Warden Abbey Vineyard

Warden Abbey Community Vineyard is situated between Old Warden and Cardington in Bedfordshire. Founded in 1136 the site was one of the earliest Cistercian settlements in England until the English Reformation led to its dissolution by Henry VIII in 1536. Vines were first planted at Warden Abbey Vineyard in medieval times by monks at the Cistercian Abbey of Warden and today the aim is for the vineyard to offer a unique community and educational resource, horticulture therapy, volunteering, and wildlife and heritage projects

Jane Markham, Vineyard/Project Manager says: Vines were first planted at Warden Abbey Vineyard in medieval times by monks at the Cistercian Abbey of Warden. The aim is for the vineyard to offer a unique community and educational resource, horticulture therapy, volunteering, and wildlife and heritage projects.

In 2013 one of our volunteers suggested we use an empty row in the vineyard to take part in The Big Sunflower Project. It was hard work digging over the row, but we looked forward to a stunning show of flowers later in the year.

We started our plants off in small pots which volunteers took home to look after, then planted them out at the end of May. The plants proved an instant hit with our local rabbits, who viewed the sunflowers as a fantastic new snack bar.

We thought we had protected the small plants by ringing them with cut off lemonade bottles but as soon as the shoots emerged above the top, the rabbits were getting them. So we planted up a second batch, and this time made small towers of our plastic bottles, and even used vineguards – tall tubes designed to rotect young vines.

Weeded and watered by our volunteers and visiting school children, there were times when they took up more attention than we should probably have spared, and there were times we doubted we would succeed in growing any at all. But in the end, it was so worth it. We finally got a good show of flowers and they looked fabulous. But more than that, our ‘sunshine’ row has been a great talking point for all our visitors who we’ve been able to tell about The Big Sunflower Project and hopefully help raise awareness of centronuclear and myotubular myopathy. The sunflowers have been a cheery presence in the vineyard over the summer and you can’t help smiling when you see them. I think the monks would have approved.

At the end of the year the vineyard saved the sunflower seeds for planting again in 2014.   Jane Markham says:

The saved seeds were planted in pots for us first by the grand-daughters of one of our vineyard volunteers. Then a number of volunteers took some of the pots home to look after them until they were ready to plant out in the vineyard. The first lot were planted for us by team members from OMRON Electronics who were on a community volunteering day in the vineyard.

The sunflowers were a great success as we learnt a lot of lessons from last year’s experience – especially about keeping slugs and rabbits at bay. During the summer of 2014 we started doing group tours of the vineyard and without fail each group has asked why we are growing sunflowers in a vineyard so it’s a great opportunity to raise awareness of The Big Sunflower Project and centronuclear and myotubular myopathy.  Also lots of questions about them at our Open Day where we had over 750 visitors.

Sunflower growers at Warden Abbey Vineyard in Bedfordshire

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