Kew Gardens Part 1: Kitchen and Nosegay Garden

King George III, yes, he who "lost the colonies" of America, suffered from porphyria, which causes bouts of mania, if left untreated. In his day, the illness was unknown, as was its treatment, and during his bouts of madness, he was confined to the palace at Kew,  a modest mansion enjoyed by the royal family for quiet leisure. I'll show more of the palace itself in another post - and more of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where I spent one fantastic day at the end of my recent visit to the U.K.

You might have seen the excellent movie about this episode of history - The Madness of King George.

When not suffering from mania, King George III was known as a clever and considerate person, a family man. "Farmer George" they called him. One of the more benign aspects of his "treatment" was to take hot baths, with (it is believed) infusions of herbs. After I show pictures of the kitchen and its garden, I'll show a few of the nosegay garden, where the herbs would have been grown.

To avoid incommoding the servants, His Majesty took his baths in a room in the kitchen, close to the water boilers. Just recently, the bath was rediscovered, and there it is, shown above. It would have had a lid over the lower flat part, to keep the heat in. You can read an article about the discovery in The Guardian here.

 The kitchen was a separate building. It was opened to the public this year for the first time, newly restored thanks to a huge anonymous donation. It is the only surviving intact Georgian kitchen in England, mainly because it was abandoned a long time ago and filled with old junk. On removing the junk... the following was revealed. First, photos of the lower floor, partly sunk in the ground to keep things cool. About 20 men worked down in these regions (no mention of women).

View from the room in which the bath sits.

Room where fish and meats were stored. Reproduction barrels.
There were four preparation rooms: "where the bread was baked, the fish and meat stored, vegetables washed, and the lead-lined sink where the scullery boys would spend hours scouring pots and pans with sand and soap." (Text from Kew web site.)

Where the roasts were turned on the spits - and the spits they were turned on. 
This is the great kitchen.

Also in that kitchen, charcoal ovens along the walls for preparing sauces. Original Elm table. 

In another room, ovens for pastries on either side of a large water boiler. 
For washing dishes - and the king!

The docents were in period clothing of servants in their Sunday best. 
Be still my ever-Jane-Austen-lovin' heart! 

Meanwhile on the floor above, the kitchen clerk - an ex tax official - had his office

 The clerk of the kitchen kept meticulous records in beautiful copperplate.

My friend, looking over the accounts. The green color of the walls is authentic.
The furnishings represent what it would have looked like.

Outside the kitchens is a reproduction kitchen garden. In the day, these kitchens would have been supported by much larger gardens, so this is not strictly authentic to the palace, though it is authentic to the times.

Fruit trees are espaliered along the wall.
I wish I could have asked a lot more questions about the layout and the veggies grown etc. but it was closing time. I did read that many of the veggies we eat raw - like lettuce and cucumber - were at that time served stewed. Ah, let's hear it for British cooking, eh?! Vegetables boiled into submission! I imagine next year the garden will be more developed - it's only a few months old right now.

Outside of the kitchen building, docents and my friend. Authentic 18th C forcing jars. 
It was windy that day!
You can buy reproduction forcing jars in the UK here. They kept rhubarb and such in the dark to force their growth and sweetness.

For more on the kitchens, click here.

Now, last but not least, the nosegay garden. It is located near the back of the palace.

Back of Kew Palace, from the nosegay garden.

Nosegay Garden

Nosegay garden showing formal layout.
In the days before microscopes and all - a nosegay was not just a pretty little bouquet. The flowers and herb bunches people wafted before their noses were thought to prevent illness. At that time, illness was thought to be caused by bad air (malaria). Nosegay gardens also grew various medicinal herbs such as Digitalis purpurea, used then (as digitalis is used today) to treat heart problems. The plants in the Kew Palace nosegay garden are labeled to describe their uses. You might want to look into Alchemilla vulgaris, if you are, as are we mice, a lady of a certain degree of maturity:

It helpeth also such maides or women that have over great flagging breasts, causing them to grow less and hard!


Proof that kitchen gardens can be beautiful! I actually rather like that kitchen, even though it seems somewhat primitive by today's standards, there's certainly lots of room to work. I haven't seen forcing jars like that in some time. My grandad used to use something similar for forcing his rhubarb years ago!