“Debs Goodenough, the head gardener at Highgrove, came to give me advice and I remember walking round with her asking her, ‘Got any ideas?’ She had done a similar project at Osborne House.”
When Hart arrived in November 2011, the walled garden at Fulham Palace was used merely to grow municipal wallflowers, but she saw the potential and cultivating it was a challenge she embraced.
“My brief was to bring the place back to life with a vegetable garden, to involve the community and create a visitor attraction,” Hart recalls. “The 19th-century glasshouses had just been rebuilt and they had dug out the moat. The wisteria was here and some old fruit trees, otherwise it was quite empty.”
One of the most appealing qualities of Hart’s garden is how it has been grafted seamlessly into place, complementing the historical location so effortlessly that it is now difficult to imagine how it could ever have been other than it is.
“We did a big community dig, looking for garden archaeology, revealing signs of how it might have been, and we found these diagonal bed shapes which inspired the layout for the vegetable garden we have today,” Hart says.
“But because there are no surviving plans I had free rein to do what I wanted, so it only has a loose relationship to an 18th-century garden.”
In fact, Hart’s triangular vegetable beds are a key element in the success of the garden because they offer a seductive labyrinth of paths to the visitor, in which you are surrounded by diverse foliage and exposed to the fragrances of flowers and vegetables on all sides.
By contrast, the west side of the walled garden is Hart’s newly planted orchard, again drawing upon historical precedent. “I was keen to plant around the existing trees and, in our archaeological dig, we found old tree pits lined with clay to retain the moisture – it is well drained here next to the Thames –so I decided to plant an orchard,” Hart tells me.
“This garden is an Ancient Scheduled Monument, which brings restrictions where we can put trees, so I added espalier fruit trees – pears, quinces, apples, peaches, cherries and plums – and herbaceous borders along the walls, including the pollinators’ border which I planted two years ago.”
The sympathetic balance of nature and nurture is a defining quality of any successful garden. Hart’s walled garden achieves this in an especially charismatic way, by adopting formal structures while also leaving the plants to be just enough overgrown.
Your attention is drawn to the beauty of the planting and individual plants, while ensuring they are not sublimated to any rigidity of design. At Fulham, you never feel as though you are in a municipal garden or even a public one, and it conjures a relaxed domestic atmosphere that is transporting.