Sand, Stone and Spring

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.

Rocks being added to the 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 constructedCruse Paving Team in the Folly credit Sam Booth 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.

Rebuilding The Folly credit Sam Booth

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 gardensMuscari latifolium Credit Sam Booth 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).

Scilla ‘Pink Giant’ Credit Sam BoothTo 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).


February at York Gate

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 videoHanging Kokedama 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!

 


Art blossoms at York Gate

Well, it has finally stopped raining! Cue the sound of applause from gardeners across the country.

The stream flowing through the Dell at York Gate has been a raging torrent for months now and as lovely as it has been to see water flowing through the garden again, it’s becoming a bit of an issue as it’s eroding the banks of the stream away. We’ve even lost a couple of interesting plants that will probably now be a couple of miles downstream. Either the woodland behind us or one lucky person whose garden backs onto the beck is going to receive a generous, nicely sized clump of meconopsis. It was thriving on the banks of the stream before Christmas but has since vanished entirely.

Snowdrops at York Gate

Looking forward, we have our snowdrop days coming up where we open the garden for visitors to come and see our growing collection of interesting snowdrops.

My worry is that the lawns at York Gate are mostly standing water at the moment. Something we might have to do to compensate for this is aerate the lawns, a fancy way of saying stabbing a garden fork into the grass many many MANY times. This can be done with a hollow tining machine (the sort of thing you see used on a golf course or bowling green) but I think if we run a big heavy thing over the grass in this waterlogged state, we’ll just make things worse. We have had enough rain for now so if anybody has a personal connection to the big weatherman in the sky, please ask him to stop sending any more of the wet stuff down to us.

As I say, we will be open for our snowdrop days in two weeks, so we are working hard to make sure everything is looking spotless. We will be re-gravelling some of the paths; I am fairly convinced our visitors are not stealing pocketfuls every day, but it just seems to disappear, so we do this job annually. The team will be cutting back any plants that are turning to mush but selectively leaving any nice standing dead twigs from perennials.

One of the most exciting things that’s happened at York Gate in January is the wonderful new artwork going up in the café and plant sale hut.

The café will showcase art from a group of West Yorkshire artists known as the Redbrick Artists. The group were allowed into the garden on closed days last year to sketch and draw the garden.Redbrick Art in York Gate cafe

One of the Redbrick Artists, Sumi Cannon, who is also a volunteer in our nursery said “This project has been a really interesting one. It is fascinating to see all the different sources of inspiration the artists have discovered in the garden and how they have each interpreted them in their own styles. There will definitely be something for everyone in this show.” The paintings will be shown in the café at York Gate from 27 January, for 6 months, during normal opening hours.

The works on show are very diverse, from scenes of the garden to individual flowers and plants in both modern and traditional styles. All work is for sale with 30% of all sales being donated to Perennial which is obviously fantastic for us.

Snowdrop Sketches by Glen Southern

To complement the snowdrops for sale in our Plant Sales hut, we will be showing and selling beautiful line illustrations in a combination of digital and traditional sketches and paintings of Galanthus (snowdrops) by Glen Southern.

Glen is an award-winning artist and a great friend of mine. He’s known as The Aroid Artist and he’s a concept artist and sculptor, with a background in TV and film over the past 30 years. Glen has a passion for growing and drawing aroids and other rare plants.

Thinking about your own garden, now is a good time to prune your fruit trees. It’s early enough that the sap shouldn’t be rising yet, and late enough that theGlen Southern trees won’t have months of open wounds before they have a chance to heal.

Our trainee Amy has been on a fruit pruning day with her college course so she will be putting all she has learnt into practice on our ‘John Downie’ crab apple tree.

We will also be performing winter pruning on the wisteria at the front of the house. A sort of adage of wisteria pruning is second to two and seventh to seven, so basically pruning the growth back to two buds in the second month (yes, I know it is still January but it’s not a hard and fast rule). I personally might leave three or four buds but that doesn’t relate to the month adage. At the base of last year’s extension growth, you should by now see fat round buds that will be this year’s flowers and further up the stem the buds will be smaller and pointier: these will be the leafy growth. On the seventh month you prune the vigorous growth back to seven buds just to contain the plant, so it doesn’t take over the world.

