Sand, stone and spring

22 March 2024

Garden News

4 min read

When we built the new café at York Gate, we also created the sand garden. It is like the famous metal paint advert, it does what it says on the tin: it’s a sand garden.

The substrate is sand and nothing but sand for roughly 3ft give or take a grain or two, and the plants are directly planted into it. We wash the roots spotlessly clean before planting as any compost left on the root ball could freeze solid during the winter and damage or rot the plant root system. The super sharp drainage of the sand means we can grow plants that we wouldn’t normally get away with in a rainy grey Yorkshire garden. We added large rocks in bands throughout the sand to give the feel of natural rock strata, but something has always bugged us about the look.

The large rocks, although in bands, sunk into the sand and were just missing something. Tom and I had noticed some natural erosion on one of the rocks, then it hit us (the idea not the rock): we needed to mimic the natural weathering of the rocks, with different grades from football-sized pieces down to marble-sized and smaller. Not only will this give the sand garden a much more naturalistic feel, but it should also add an extra layer of insulation from the cold, and help to protect the hundreds of bulbs from predation. The new rocks look very new and orange in comparison to the original and they should age and soften down nicely.

In another part of the garden, we have an exciting project happening – the restoration of the Folly. The Folly was first constructed in 1970 and consists of a tall six-sided roof clad in cedar shingles with six wooden legs. Below sits a millstone surrounded by rectangular granite sets. We have been keeping a close eye on them for the past few years but this winter we took the plunge and arrange for Luke Cruse and his team from Cruse Paving to replace the old rotten larch posts with sweet chestnut.

Larch has the advantage of being very straight, relatively cheap and readily available but has a short life span, being coniferous softwood. A previous head gardener (three head gardeners ago) replaced the original posts nine years ago with the larch posts.

The large multi-part millstone and granite sets that make up the base of the Folly had also started to subside, so Luke and his team lifted and re-laid them. I had naïvely thought they might be quite thin, but the sections of the millstone are nearly a foot deep!

The garden is definitely starting to wake up now with early spring bulbs appearing all over it. If you’re visiting gardens and spot a wonderful plant in flower at this time of year, don’t be afraid to approach a gardener to ask the name, then it can go on your autumn bulb wish list.

At the moment we need all the help we can get to feel that spring is here, so embrace and enjoy every flower you find.

As I write this, I am sitting on a plane heading to Portugal to see the spring flowers (I’m not showing off, this is our first family holiday in four years).

To help the spring feeling, Tom has just started his mega seed sowing session for all the kitchen garden and greenhouse crops. He’s planting out his early lettuce and peas and has set out his main crop seed potatoes on the staffroom windowsill to wake them up. We have also moved all our salvias up to the warmer greenhouse, and Ellie has been inspecting, cleaning up then potting our dahlia tubers to wake them up too. Prepare your eyes, I have some great dahlias this year.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s now time to cut back any of those perennials you might have left standing over winter. The grasses can be a particular pain. If you haven’t cut back the old growth, new shoots starting to grow need to be left, whereas the old grass needs cutting down as low as possible to give you a tidy grass.

A great job you can do now for next February is lift, divide and spread around your snowdrops. There are two schools of thought on how to do this; the old-fashioned way and the way we do it at York Gate is to lift ‘in the green’ and move around the garden. The advantage to this approach is that you can see the bulbs you are lifting, and you can imagine what your display might look like next year. The second way (and it is probably better for the bulbs) is to let your snowdrops die down naturally then lift them when dormant and replant where you want them. If you do lift your snowdrops when they’ve died down, it’s important to replant them straight away as they really resent their bulbs drying out too much.

I just want to say a big thank you to Sam Booth for providing the images in my articles – he captures some great shots of everything happening in the garden.

Following the death of Sybil Spencer, York Gate was gifted to the charity Perennial in 1994 to help people in horticulture.

We’re looking forward to welcoming visitors to the garden again from Wednesday 3 April.

Please note our admission cost has changed to £10 (£12.50 Gift Aid), or become a Friend of Perennial for just £35 per year, giving you unlimited visits during all public open days to York Gate and Perennial’s two other gardens, Fullers Mill in Suffolk and The Laskett in Herefordshire.

Don’t forget to stop by the lovely gift shop bursting with a range of new products and some fabulous favourites, or stop by our plant sales area to take a piece of the garden home with you.

Open 3 April – 31 October, Wednesday to Sunday 10am – 4pm (plant sales will open at 11am).