Restoration of frame yard at Polesden Lacey

Restoration of frame yard at Polesden Lacey

The Edwardian cold frames at Polesden Lacey would have played an essential part in the food production for the previous wealthy owner Mrs Greville. The frames enabled the gardeners of the time to use the latest gardening techniques to grow crops all-year-round.  This was no mean feat as they daily had to supply food for 180 members of staff and send fruit and veg up to Mrs Greville’s London residence in Mayfair. More importantly it would have supplied the sumptuous food for her lavish dinner parties that she regularly held for royal visitors and celebrities of the time.

Mrs Greville’s extravagant hospitality and generosity was legendary in the Edwardian period. Visitors included Edward the seventh, Winston Churchill and even Charlie Chaplin. George the sixth and the late queen mother had their honeymoon at Polesden Lacey and would have dined on food produced from here. 

Words below by Rosie Fyles, Gardener, Polesden Lacey, Surrey

Volunteers Gilbert Townsend, Steve Cassidy and Colin Day are restoring our cold frame yard into a glorious undercover growing space once again. Polesden Lacey’s 31 cold frames, surrounded by a new herb garden, the old potting shed and a flourishing cutting garden, had fallen into disrepair. Rotting, flaking and no longer serving a productive purpose, they were on Head Gardener Tim Parker’s ‘to do’ list.

However, the cost of renovation proved unthinkable – up to £13,000 for even a limited restoration. Tim explains, ‘I was walking past the frame yard with one eye shut, as all around it began to be transformed. The frames were derelict. I hoped that the right type of volunteers might be recruited but knew it was a big ask.” Sometimes, the right person is in the right place, at the right time. Gilbert, a semi‐retired woodwork and metalwork teacher, takes up the story, ‘Tim showed me the frame yard and asked me what I thought. I told him that’s a four year project. I’m happy to start on my own but I’ll be quicker with someone helping me.’

Steve came on a volunteer open day and offered to do some DIY. Within days he was re-laying a path with Gilbert and together, they took up the challenge of the frame yard. Steve says, ‘We have learnt as we have gone along. We faced deglazing 496 panes of glass without breaking them and removing old putty from the frames was a big problem. The internet didn’t offer any quick solutions; however, Gilbert invented a way using an adapted power router. We also realized that we could speed up our painting and drying times and reduce the project from four years to two years by recruiting someone else.’

Colin joined in February and comes in two days after Gilbert and Steve each week once drying has taken place. Colin says, ‘I don’t have any particular DIY skills. Gilbert and Steve have taught me how to do it via an initial meeting, emails and the odd 15‐20 minute chat. I take a lot of pride in what we have achieved but we are not doing anything special. The whole team around us in the garden and in the house work as hard as we do.’ 

Working in a tiny 3x2m workshop converted from the gardeners’ old mess room, and with half the frames now as good as new, the team estimate that they have 720 hours left to completion. Undaunted, they are now so efficient that they are picking up other jobs on the property too, restoring more than twenty wooden benches and painting a set of new garden interpretation boards.

Simon Akeroyd

Simon Akeroyd is the author of 30 gardening books. He also writes for gardening magazines and newspapers. His first book Shrubs and Small Trees was published in 2008, and he publishes two or three books a year.