Tom will be working his magic on the climbing roses, firstly removing any remaining foliage and old hips then any damaged or dead wood. He will then untie the whole plant from the wall, select which stems he is going to keep and retrain and retie back into place. This might seem like a faff, but it is important to take off the old ties as they can harbour overwintering pests and might be starting to rub or bite into the bark. Tom honed his skills on a rose pruning course at Sissinghurst and takes inspiration from the likes of Jenny ‘Niff’ Barnes.

Lastly, we are applying mulch around parts of the garden. We have composted bark for the Woodland Walk and Old Orchard, leaf mould for the Dell, manure and compost for the Kitchen Garden and some new fine gravel for the Rockery.


This year has been an interesting one.

It has been my first full year as head gardener at York Gate following Ben Preston’s departure (Ben left to set up his own nursery, Cliff Bank, located between Huby and Harrogate).

My initial plan was to have a very chilled out first year as head gardener and just garden the garden and let the site run smoothly for a year. It was a nice plan, but it is definitely not what has happened!

As I mentioned last time, we have been working on revamping the White Garden, planting new trees and shrubs and creating a mixed native hedgerow between the car park and the meadow. I think the craziest thing of all for us this year has been having the Gardeners’ World team at the garden to film us, not just once, not twice, but three times.

York Gate and Gardeners' World Teams

The first time was a short video which saw Adam Frost visit in the spring where he spoke about the design of the garden and how water plays a massive part in connecting the different rooms of York Gate. Then Adam and I planted up a stone trough in the paved garden with a selection of succulent plants from the greenhouse.

The second visit was by Frances Tophill in the summer; she focussed on the plants growing in the herb garden and also had a look at the park display at the back of the house which is made up of a mixture of house plants and shade tolerant hardy plants. The third and final episode was the most exciting for us as they filmed the whole programme from the garden (Episode 26 if you want to look it up). This time four presenters came to the garden – Adam Frost, Frances Tophill, Rachel de Thame and Jamie Butterworth.

Adam revisited the trough that he and I planted earlier in the year. Rachel worked with Ellie on a section on begonia propagation and Frances spoke with Tom about the kitchen garden and edible flowers, whilst Jamie took to clipping the yew buns in the Pavement Maze.

I know I can speak for the whole York Gate team and say how privileged we feel that Gardeners’ World picked our small Yorkshire garden to feature three times this year, but it is a testament to the effort that the staff and volunteers across the whole site put in to make our garden the one-of-a-kind special garden that it is.

Mark, Sarah and Ellie have been doing fantastic things in the nursery, taking the number of plants and the interest of the species we grow to the next level. The next major jobs the nursery team will be undertaking are sorting out all the snowdrops we will have for sale during our snowdrop week in February and also creating some wonderful moss kokedama for the garden and for sale. In previous snowdrop weeks we havemoss kokedama only had snowdrops for sale but this year we will also have cyclamen, other bulbs and some interesting winter-growing perennials.

Our snowdrop kokedama get hung around the garden and have been a big hit with visitors as it allows them to get up close to the beautiful nodding flowers without lying on the floor or holding a mirror on a stick. Last year we tried a few kokedama with other plants, including ferns, cyclamen, small grasses etc. and they worked really well, complementing the other flowering plants, trees and shrubs whilst providing interesting structure and form.

A major job we have been working on this week is pruning the large older trunks of the 14 hazel trees in the Nut Walk. The trees are bent over into an arch but as the stems get older, the trunks get thicker, so we need to periodically replace them. Because hazel trees sucker from the rootstock all we need to do is select Hazel catkins in the gardena replacement trunk and tie that in once the older woody trunk has gone. Not only does this refresh the whole structure but it gives the new growth added vigour and better flower power. The best time to view the Nut Walk, in my opinion, is when it is in full flower in February during our snowdrop week. The female flowers on hazel trees are tiny and go mostly unnoticed unless you carry a hand lens in your pocket. But the male flowers are long, yellow, dangly catkins that sway around in even the lightest breeze and absolutely complement the carpet of our York Gate favourite snowdrop Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’.

