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Pub enlists 21st century Land Girls

The Pheasant pub in Gestingthorpe, Essex, has always been a champion for locally sourced, seasonal produce. The innovative husband and wife owners, James and Diana Donoghue, have now taken their love of fruit and veg, to the next level having recently purchased a one acre plot of Glebe land opposite their award-winning pub. ‘We want to supply our kitchen with our own fresh produce that’s a little bit unusual, or is hard to get hold of in the shops,’ explains Chelsea garden designer and head chef, James. ‘Growing and cultivating fresh produce is at the centre of our vision for The Pheasant and we’re delighted with the progress. We want the garden to be productive, but ornamental too – as we’re already attracting visitors!’ Six months on, James and Diana have enlisted help from the 21st century Land Girls, the Women’s Farm and Garden Association (WFGA). Rebecca and Angie are a part of the WFGA’s Women Returners to Amenity Gardening Scheme (WRAGS), and have been working at The Pheasant since the first months of the year. WRAGS was set up in 1993 and offers the opportunity for women to train part time in practical gardening skills in a working garden, with a view to then pursue a career in horticulture. ‘I’ve done a lot of work on my own garden, but this is something else,’ explains Angie. ‘I’ve learnt so much, and done things that I never thought I’d be physically capable of doing. I used to be a health care assistant, so this is completely different – but I feel like it’s where I’m meant to be.’ The Pheasant‘s very own Land Girls have dug, trenched and fenced the one acre site, built a chicken coop, a fruit cage, three beehives, and a training area. They have also planted an orchard, sunflowers, sweetcorn, artichokes, a wild flower meadow, currants, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, beans, potatoes, rhubarb, courgettes, tomatoes and more! They’re now in the process of creating their own herb garden, with experienced designer James close at hand to guide the trainees. ‘Our chefs will be able come out in the morning and gather the fresh ingredients they’ll need for the day. The neighbours will probably get used to the sight of them running back and forth to collect more herbs as and when they’re needed!’ says James. The ambitious project has drawn attention from the whole community, with residents and visitors to Gestingthorpe keeping a keen eye on the project’s progress. ‘We’ve been really overwhelmed by the support of our friends and neighbours,’ says Diana. ‘People stop and have a chat with the girls all the time, and visitors to the pub go out and have a look at how we’re getting on. The chickens are a real favourite!’ Although in its early days, the project is already supplying the kitchen with fresh produce. ‘Our chickens are producing the most wonderful eggs, which our b&b guests are enjoying for breakfast with haddock,’ says James. With the help of an organisation set up over 110 years ago, The Pheasant is developing a garden that will provide its bustling kitchen with fresh, home-grown produce that visitors from all across the region, and the rest of the country, will continue to enjoy for years to come. ‘Making this garden a success isn’t just for the pub, it’s for our community,’ explains James. ‘We want everyone to come and enjoy what we’re achieving here – and see what you can do with a bit of hard work, and lots of love for growing.’

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