GUEST BLOG – Simon Brammer from the Ashden Awards and Fit for the Future Network. all round good egg!
You would imagine that a greenhouse was a wholesome place. It is after all where plants are propagated and nurtured; where new life is born. However, there is a dark side to all this wholesomeness: energy. Greenhouses can demand huge amounts of energy in order to maintain ideal growing conditions. However, there is a way to make them much more sustainable.
The Fit for Future Network set up by Ashden and the National Trust, went on an investigative visit to Woolbeding Gardens last week. This is the most spectacular garden. Outdoor room after outdoor room of tastefully colour-themed planting is displayed against the backdrop of gently rolling pasture, a beautiful house and the bubbling River Rother.
The visit was not, of course, for our viewing pleasure, although great it was. It was to investigate how we could help Woolbeding Gardens be more sustainable in replacing and refurbishing some of its aging greenhouses and help them to kick their unwanted fossil fuel habit. The greenhouses are currently heated by an old oil boiler and despite the gardening team’s gallant efforts to reduce heat loss, such as thermal blinds or wrapping entire greenhouses in bubble wrap for the winter they still remain costly to run.
It turns out that the Gardens have a slightly overwhelming choice of possible renewable energy sources. A lake that could house a water-source heat pump, a paddock that could do the same and space for a solar PV array that wouldn’t detract from the sheer beauty of the surrounds. There was even an old water-wheel still working connected to a beam pump that will be considered to help irrigate the gardens in a more sustainable way.
The trick in making all these costly installations work is what the Fit for Future Network is really good at: connecting people and experience. So the next step, now the initial fact-finding visit is complete, is to whittle down the options by enabling the owner, their contractors and the Head Gardener to visit a few ‘ahead-of-the-curve’ greenhouses in other National Trust properties to ‘download’ all their learning. In this way, we can help Woolbeding avoid any costly mistakes and be confident the new systems will provide the perfect growing environment to keep the gardens both beautiful and sustainable for years to come.
Many thanks to Keith Jones and Paul Southall for their invaluable advice and enthusiasm.
Woolbeding Gardens is open every Thursday and Friday until 25 September 2015 – advance bookings only – I can promise you, you won’t be disappointed. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/woolbeding-gardens/