As for your own garden, there are plenty of winter jobs to be getting on with. If the ground is not frozen solid, now is a good time to spread plenty of mulch in the form of bark, compost or better yet every gardener’s personal favourite, leaf mould. You can also do any major hard pruning you are planning for shrubs such as Forsythia and Philadelphus. The winter is a good time to give your trees, shrubs and roses an inspection for the three D’s – dead, diseased or damaged.frosty garden

While you are inside enjoying your mulled wine and favourite Christmas film (Die Hard in my case – yes, it’s a Christmas film!) in the warmth of your house, it’s easy to forget about the animals that can’t come inside and sit on your lap in front of the fire. Please remember to refill your bird feeders especially on a frosty day. Fat balls and suet feeders go down a treat at this time of year. If you also have bird baths, remember to pick out the ice or to pour warm water onto them to thaw them.

It is also important to think about the aquatic inhabitants of your garden. If your pond doesn’t have moving water and the surface freezes solid it is difficult for the gaseous exchange to happen, so poisonous gases like methane and nitrogen from rotting leaves and vegetation cannot escape. The temptation to smash the ice must be ignored as the vibrations through the water can startle and sometimes kill the animals in the pond. A great prevention method is to float a football Frosty cobwebin your pond. The ice doesn’t form around the ball, especially if you remember to go out and give it a spin every now and then.

This is my last article for the year so I would just like to take the opportunity to thank the readers of my work and the visitors to the garden. I would also like to thank all of the wonderful York Gate staff and volunteers who put in so many hours of hard work to keep the whole site in top condition and our visitors full of coffee and cake.

It’s hard to imagine life without gardens like York Gate. Green spaces sustain, nurture and support us, but they also tell the story of the people who grow, tend, protect, design and build them. Despite the contribution their work makes to our collective wellbeing, people working with plants, trees, flowers or grass need help. Jobs in horticulture can be hard – seasonal, low paid and dependent on good health and family support. 36% more people asked Perennial for support this year, and as the only UK charity helping everyone working in or retired from horticulture and their families, the charity relies on the support of all of us who enjoy the benefits of their hard work.

Click here for further information about York Gate, ways we can help and how you can continue your support.


The garden at York Gate has closed for the winter

We can really put the garden to bed and prepare for 2024. Cutting all the borders down, finishing off any remaining hedges and topiary, and we can now start doing some of the major hard landscaping tasks we have planned.

Even though the garden is becoming ever more popular, and we are seeing increased visitor numbers, it is time to close for the winter, put the garden to bed and prepare for 2024.

This includes jobs such as cutting all the borders down, finishing off any remaining hedges and topiary, and we can now start doing some of the major hard landscaping tasks we have planned.

Whilst we cannot change any of the heritage hard landscaping within the garden, it is as important to look after and maintain this side of things in keeping with Spencer’s legacy, as it is in the way we plant up the garden.

For example, there are a number of paths in the garden that are not accessible to wheelchair users or anybody pushing a pram. Where we can slightly widen a path or level a paving slap here and there, we will. We are also planning on lifting and relaying some areas of paving within the pinetum and the paved garden where the existing paving slabs are becoming more uneven due to subsidence and the movement of tree roots.

There are also other annual jobs we are There are a number of annual jobs that we’re planning on undertaking such as re-graveling some of the paths and lifting some edging stones that are starting to disappear below the earth.

There’s also a couple of exciting jobs in the pipeline for this winter too. In the centre of the garden we have the canal which is a long thin water Lily pond with goldfish and golden orfe. Dolphin on The Canal

At one end of the canal there is the dolphin fountain (which to me actually looks more like a fish spitting water from its mouth!) This keeps the water well aerated for its inhabitants. I plan on building a large planter at the far end of the canal that will sit about an inch under the water’s surface. This will be built out of breeze blocks, capped with stone flags so if you look at it from the surface you will only see the stone. I’m not too worried as even if you did see the odd bit of breeze block, after about a week or so of being underwater, they will soon become a slimy green colour.

