Garden party celebrates official start of Florence Court Kitchen Garden project

Staff, volunteers and supporters of the National Trust in Fermanagh gathered in the Kitchen Garden at Florence Court on Tuesday 5 October 2021 for a BBQ to celebrate the official start of the project to restore the garden to its 1930s character and atmosphere.

Located inside the walled garden, the Kitchen Garden would once have been at the heart of the estate, providing work for twelve full-time gardeners who produced valued crops for the House and wider estate. Sadly, the garden and its original glasshouses fell into decline following the departure of the last Head Gardener in 1947 and it was only during archaeological excavations by the National Trust in 2014 that the original footprint of the glasshouses were rediscovered.

The project has been supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund with a £374,800 grant, made possible thanks to money raised by National Lottery players. It will see the installation of two glasshouses on the footprint of the two original glass structures as well as the delivery of an extensive community, educational and volunteer activity plan.

Jim McGreevy, Committee Member, Northern Ireland, The National Lottery Heritage Fund said: “We are thrilled to support the National Trust in bringing the unique heritage of Florence Court back to life again. Thanks to National Lottery players, and the National Trust’s volunteers, this project will strengthen the community by helping people connect with their local history and explore the natural heritage of the gardens. We’re proud to play a role in ensuring many more people can continue to enjoy Florence Court for generations to come.”

The project is also being delivered with funding from National Lottery Communities Fund, the Landfill Communities Fund, Ulster Garden Scheme and Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust.

The project to install the glasshouses will commence in winter 2021 when work gets underway to stabilise the kitchen garden wall which will support the two new glass structures.

“We are delighted to reach the point where work to reinstate the glass houses can get underway,” says Jim Chestnutt, General Manager at Florence Court. “It’s been heart-warming to see the support the project has generated so far, both from funders and from the local community. There’s been a real appetite to embrace the spirit of what we are trying to achieve which is to connect people to the outdoors and create an inviting and engaging space where everyone is welcome.

“Gardens aspire to be inspirational places where people can relax and enjoy themselves in beautiful surroundings; they are places where memories can be created and cherished. I very much hope that the restored garden at Florence Court will be a source of inspiration and delight for everyone who connects with it.”

Key to the successful delivery of the project are the volunteers. “We now have over 38 volunteers who together have generously given us nearly 20,000 hours of their time to assist in the redevelopment of the garden over the last three years,” says Jade Blair, Senior Volunteering and Community Officer at Florence Court.  “They work with our gardener on a range of tasks including bed preparation, weeding, planting and harvesting. The volunteers are at the very heart of this project and thanks to their hard work we are now growing a range of fruit and vegetables that can be harvested throughout the year.”

Volunteers range in age from 14 to 80 and include Freddie who regularly helps out in the garden, “Six years ago I retired from my own business and found myself with little to do during the daytime. Since volunteering I’ve built various things like bee houses and arches. I feel like I’ve done something, created something. Over the last thirty years I’ve spent much time at Florence Court walking or running and I thought it was time I put something back in, so I volunteered. The craic can be good too. That’s something I missed most about work – being surrounded by people. Here you can have fun and meet people.”

As a conservation charity the National Trust relies on the support of visitors, members and donators to fund vital conservation works like the Kitchen Garden restoration project. Visitors wishing to support the project have the opportunity to purchase a Kitchen Garden charity pin at reception or make a donation to the fundraising appeal online where £5 will help purchase a pane of glass for the new glasshouses or £50 will buy a fruit tree. Visit  www.nationaltrust.org.uk/appeal/kitchen-garden-restoration-appeal.

A whole range of fun ‘have a go’ activities will be running in the garden over the next two years, including bee hotel making, flower arranging and apple tree pruning. Everyone is encouraged to come along and reconnect with nature in the beautiful setting of Florence Court’s Kitchen Garden. Full details of the events can be found on the National Trust website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ni

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