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Martin Ashley. Head Gardener at Lewtrenchard Manor in Lewdown, Devon

In the Garden with Martin Ashley

The Head Gardener at Lewtrenchard Manor talks crops, climate and cultivating

How long have you been a gardener at Lewtrenchard?
I've been at Lewtrenchard for 12 years and have gradually reinstated the walled vegetable garden to its present state.

Gardening had always been a hobby for me, in particular, growing vegetables, for which I have won awards. I turned my hobby into a business and shortly after, was approached by Jason Hornbuckle, the then Head Chef Patron, to take on the gardens at Lewtrenchard Manor. Having a walled garden to work in is a dream for many gardeners!

Now, two of my sons have joined me, and my young grandsons love to help in the garden at home and harvest the fruit and veg, particularly the peas and strawberries!

What is your ethos?
There is nothing better than eating vegetables that you have grown and picked just hours, or even minutes earlier. The flavours are far superior and the sense of achievement is immense. A warm tomato from the greenhouse tastes completely different to anything flown in from abroad.

What can we find in your kitchen garden?
I grow the usual staples: salad crops, brassicas, root veg, and some more unusual celeriac, asparagus, squashes, artichokes and heritage varieties. There are herb beds and fruit bushes. We also have a polytunnel and a glasshouse for tomatoes, cucumbers, chillies, peppers and raising container plants for the hotel's floral displays.

How do you decide what to plant?
I consult with the Head Chef in the winter and we plan for the following year. Every year is slightly different, depending on the food trends of the time.

Garden plans for next year?
Next year will see some changes in Lewtrenchard’s gardens. I plan to grow more fruit varieties and cultivate new herb beds. I am also going to grow more cutting flowers for the hotel.

Favourite plants to eat?
Spring and early summer are my favourite times of the year in the garden. Those first baby new potatoes, carrots, broad beans and peas cannot be beaten!

Why is Devon such a great place for growers?
Our weather provides ideal conditions for growing – lots of rain and sun. We are lucky enough to be surrounded by fantastic nurseries and knowledgeable plantsmen and women, not to mention the amazing countryside.

Top tips for growing a kitchen garden?
I would suggest starting with an easy crop like radishes and cut-and-come-again salad leaves. These are ready to eat within weeks of sowing. A courgette plant is easy to grow on from a plant bought at a garden centre, and will provide plenty of fruit all summer. Fresh herbs elevate a dish when sprinkled over or stirred through. Grow veg that are perhaps expensive to buy in the supermarket, and harvest while young and tender.

Most of all, grow what you like to eat, and don't be put off if things don't go as planned. Any gardener will tell you they never stop learning, and even the most experienced among them have disasters!

“Most of all, grow what you like to eat”

Martin Ashley

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