The purpose of this planter is so I can plant up lots of fantastic marginal plants that I normally can’t grow in the canal because it is almost a metre and a half deep. I have a plant called American Pickerel Weed (Pontederia) that has got far too big and out of scale for the orchard pond that it currently resides in, and I’m convinced it will look fantastic and be more in keeping with the canal. Surrounding the Pickerel Weed I will use a carpet of shallow water marginals search as Water Mint and Monkey Flower Mimulus. These plants will trail out into the water creating not only cover for the goldfish, but a more dynamic habitat for any other native pond animals that live in the canal, such as newts and aquatic invertebrates.

The White Garden

Perhaps the most exciting job we will be doing whilst the garden is closed is a total revamp of the White Garden. Senior gardener Tom, who looks after the this along with many other garden rooms at York Gate, has come up with a fantastic new plan to revitalise it. We will be lifting all of the perennials out of the garden and dividing and splitting them. Some will be going back in; others Tom has decided to remove entirely. We will then level the ground and add a thick layer of mulch of our own homemade compost and some well-rotted manure from the horse field over the road.

Tom also has a plan to romanticise the white garden by adding more roses and winter interest in the way of exciting shrubs. I won’t give too much away – you’ll have to just come and visit the new revamped white garden in the new year to see how it has got on!

As for your own garden, there are all of the potentially duller, but still important, jobs that need doing – the pressure washing of the paving, the covering and protecting of your garden ornaments and furniture that might be damaged by the cold weather as examples. We here at York Gate use the closed period to pressure wash and treat all of the wooden benches throughout the garden and nursery.

And finally, as any gardener knows, leaf mould is one of the most wonderful things you could have in the garden. So, one job I would recommend this winter in your own garden is to collect up all of your leaves and keep them in a leaf mould bay made of wire or even in an old compost bag with added holes, stored behind your garage or shed. Our dedicated team of volunteers have already been collecting up every last leaf that has fallen in the garden into our large leaf bays. We use it as a mulch through the woodland areas, but we also add it to compost for woodland plants and anything that likes a bit of extra moisture.


The Weather is feeling autumnal at York Gate

Euonymus alatus

The leaves are turning to wonderful hues of red, yellows and oranges throughout the garden. Some of the plants the other real showstoppers at this time of year are the Euonymus alatus and maples. One of the plants that has been a bit of a surprise to me with its wonderful autumn colours is the huge leaved Magnolia that we planted in the Dell two years ago. Magnolia macrophylla is native to southeastern United States and Magnolia leaf and tape measure next to Magnolia tree has leaves that reportedly can reach 110cm in length – though ours hasn’t made any that big yet with its biggest leaf this year being 65cm but still very impressive. It will eventually produce one of the largest temperate (non-tropical) flowers in the world, reaching up to 45cm across.

We have moved all the tender plants into the greenhouses; the cactus and succulents have all been jammed into the succulent house in the paved garden and our larger aeoniums get planted in the thin flower bed within the greenhouse. We have found you can fit many more plants in if they are planted in the bed rather than all individually potted. All the rest of the succulent plants get potted up into terracotta and fill up the bench and floor space. It mean that you don’t have any room to move but all the plants are safe!

Plectranthus-barbatus

We then moved on to Sybils garden to move all the tender plants. Luckily, we had taken cuttings just in time before the cold weather set in, especially given that on the second to last Monday of the month we got minus temperatures that hit the remaining plants. Our plectranthus barbatus (now coleus) went from looking wonderful to what can only be described as grey slop in just one night. The Ensetes (Ethiopian bananas) were also lifted, tidied and potted up plus we moved on to the tender salvias and unusual tender Solanum too.

Maple tree

As we have almost finished all of the hedges in the garden the next thing to do for us is to get on with planting all of the bulbs that we have bought for all of the different rooms of York Gate. I’m really pleased this year that I’ve managed to get hold of some more of one of my favourite bulbs of all time the dragon arum, Dracuculus vulgaris. This tall growing aroid hails from the Mediterranean with its native home being parts of Greece and Crete. It has tall snakeskin mottled stems and unusual whorled leaves with its crowning glory being a two foot deep purple flower that actually has a horrible odour. I am determined to find the right place for this plant. I have grown it for years at home very successfully but it doesn’t seem to like York Gate for some reason. I’ve tried it at the back of the rock garden and it’s faded away. Thinking of its native habitat I also tried it in our pure sand garden but this has just about disappeared too. So, this is my last chance. I have planted five bulbs (technically tubers) in between a couple of large sandstone boulders in the wetter side of the new sand garden. We’ll have to wait and see.


