1945 to Present Day
It was 1945 and the world would never be the same again. Relief at the end of the war was soon replaced by despair and frustration at continued rationing and inadequate housing. Britain wanted change. Class distinctions were broken down. The modern Welfare State and the NHS were born. The Empire was crumbling and large Estates such as Tongswood also had to change with the times.
By 1945, the Tongswood Estate was somewhat depleted and what remained was owned by St Ronan’s school. The house and the main grounds were utilised by the school, but what should they do with Tongswood Gardens?
Rationing did not come to an end until 1954 and the Dig for Victory campaign was still in place long after the troops came home, so St Ronan’s School began to lease Tongswood Gardens to a succession of market gardeners. The first was Jack Cripps. Jack and his staff – some no more than children – would work their fingers to the bone from dusk to dawn, growing fruit and vegetables to transport around the country and help feed the nation. Later market gardeners included Roland Playford and Jim Weeks. It seemed that Tongswood Gardens had found her place in a post-war world.
However, as Britain moved away from austerity towards supermarket shopping, cheap imported produce and readymade meals, it was never going to be easy to keep such a large concern going – particularly as the glasshouses were slowly being allowed to fall into a substantial state of disrepair. The future began to look uncertain.
Having leased the gardens for a number of years, Peter and Karen Horn had fallen in love with the gardens and the glasshouses. In 1995 they purchased the site and gave it a new lease of life. They turned it into a plant nursery and changed the name from Tongswood Gardens to The Walled Nursery. They began to lovingly restore what glasshouses they could on a micro-budget and are today credited with saving them from total ruin.
Peter and Karen decided to retire but fortunately two more people, who loved The Walled Nursery just as much, were waiting in the wings. In 2010 Monty and Emma Davies purchased the Walled Nursery and took over guardianship of the glasshouses – their Demanding Ladies.
Society is now turning back to home-made produce. Awareness of climate change and dangers of imported diseases from plants is growing. Slowly but steadily, the Walled Nursery was coming back into her own. But there were still the Demanding Ladies to contend with and if you factor in the unpredictable weather and even more unpredictable economy, a simple plant nursery was no longer enough to sustain the constant restoration required.
Monty and Emma did not give up. They introduced a series of courses, lectures and events at the Nursery, including the highly successful Chelsea Fringe. They opened a café which they plan to expand to a restaurant and they are fighting tooth and nail for their Ladies. The Walled Nursery today is no longer just a beautiful place to buy spectacular plants, but an educational centre as well as a unique events venue hosting everything from art exhibitions to craft fairs to open air theatre, not to mention the perfect spot for a cup of tea and slice of cake.
The Walled Nursery is safe for now. And one suspects that after 700 years of noblemen and charlatans, dreamers and schemers, this little plot of land that started life so long ago as ‘Tongs’ will be here for a long time yet.