I am lucky enough to live on a property that has a small, walled orchard around 65 feet by 33 feet in size. In truth, this was one of the main features which encouraged us to buy the property. The stone walls of this walled garden protected a collection of fruit trees (apple, plum, and cherry). Since we moved into the property, I have worked on turning this area into a more abundant forest garden.
Not everyone has an existing walled garden to work with. However, there may sometimes be an argument to create one on your property.
Walled gardens can be sustainably created from scratch using reclaimed materials. They can also be created in old industrial or agricultural sites, where the roofs of structures are no longer in good repair. Reclaimed spaces can also make excellent walled gardens. (In fact, our own walled garden was made before our time from the remnants of an old cattle shed. We believe this was in use until around the 1950s.)
I will share some of the benefits of a walled garden, so you can think about whether you might create one on your property.
An Extended Growing Season
I live in an area with mild summers, and winters where temperatures can fall as low as around 23 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 5 degrees Celcius) or 14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 10 degrees Celcius) on particularly cold years. One of the key things I have noticed about the walled forest garden is that it allows me to harvest from outside for a much longer portion of the year.
In other parts of my garden (excluding my polytunnel), I typically don’t have anything to harvest until around late May or early June at the earliest. However, I can harvest spring greens from the forest garden as early as March—and some greens even persist year-round.
The walled garden area warms more quickly in spring and cools more slowly in the fall. The thermal mass of the stone walls helps in temperature regulation. In the shoulder seasons, I have noted that temperatures can be a couple of degrees warmer in the walled area than they are elsewhere, and hard freezes are much less common.
A Protected Micro-Climate
Plants benefit from the protected micro-climate in the walled garden year-round. I find I can successfully grow several plants here that would not usually thrive outdoors in my area. Walled gardens can enable colder-climate gardeners to grow plants that typically thrive in climate zones higher than their own.
If you live in a warmer climate zone, it is also worth noting that a walled garden can allow for greater productivity in the high summer heat. By casting shade and creating micro-climates, the walls can enable productivity even in challenging conditions.
Privacy, Quiet and Calm
Another key consideration is that stone walls can provide a private, quiet, and calm that other garden boundary options like fences or hedges simply cannot afford in the same way. We live in the countryside but are adjacent to a rather busy road. Enter this walled garden, however, and we might be in a different world–protected from traffic noise and other outside distractions.
There is, we have found, something very special about a walled garden’s environment. A wall around a space really can turn it into a tranquil haven, away from the stresses and strains of daily life.
Vertical Surfaces For Training Plants Or For Vertical Gardens
Finally, it is also worthwhile considering that when a garden is surrounded by walls, this provides a range of options for vertical growing. Climbers and wall shrubs can find their places along the edges. Fruit trees can be trained to grow up the walls to make the most of the space. And more tender trees and plants will thrive on a sunny, sheltered South-facing wall. There are plants to choose for each wall of a walled garden, each of which offers somewhat different conditions.
You can also consider placing vertical garden structures against the sturdy walls of a walled garden. These can come in many shapes and sizes and can be tailored to suit the space. Walls will typically be much sturdier than fences and so can support much heavier and sturdier structures.
Walled gardens might involve some initial investment. But if you choose reclaimed materials, and think carefully about your design, they can be a sustainable, eco-friendly, and long-lasting choice. So while hedgerows and fences can work well in many settings, a traditional walled garden could be another interesting option to consider for your property.