Image above: Dog walking in Dukes Avenue in May
No such thing as a free dog walk
Chiswick House Trust is on a membership drive. We have all got used to using the Gardens at Chiswick House as if it were our own back garden, or personal estate, but one over which we have no responsibility for the upkeep. Truth to tell, the upkeep costs a lot of money, and say the Trust, they need people in Chiswick who use the gardens to stump up to support it.
The Trust receives 22% of the cost of running the House and Gardens from English Heritage and Hounslow Council respectively. That leaves 78% for them to raise themselves. They are hoping this year to encourage more people who use the Gardens regularly will be persuaded to support the Trust financially.
Membership costs £50 a year for adults, (£75 joint membership for two adults or family membership for two adults + up to three children under the age of 17). It buys members unlimited free admission to the House and Kitchen Garden during seasonal opening hours, a programme of members’ events, a 10% discount in the café, shop and at the produce cart, and priority booking for Chiswick House & Gardens Trust run events.
Or, if you are not interested in any of the above, but go for a walk there most days, your reward will be the warm fuzzy feeling that comes with supporting a Good Thing and helping to keep access open to all.
You may think that once you have seen inside Chiswick House, there is no real reason to go back, but under the directorship of Xanthe Arvanitakis, there are displays and events programmed, designed to draw people back in for repeat visits, and the same is true of the Kitchen Garden.
This year there is priority booking for members for the opening session of this year’s Chiswick Book Festival, an interview with veteran gardener and broadcaster Alan Titchmarsh.
Image above: Daffodils, tulips and pear blossom in the Kitchen Garden mid-April
Let 15,000 flowers bloom
There have been 15,000 bulbs planted in the Kitchen Garden, which has just opened for the season, (open Thursday – Sunday, from 11am – 4pm). It is looking very spruce, and if you are at all interested in gardening there is a lot to admire. As I visited a few weeks ago the pear blossom, daffodils and tulips were out and the asparagus tips were just beginning to show.
A new initiative this year is that Chiswick House Trust will be selling cut flowers grown in the Kitchen Garden. Currently you can buy tulips from the shop in the conservatory. Whatever flowers, fruit and vegetables are in season will be on sale now until October. The Trust has also entered into an arrangement with Chiswick Flower Market to sell flowers at the market.
The gardeners – five staff and between 50 and 100 volunteers – have planted over 200 types of fruit and vegetables. Right now rhubarb and wild garlic is in season, but very soon now the gardens will be producing a prolific choice, through to the autumn when the beds will be full of pumpkins and squashes.
New too are the fruit cages and ideas for later in the summer are selling edible flowers, pick-your-own and tea-making. Visitors will be invited to make up their own tea infusions from a variety of herbs.
Image above: Fruit cages in the Kitchen Garden
A base for community groups
It is not all about raising money for the Trust. They will be donating half of what they harvest to Surplus to Supper, a charity which aims to ‘bridge the gap between food waste and food poverty locally’.
They also work with community groups, Mind Food for example, an Ealing based charity which charity help people struggling with stress, depression or anxiety by offering food-growing and creative sessions in natural green settings.
They have arrangements with schools – the Meet Me at the Gate project with Cavendish Primary School for example, engaging young children with the natural world – and projects for Black History month in the house. The results of a piece of work on the silk trade, an interactive digital display, should be seen in early June.
Image above: Volunteers repotting seedlings ready for their introduction to the great outdoors
There are dedicated sessions for vulnerable adults to use the gardens. Chef Manju Malhi was awarded a community medal for organising cooking projects using produce from the gardens during the pandemic. The chef, who specialises in British Indian cuisine, was one of 850 medal winners chosen to go to the coronation celebrations.
Chiswick House is a lovely setting for a wedding and the recent Wedding Show attracted a lot of interest. The conservatory is closed to the public in its entirety, as the wings need serious refurbishment, but the cupola is open and is a favourite spot for wedding photographs.
And of course the Trust benefits from the programme of events put on by external event organisers: Gifford’s Circus, open air theatre productions by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Luna Cinema and Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place weekend to name a few. Sadly last year’s Halloween spectacular is not returning, but Pub in the Park is.
First up will be a production of Robin Hood for families on Saturday 27 May.
Image above: Daffodils and Tulips mid-April
A snip at under £1 a week
The Trust would like you to come and enjoy all those things, but they would also ask you to consider whether, if you use the Gardens a lot, you could make a commitment of £1 a week to give it a little financial security.
Chiswick House reopens for the summer on Thursday 25 May. If you would like to sign up to be a member, you can do so here: Become a Member.