Me & My Job - Vicki Cooke, kitchen garden keeper, Hampton Court

How did you get started in the industry? I was offered some casual gardening work through a friend and something fell into place.

Vicki Cooke, kitchen garden keeper, Hampton Court
Vicki Cooke, kitchen garden keeper, Hampton Court

After a few years I decided to focus on edibles. I joined Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library, growing heirloom vegetables for seed, which stood me in good stead when Historic Royal Palaces wanted a kitchen garden keeper to recreate a section of the historic walled gardens at Hampton Court Palace.

What does your typical day involve? My team and I are up early and outside most days through the growing season, in a steady cycle of planting, weeding, sowing and harvesting. There’s a lot of planning that goes into recreating and maintaining an historic garden, so I always try to leave some time aside to research and track down new varieties or crops that would fit into the timescale of the garden.

What has been the public’s reaction to the kitchen garden? Enthusiasm — we have heard so many positive comments in the few months that it has been open. It’s also becoming an informal "gardeners’ question time" as we regularly get asked advice.

What is the best aspect of your job? We have started an ad hoc produce stall and it’s great to be able to see the result of all the hard work laid out for sale to visitors. Just as rewarding though is the sight of children running through the gardens.

And the worst? Heavy rain.

What does the future hold? Once winter comes it will allow us to look at some of the bigger projects — constructing a composting area, for example — and we’ll be able to look back at what worked well this year and how we can tweak what we grow. There are still so many interesting stories to tell about the history of the garden, the crops and varieties grown, and some of the cultivation techniques.


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