Autumn is on its way…

…the air definitely has a chill to it and the nights are drawing in and I now don’t have to convince my four-year-old that it is time for bed when the time comes!

Volunteers collecting Yellow Rattle seeds from the Meadow

As the leaves start turning colour in the garden and plants start to think about closing down for the winter rest, now is a perfect time to start collecting the seeds of all the flowers you have enjoyed through the summer. As I have suggested a number of times, keep up with the deadheading to prolong flowering for as long as possible, but you might want to think about leaving one of those spent flowers to develop into a seed head to create lots of free plants for next year.

This time of year sees us doing lots of different jobs at York Gate, including cutting the wildflower meadow and collecting the seeds. We’ll also now start adding 600 mixed botanical crocus and some extra Tulipa sylvestris to increase the display. In the open dry areas, we will add Allium sphaerocephalon and Nectaroscordum siculum under the big beech tree.

It’s also the time for hollow tining the lawns in the garden to aerate them to relieve compaction. We hire in a specialised machine for this job, but in your own garden, a garden fork would work just as well. You can then brush a lawn sand or an autumn weed and feed into the holes.

Coleus barbatus cutting

Another very important job that we have been busy with is taking cuttings of all the tender plants such as Plectranthus, Impatiens and Pilea. We do this for several reasons:

  1. If we take cuttings now from these plants, we’re not having to store the full-sized plants through the winter; a 9cm pot takes up less space than a 3 litre one!
  2. We can check the cuttings over so we’re not introducing any pests or diseases into the greenhouse.
  3. The display in the garden isn’t spoilt in any way as taking a few cuttings from established plants in the beds and borders is barely noticed.
  4. And finally, it helps us to ensure the longevity of the plants, should an unexpected early frost damage these tender plants.
Holly with reverted stems

A major task that I’ve been putting off is getting into the giant ‘Silver Milkmaid’ holly at the end of the canal to remove the reverted stems and branches. ‘Silver Milkmaid’ has a wonderful silver white variegation to its leaves but occasionally it throws out plain green vigorous stems that grow much faster and stronger, so they need removing before they take over the whole bush. The downside is that this variety is no less spiky than a normal holly, so climbing up inside it can be a painful process.

As for your own garden, autumn is a time of plenty. Plenty of courgettes! Have you ever grown courgettes? If so, you know that it is probably going to produce more fruit than you could ever eat! But also fruits from all your edible plants – our sweetcorn has been wonderful this year and it has been a great year for crab apples too.

You might want to start checking through all your winter protection for tender and half-hardy plants. I have already had all the tree fern jackets out of the box to check they are all there and still in one piece. I have also been making sure I’ve got enough fleece and straw to protect the Musa.

It is also worth plugging in and testing your greenhouse heaters before it becomes necessary to use them and you find they are not working.

A tip I have found really helps me is to wander round the garden and take pictures and/or videos of the beds and borders now, so by the time spring comes around you have a bit of reference. Too many years I have told myself I’ll remember where that bulb is or what that perennial is when it’s cut down, then by the time spring comes I have no idea what is where. This can really help you plan additional plants and displays.

 


Rain, rain go away…

August has been another month with varied weather. Some might argue that we’ve had a traditional English summer with a few warm days and some cooler rainy days. The issue is that we have been lulled into thinking an English summer is baking hot heatwaves and no rain.

Not all the plants at York Gate have hated the rain. The bananas and cannas have done pretty well with all the excess moisture. It has been perfect weather for the tree ferns; they seem to be happy with as much water as is thrown at them so have loved this summer.

