February at York Gate

23 February 2024

Garden News

4 min read

The Snowdrop Days at York Gate were mostly smooth sailing for the garden team, who along with the volunteers, went the extra mile to get the garden to an excellent standard.

The stars of the show, the Galanthus, were looking wonderful and the odd bit of inclement weather didn’t put too many people off.

Fully stocked plant sales areaSarah and Ellie had the plant sales area fully stocked with interesting winter plants and most importantly snowdrops. In previous years we have just had Galanthus nivalis and the York Gate staple G. ‘S. Arnott’ for sale but this year Mark and his team have added many others to the sales list, a couple of my personal favourites being G. ‘Wasp’ with its tall, elegant stems and thin wing-like outer tepals and a lovely neat chunky double called G. ‘Jaquenetta’.

It has to be said that the real workhorses behind the success of the snowdrop event were Suzanne and her team of staff and volunteers in the cafe. We had visitors queuing out the door from the moment we opened, and she and her team didn’t bat an eyelid at making sure everyone was filled up with tea, cake and delicious sandwiches by the hundred.

As I mentioned at the end of last year, something that we have been doing for the past few years is making kokedamas for the garden and a limited number for sale. Our trainee Amy spent a few years teaching English in Japan and is a fluent Japanese speaker. I was fully expecting kokedama to translate into something mystical and profound; it literally means moss ball.

We lift a clump of Galanthus while they are still mostly dormant in early December, then wrap the bulbs in a pre-moistened compost, squidging it into a rough ball shape – we have found damp compost holds its shape much better. Then you wrap the ball of compost and bulbs in moss, tying it all together with garden twine or wire.

We hang our kokedamas from tree branches around the garden to enable people to get up close and personal with snowdrop flowers. Have a look at the video we created a couple of years ago.

When we first started making our kokedamas we were collecting the moss from the tops of the dry stone walls around the garden but we quickly used up that resource, and I really don’t like the idea of peeling ancient moss off the stones, so we replaced it all once snowdrop week was over. We have since bought in sheets of moss from a nursery for this year’s moss balls. But again, I’m not a fan of the idea that this moss is being harvested from the wild somewhere. To resolve this, my plan is to get some large sheets of wood and leave them out in a shady spot at the back of the garden with a thin smattering of compost on and try to grow our own moss in sheets. There is a bonsai method of growing moss which I have successfully done in the past that I’m going to try on a big scale for next year’s Snowdrop Days.

The method is to dry out the moss between sheets of paper then crumble it into dust and sprinkle it over the compost. As moss has magical rejuvenating properties, it will grow from this old dried-out dust and hopefully form a nice thick carpet that we will be able to harvest to make next year’s moss balls.

An important thing that we now need to start thinking about is sowing some of the seeds for the kitchen garden and greenhouse. It’s still early days for sowing some of the tender annuals for the garden but plants like tomatoes, aubergines and peppers can be sown now, as long as they are kept warm enough and in as much light as it’s possible to give them on these grey February days.

Amy Making Hazel Structures
Tom and Amy, along with some of our garden volunteers, have been building hazel structures in the garden. These do many jobs: we use them to support ornamental climbing plants in the hot garden and the peas and beans in the kitchen garden. Using the hazel pea sticks that we buy in from the Leeds Coppice Workers, we build hazel baskets around the perennials in various parts of the garden to give natural support.

The Leeds Coppice Workers is a workers’ co-operative committed to restoring and managing woodlands throughout the city. One of my favourite walks in Hetchell Woods on the outskirts of Leeds is maintained by them and it is now thriving, with wildlife and a wonderful abundance of wildflowers.

It has been so impressive to see how productive these hazel coppices have been that I have planted a bank of hazel at the bottom of our meadow to create our own coppice and I will be cutting down a couple of large overgrown hazels to supply our own pea sticks and bean poles for the garden.

In your own garden, as the weather starts to warm up and the days are getting longer, now is a good time to get into the greenhouse and have a pick through all those plants that you have been overwintering. As I write this in the toasty warmth of the office, our fantastic volunteers are in the big greenhouse tidying dead leaves from plants, giving things a good water and generally giving everything a good sweep and tidy round; it’s amazing how much junk you can gather!