As well as a wonderful collection of historical rescued Chilterns buildings, the Chiltern Open Air Museum can also boast a variety of traditional small gardens that complement some of these. If you have an interest in gardens or just enjoy viewing them, the coming months are a great opportunity to visit and see the result of the hard work that takes place developing and maintaining them.
There are currently three ‘cottage’ gardens to enjoy. Astleham Manor Cottage is the house you will see directly in front of you as you enter the museum and boasts the most extensive of the cottage gardens. Based on ideas and gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll, who was influential in shaping garden design during the early 20th Century, you firstly come across a formerly styled garden.
Pergolas, rose arches and paving have been used to provide a structured geometric layout with a less formal planting style. Many of the plants are heritage varieties used by Jekyll such as Iris Germanica, Lavandula Angustifolia ‘Munstead’ and Rosa ‘The Garland’.
Moving on past the house you will find a small apple orchard with each tree a different variety, representing those that were grown in the Chilterns including D’Arcy Spice, Golden Harvey and Langley Pippin. At ground level, wildflowers have been allowed to proliferate amongst the grasses including fritillaries and cowslips.
After leaving the garden most visitors head down towards the village green. On the right you will find Leagrave cottages whose small gardens include shrubs such as jasmine and aquilegia. On turning right past the cottages is the post WWII prefab. This garden is laid out to demonstrate a typical garden of the era which often included neatly mown lawns, formal rose beds and vegetable gardens.
Continuing past the prefab is the museum allotment. Just look for the scarecrow! Traditional varieties of vegetables are grown including leeks, beetroot, courgettes and cucumber which help supply the museum café. Fruit bushes provide produce for jam making and herbs and flowering plants can also be found.
And continuing on the theme of fruit, almost opposite the allotment to the left hand side of the Nissan Hut is a cherry orchard. Cherries were once extensively grown in the Chilterns, but with the orchards having almost disappeared from the area for economic reasons, many varieties were lost. The museum has acquired over 20 heritage cherry trees in an attempt to help preserve rare varieties including Prestwood Black, Prestwood White and Smokey Dun.
Back on the village green, a garden has yet to be created for the recently completed Haddenham Croft Cottage, but no doubt the gardeners will have something interesting planned for the future. Continuing down the track from the village green you will come to the Victorian Toll House where another cottage garden in keeping with the period has been created.
The garden contains flowering plants including a new border with Shasta daisies and Helianthus, heritage variety crops, fruit bushes and herbs. The vegetable garden has a period cloche in use whilst the fruit is used for jam making. The herb garden has a large variety of plants that would have been used in Victorian times for cooking and medicinal use.
If you visit the Iron Age House, look out for the small garden that is planted with heritage varieties of wheat such as Einkorn, Emmer and Spelt and some herbs including comfrey, rosemary and soapwort.
On your way back towards the museum entrance just before Astleham Manor Cottage is a green building, Maidenhead Pavilion. Here you can buy surplus plants from the gardens that are sold in aid of Friends of the Museum.
The gardens certainly help to enhance the museum buildings. The majority of the hard work needed to both develop and maintain them is provided by a hard working team of volunteers who look after them as if they were their own prized gardens. We hope you enjoy visiting them.
By Julian Stanton