The council is trying to grow vegetables and use the park to illustrate how it would initially have been a self-sufficient community. Mark Thomas, the county museums officer and site manager, says: "We want it to be a living, breathing gardens. We like the idea that if you can see something growing on the estate, you can buy it and eat it."
The estate has a large kitchen garden and around one-third of this is used to produce food. Thomas says: "We’ve got a social enterprise organisation called Frame/Blueskies which employs people with learning difficulties to do the work. We’ve got a shop at the base of the park, where you can buy fresh produce and plants in pots."
The council would like to grow more produce but, unfortunately, two-thirds of the walled garden has a group of unsightly sheds, which house a museum of farming tools and tractors. Thomas explains: "We’re trying to get funding to move the museum. Then we can grow a much wider range of produce." There is a plan to mirror the activities of the Victorian owners by growing pineapples and figs in the newly rebuilt pineapple house. The park even plans to grow tea — and one local company believes this could be a reasonable commercial proposition.
The park has eight hectares of woodland and has begun the process of using 5.6 hectares of this for coppicing. The wood will be chipped and used in a biomass boiler that the park is hoping to buy. This is part of the park’s policy of sustainability.
The woodland around the estate has been tidied up. A modest arboretum on the site is being used to tell the history of the estate. Thomas adds: "The estate was built by minor gentry. They saw the arboretum as a kind of legacy. After all, they would never see the fully grown trees in their lifetime."
A large number of community activities are hosted in the park. The grasslands are used for charity runs, proms in the park, class car club pageants and model aircraft weekends.
The park has also built up links with schools and has a ‘learning through landscapes’ initiative. Thomas explains:
"Schools do workshops and modules in the park. The council has organised events at which people can plant seeds and eat things that are grown — one event is called ‘Grow it, cook it, eat it’.
"A lot of youngsters — especially from deprived backgrounds —don’t understand how food is grown. We want to show visitors how people are linked to their environment and to give them a greater understanding of sustainability."
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