plant with miniature Tomato’s on as well as baby Chilli plants which are actually one of our biggest crops at Chewton Glen.

I was also keen to show one of my favourite projects at Chewton Glen which is the bees, we keep 70 beehives on the Estate so we have made two beehives with beautiful copper roof’s to match the greenhouse, installing so many beehives on the Estate at Chewton Glen has been one of the most important and rewarding that I have ever done at Chewton Glen, and it has been lovely that Alitex shared my vision.  The fact that Chewton Glen and Alitex are so aligned and similar to companies who share the same values and standards has made the experience a pleasure and I am very excited about our week at Hampton Court.