Kate Holliday, one of our trainee gardeners, and some of our wonderful garden volunteers have started the time-consuming task of pruning the espalier-trained Pyracantha on the side of the house. We clip it by hand with snips and secateurs using some very tall ladders. We could cut it with hedge clippers, but the problem is that they cut leaves in half then the cut end turns brown, giving an overall brown hue. So, it is well worth the extra time it takes to keep it looking green and sharp.

As I mentioned last time, the rain has caused various issues in the garden and we have got to the point now where some of our potted succulents in the paved garden might have to come in early from their summer holiday outside. We have found that some of the cacti and slightly more tender succulents like the Pachypodium (spiny shrubs native to Southern Africa, on the Lebombo Mountains and other areas in KwaZulu-Natal) are just getting too wet!

We have a super free-draining compost mix for our succulent plants, but the rain hasn’t given them time to dry out between waterings. Entering the succulent house is currently met with mixed feelings. Two of my favourite residents have decided to flower; they are beautiful to look at and people have been in awe of the size and unusual colours, but the smell their flowers produce is like something out of a horror film. Anyone who knows me knows that I like unusual plant as much as the next gardener and don’t mind plants that have strange or unpleasant smelling flowers, but the Orbea variegata has taken it to a different level. It looks like a mini Rafflesia (Google this one if you don’t know it – you won’t be disappointed) and smells like rotten meat.

Obviously worried that its smaller cousin was going to hog all the bluebottles in the area, Stapelia gigantea opened up some of its evil blooms. This one definitely lives up to the gigantea name with these almost hand-sized flowers and has an equally unpleasant smell.

As for your own garden, keep up the deadheading to prolong flowering on dahlias, roses etc. but you might want to consider leaving the spent seed heads on plants like Thalictrum for some winter interest (sorry for using the ‘W’ word).

It’s hedge cutting time. If you have beech, hawthorn, hornbeam or really any other broadleaf hedges, now is the time to cut them. The birds have flown the nest and the plants should have mostly stopped growing for the year.

If you have any wild meadow areas that haven’t been cut, then do it now before the dying leaves start decomposing and feeding your meadow soil. You want your meadow soil as poor as possible to keep the grasses from becoming too vigorous.

Keep an eye on your brassicas for cabbage white butterfly caterpillars. They can decimate a plant quite quickly if you take your eye off the ball.

If you haven’t already ordered your spring bulbs, you might want to think about having a look at some of the websites and catalogues so that you don’t miss out on some of the varieties you want.

Happy growing.


Tropical Garden thrives in the rain

Our tropical garden is an area of the garden that has loved the recent rain. The plants in this part of York Gate grow very big and very fast and need plenty of water to do so. The conditions have been great for them. The warm weather we had aided their establishment and with supplemental watering during the dry spell they have grown huge already. The fact that we have just had a week and a half of solid rain will mean you’re going to need a machete to get round by the end of the year.

But July has been difficult for other areas of the garden. After weeks and weeks of drought we’ve had torrential downpours, so all the plants in the garden that have got used to growing tall without the weight of heavy rain beating down on them are now suffering. Quite a few have now been flattened and/or snapped by the weight of the water. If it wasn’t for Tom’s wonderful hazel baskets, the beds and borders would have been ruined.

The most traditional part of the garden, the Carpet Path, has taken the most punishment from the changeable weather. Our delphiniums were looking fabulous but even though they were well staked the rain snapped their big blousy heads clean off. The sea hollies (Eryngiums) have also been squashed by the rain.

Some parts of the garden have loved the heat then the rain. In comparison to those along the Carpet Path, the Eryngiums in the sand garden haven’t been affected at all. It is great to see a plant acting as it would in nature. As the name suggests, they are native to dry, rocky and sandy coastal environments so it’s no surprise that they haven’t done as well in our normal garden soil as they have in the sand garden. We get more flowers from the soil-grown plants, but they grow lush and floppy. The plants in the sand are shorter and compact with sturdy flowering stems.

We have to keep a close eye on all our potted plants. The big leafy pot displays may still need to be watered. This might sound silly with the fact that it has done nothing but rain, but a big plant in a pot can act like an umbrella and divert all the water away from the pot. If this continues, we may well have to bring some of our potted cactus and succulents back into the greenhouse. We might get plants rotting off if they are constantly wet. It is worth pointing out the importance of raising your potted plants up so excess water can escape from the drainage holes. This doesn’t have to be fancy pot feet unless you really want them; I find a few pieces of slate is more than sufficient to lift the pot up to aid drainage.

