Hor­ti­cul­tur­ist’s plan a real labour of love

David love cameron on re­viv­ing a vic­to­rian kitchen gar­den and turn­ing it into a busi­ness sup­ply­ing lo­cal restau­rants

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page -

Lo­cal, lo­cal, lo­cal has been one of the big­gest mantras within foodie cir­cles in re­cent years — so you’d think it would be easy for a restau­rant to source fresh or­ganic veg­eta­bles and sal­ads grown nearby.

But it’s sur­pris­ingly dif­fi­cult in Co Down ac­cord­ing to hor­ti­cul­tur­ist David Love Cameron, who is re­viv­ing a Vic­to­rian kitchen gar­den in He­len’s Bay.

When he took over the walled gar­den at Craig­dar­ragh early last year, he quickly won pres­ti­gious new cus­tomers in Niall Mckenna of James Street South and Pa­trick Leonard of The Mer­chant Ho­tel, who were look­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent.

“There was no avail­abil­ity of lo­cal or­gan­i­cally grown veg­eta­bles in the area — most of the restau­rants were get­ting their pro­duce from big­ger food com­pa­nies,” David says.

“Niall es­pe­cially had been look­ing for a sup­plier of veg­eta­bles of the kind and qual­ity that I am grow­ing here and he didn’t have any­one who could sup­ply that reg­u­larly.”

The two-acre walled gar­den was cre­ated in the 19th cen­tury by Thomas Work­man, founder of the Work­man and Clark ship­yard in Belfast, and it supplied the kitchens of Craig­dar­ragh House.

The present own­ers were keen to see the over­grown plot re­stored to its orig­i­nal role as a kitchen gar­den.

And David was the man to do it — a hor­ti­cul­tur­ist who trained at agri­cul­tural col­lege Green­mount be­fore win­ning a schol­ar­ship with Ray­mond Blanc to cre­ate a her­itage gar­den at Le Manoir aux Quat’saisons in Ox­ford.

His mis­sion is not only to sup­ply lo­cally grown or­ganic veg­eta­bles to lo­cal restau­rants, but also in­ter­est­ing va­ri­eties that will en­hance their menus — such as the scarce Car­ruthers pur­ple pod­ded peas which David has long cham­pi­oned.

“These veg­eta­bles are grown for flavour and picked on the day of de­liv­ery. Some of the pro­duce is even on the din­ner plate within an hour of be­ing picked,” he says.

“It means they are able to use things like cour­gette flow­ers which are nor­mally re­ally per­ish­able — they can go straight into the fridge, where they last for a long time.”

One of his big­gest fans is Tim Brun­ton, head chef at fine din­ing restau­rant The Boat House in Ban­gor.

“The big­gest claim at the mo­ment is lo­cal food and eat­ing with the sea­sons — with the walled gar­den you can’t go wrong. It’s not of­ten that you find some­where like this,” Tim says.

“I would change my menus to suit what David has, be­cause it’s that good. I would tweak the dishes to use what’s grown here — beau­ti­ful rain­bow chard and so many dif­fer­ent types of kale,” he says.

“I brought two chefs down here while I was still check­ing it out — two young lads — and I have pic­tures of them walk­ing around and try­ing dif­fer­ent things, and it in­spires peo­ple be­ing in places like this. It in­spires you to want to cook bet­ter food.”

David says the project ini­tially had a low turnover — he grew sal­ads and for­aged wild onions, sor­rel, nettles and gorse flow­ers from nearby fields.

“It’s a no-dig sys­tem, which is way more in­ten­sive than most farm­ers use, with closer spac­ing and higher yields per square me­tre. It’s very labour in­ten­sive, but it will get bet­ter,” he says.

“My plan is to re­ally get on top of grow­ing in the walled gar­den and use the ad­ja­cent field, move out there and repli­cate what I’m do­ing in here to in­crease pro­duc­tion.

“I’ve been teach­ing this year to sup­ple­ment my in­come. I think that the gar­den, in terms of just veg­etable pro­duc­tion, will be enough to sup­port one per­son on a fairly de­cent salary, but it will take a year or two to get to that point.”

David says he has to think in terms of each crop and the fi­nan­cial yield it will sup­ply — short-crop­ping sal­ads are the most lu­cra­tive in terms of value per bed.

“If I was re­ally com­mer­cially minded I would prob­a­bly just grow sal­ads and noth­ing else, but it’s a kitchen gar­den and I want it to be used as a re­source for chefs,” he says.

David has been ex­per­i­ment­ing with all sorts of her­itage va­ri­eties, in­clud­ing Ragged Jack her­itage kale, which yields leaves in win­ter, sweet suc­cu­lent shoots in spring and flow­ers in sum­mer.

“We have re­ally favourable grow­ing con­di­tions here — pretty much all the kitchen gar­den veg do well. Beet­roots and chard do very well and ar­ti­chokes grow bril­liantly. The mi­cro-cli­mate we have within the gar­den prob­a­bly puts you down about 300 miles to the south,” he says.

“The next stage of the gar­den is to start of­fer­ing classes in horti- cul­ture and use this lovely set­ting for events.”

For ex­am­ple, David has teamed up with the Open House Fes­ti­val and the Bul­litt Ho­tel in Belfast for an out­door event this Au­gust, cook­ing Wagyu beef over the camp­fire with veg from the gar­den to serve 40 peo­ple seated in the gar­den.

“We’re look­ing to re­place the glasshouse and re­open the site up to peo­ple as a tourist des­ti­na­tion. It could be used as a learn­ing re­source for chefs and cater­ing stu­dents to learn about sea­son­al­ity,” he says.

“But what I am try­ing to do is cre­ate an au­then­tic mod­ern mar­ket gar­den which is re­ally pro­duc­tive and a model for food grow­ers.”

My plan is to get on top of grow­ing in the walled gar­den and use the field to in­crease pro­duc­tion

The next stage of the gar­den is to start of­fer­ing classes in hor­ti­cul­ture and use this set­ting for events

The Boat House head chef Tim Brun­ton (left) with David Love Cameron

David and Tim check out the walled gar­den’s ar­ti­chokes and blue pota­toes (right)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.