The Great Vine
The history of the Great Vine
The Great Vine, Vitis vinifera ‘Shiva Grossa’ (synonym- Black Hamburg), is over 240 years old.
Lancelot 'Capability' Brown directed its planting in 1769 from a cutting taken at Valentines Mansion, in Essex. In 1887 it was already 1.2 metres (4’) around the base. It is now 4 metres (13’) around the base and the longest rod is 36.5 metres (120’).
The Vine is grown on the extension method where one plant fills a glasshouse. In Victorian times its gardeners thought that a larger crop was produced this way. The average crop of black dessert grapes is about 272 kilograms (600lbs), however in the autumn of 2001 it was 383 kilograms (845 lbs) - the best crop ever. The grapes are ripe after August Bank Holiday and are sold during the first three weeks of September.
Queen Victoria had the grapes sent to the Royal Household at Windsor or to Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight. King Edward VII (1901-1910) decided that the grapes were no longer required by the Royal Household and could be sold to visitors.
Later they were sold in small wicker baskets at St. Dunstans, the home for soldiers blinded in the First World War. In the Second World War German P-O-W’s were given the task of thinning out the bunches of grapes.
The Vine grows on the site of the first greenhouse at Hampton Court
There have been five or six glasshouses on the site throughout its history. In the early 1900’s a three-quarter span wooden glasshouse was built which was a new shape and quite different from that that existed before as it incorporated a viewing area for the public.
In 1969 a new glasshouse was needed. By that time the Vine had become so entwined that the only way forward was to build a new aluminum glasshouse over the top of the old wooden one. The dormant vine was protected by polythene sheeting and the old glass and its supporting wooden frame was removed, leaving the iron framework of the 1900’s structure and the Vine in place.
Cultivation of the Great Vine
In February the buds begin to break. A fertiliser is applied to the soil inside the glasshouse and the vine border outside. Once the new shoots are 2.5 – 5cm or so long, it is then time for disbudding to reduce the number of new shoots. The remaining shoots grow until they are 30-45 cm (12”- 18”) long. They then have their growing point pinched out and are tied in with raffia.
The Vine is protected against mildew by vaporizing sulphur. Immediately after flowering the number of bunches are reduced and the remaining bunches are thinned. During the growing season the Vine is given liquid and foliar feeds. Later in the summer some leaf thinning is carried out to allow sunlight to fall upon the ripening fruit. In November and December when the plant is fully dormant, the fruiting spurs are pruned back to one or two buds.
The Great Vine is just one of the many highlights in the gardens at Hampton Court.