At this time of year, we do lots of ‘editing’ in the garden. As biennials such as Verbascum and Digitalis and early annuals like Orlaya finally finish flowering we will pull them out and they go on the compost.

Keep an eye out for the army of slugs and snails that will be on the move with all this moisture around. A thick layer of Vaseline around the rim of a pot will deter the hungry molluscs. Beer traps, coffee grounds and sharp grit all work well as a barrier.

If you don’t have pests in your garden, you are doing something wrong. A healthy garden has a wide range of animals including the ones we might not want.

Happy gardening!


Weeding, watering and deadheading

Photo of the beautiful flower borders next to the carpet pathThe garden is brimming with blooms at the moment.

The Aeoniums and succulents planted in the paved garden have recovered and have gained their dark summer colours. The carpet path has gone through its allium phase and the other perennials are starting to put on their show.

Sybil’s tropical garden has been fully planted up and the plants are getting bigger every day. You can almost watch the Canna and Musa grow at this time of the year.

One of the biggest jobs we have had though is planting up the new half of the sand garden. As you may know we have a pure sand garden in front of the cafe and it has been a great success but we couldn’t get anything to work well in the beds opposite. We tried an annual mix. It was nice but didn’t fit. Then we considered a big foliage garden, but it would just look odd against olives and Agaves.Photo of new shrubs in the sand garden

So, we have done what we think is the best thing and created two more sand beds. These will differ in two ways. Firstly, that they will be much shrubbier (definitely a word). I’ve got Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’, Arbutus, Tamarix etc. They will be planted in our soil and just mulched with sand and rock to give us the same feel. We will use the same annuals and bulbs as the old beds to further tie the beds together creating one cohesive room.

As for your own garden…Obviously one of the major things to do is enjoy the fruits of your labour. Keep up with harvesting salads and fruits as they grow but also just take time to sit and enjoy your garden and plants as they do their thing.

In the warm weather don’t forget to water your pots well to keep them happy, not forgetting to feed them. We use an organic seaweed feed once a week. Also, keep an eye on any newly planted perennials, trees and shrubs you planted in the spring. It is easy to forget about them once you have planted them out.

Keep a look out for weeds in your flower beds. They can go unnoticed in between your plants. I found a four foot high nettle in the orchard garden the other day (don’t judge me!). It’s good to get them before they go to seed.

One of the most therapeutic jobs in the garden for me is dead heading. If you keep up to removing those spent blooms you prolong the display for loads of plants so it’s worth finding the time.

York Gate is one of Perennial’s gardens which has been generously gifted to the only UK charity that helps anyone working with plants, trees, flowers or grass. When you visit, you’re not just enjoying the scenery, you’re part of a lifeline. With the funds we raise through our gardens, those in need can bloom again.


What’s The Changing Weather Mean For The Garden

I had hoped by now I’d be in shorts and a t-shirt, but the weather has quite frankly been rubbish! But it is now on the move and the garden is rocketing away, as is quite the norm in the UK.

pot display near admissions

We have gone from bare trees to full leaf in what seems like a weekend. It has now got to that time of year that lots of the plants that we have been hardening off for the past month we have started planting out in the garden. We have started with the pot display near admissions; some really exciting things have gone out including giant flowering aeoniums, bird of paradise and other interesting tender bedding plants.

Then we moved onto the paved garden and the succulent displays. We grow many different succulent plants: aloes and agaves, aeoniums, echeveria and evenSucculents growing in the wall cactus. Probably my favourite part of the succulent house is the old wall the glass house is built on. On a holiday to Gran Canaria, I saw aeoniums growing as weeds in the roofs of buildings in a similar way that buddleia does in the UK, so I thought I’d give it a go. I took cuttings of different plants and poked them into the gaps in the brickwork. They have worked better than I could have hoped for, some varieties even performing better than their more pampered potted plants. It is testament to just how hardy these plants are, preferring to grow in the bare rock and crumbling mortar of the wall rather than a nice pot in gritty compost. My particular favourite is this aeonium ‘kiwi’.

