I often hear from hotel owners that they use their own organic produce. It seems to be part of the farm-to-table trend. Occasionally, we may get a peek into the garden, or we see the garden in the distance, to validate this assertion. While in Derry, Northern Ireland, though, we were able to explore a traditional walled garden, one that actually supports a country house hotel.
The Beech Hill Traditional Walled Garden
One afternoon, at the Beech Hill Hotel in Derry, we walked through the small gate and into the garden. Robert, the keeper of the traditional walled garden, stood at the far side. He was not what I expected. He wore dark brown pants, and a brown, thick sleeveless vest, with no shirt underneath. We offered to shake hands, and he apologized about the layer of dirt. I tried not to be girly, and grasped his hand firmly. After all, he was taking time out of his day to show us around his garden.
The garden is a good size, all nestled within a curving stone wall at the edge of the original plantation property. To one side is the original gate house, which currently has residents living there. Over the eastern edge of the stone wall it’s possible to see over the Derry countryside. Part of Robert’s job included knocking back the layer of moss that covered the walls, and occasionally repairing them to make sure they continue to stand, sheltering the garden from the winds.
The current garden only occupies about a third of the available space. Even so, there were rows upon rows of vegetables and flowers, all neatly trimmed by Robert. There were several green houses of various sizes, one of which had the most amazing smell of tarragon inside. A large space in the back of the garden was set aside for composting, making the most of the remnants of all of the meals served at Beech Hill.
Despite its size, the traditional walled garden does not produce enough to self sufficiently support the Beech Hill hotel. Although there is room to expand beyond the current size, Robert observed that even if the entire space produced nothing but potatoes, it would not be enough to support the hotel’s need.
But, the traditional walled garden provides all of the lettuces, and spinach, as well as the herbs for the kitchen. Robert grows rhubarb and globe artichokes, and just planted pear trees to the rear. He seemed very proud of what he accomplished in only a year, and is hopefull for the future.
Robert cited only one possible barrier to his success at the garden, the pesky rabbits, who manage to wriggle their way in and nibble at the edges of the lettuce plants.
I continue to enjoy learning about where food comes from, appreciating the work that goes into growing something as simple as a good lettuce. I was happy, even with the threatening Northern Ireland rain, to have the opportunity to explore a traditional walled garden in Derry.
We were supported by Northern Ireland Tourism during our stay in Derry, but all views are, as always, my own.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.