This year we have planted them all in the beds and troughs. It will create a surreal landscape of form and colour. I think this will probably be a bit marmite for visitors to York Gate, so it will be interesting to see people’s reactions.

We now have fish at York Gate! The long waterlily pond in the centre of the garden called the Canal has been devoid of ornamental fish for about fifteen years. There have been sticklebacks in there since my eldest son and I caught five from a local pond five years ago, and now we have hundreds of them. So, I thought I’d take the plunge and buy ten mixed goldfish and five golden orfe. I’m just now hoping that the local herons don’t notice them.

As for your own gardens, if you haven’t done this already some top-heavy plants in your garden will need staking or basketing so they don’t flop and break. Tom (our Senior Gardener) has been building hazel baskets around plants like sanguisorba and tall geraniums so that the plant can just grow up through the frame. Plants like delphiniums will have their stems individually staked – we prefer to use hazel rather than bamboo for our supports as it is flexible and strong but for the main reason that it has come from just up the road. The Leeds coppice workers manage a few different woodlands around Yorkshire and supply us with our bean poles and pea sticks.

I would say the next few months are a great time to start visiting wildflower meadows. The orchids, buttercups, pignut etc. are all starting to bloom in our meadow.

A recent visitor commented: “A nice, interesting garden with cafe and shop. Also plant sales… Nice gardens even on a cold overcast day. Worth getting a season ticket and returning at different times of the year!”

York Gate is one of Perennial’s gardens which has been generously gifted to the only UK charity that helps anyone working with plants, trees, flowers and grass.

When you visit, you’re not just enjoying the scenery, you’re part of a lifeline. With the funds we raise through our gardens, those in need can bloom again.

If you love what you see, why not become a Friend of Perennial?

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Come and meet us at Harrogate Spring Flower Show

Picture of Head Gardener Jack Ogg and Garden Manager Mark Jackson

Myself and Garden Manager, Mark Jackson, will be joining the Human Gardener in the Liver Theatres at Harrogate Spring Flower Show, come and ask your gardening questions.
23 April | 10:30am

We look forward to meeting you.


Spring is here!

Now all the excitement of our snowdrop week is over we have had the month of March to recover and take a breath before we open for the year on the 1st of April.

March in the garden can be so varied. we had a week of mild dry weather then the following week 4 inches of snow over three days. As soon as it had arrived it had all melted away and had left the ground soggy, so all the plants we had been waiting to get in we’ll have to wait a little longer. You can do your soil structure some serious damage by clomping around on it when the ground is so waterlogged. With the mild start to the month all of the trees and hedgerows are just starting to swell and open their buds; early perennials and bulbs are making a go for it too only to be flattened by the snow, but in most cases, we seem to have come away reasonably unscathed. This was helped by the fact that we all nipped out with brooms and shook the white stuff off the branches.

I always worry about our two wonderful espaliers, the blue cedar in the pinetum and the pyracantha in the paved garden – their long horizontal limbs don’t appreciate the extra weight. One of the casualties however are tree ferns. They have had a long cold winter and their fronds were looking sad anyway, but this last lot of heavy snow has snapped most of them. I am confident that they will be fine and I’ve even lifted off some of the protection from their crowns and can feel nice hard croziers deep down in the centre. I have to point out that I wouldn’t be removing the fronds if they were not so damaged. It is important to leave them on as long as possible to help keep the crown open. I have seen so many tree ferns with narrowing trunks (technically a giant upright rhizome but I will go into that in a later article) due to the fronds being removed too close to the trunk and too early.

I have just received my order from a summer bulb supplier so we are sorting through what can go into the garden now and what we have to pot up for a while. All of our dahlia tubers have been potted into fresh compost and brought into the warm greenhouse to wake them up. Sarah and Ellie, our nursery assistants, will be taking as many cuttings as possible from them, ready to go to our nursery and for planting out in the garden. We are clubbing in on a marathon seed sowing session to try and get everything done in time. As for jobs in your own garden…

If you are planning on lifting and dividing any garden perennials, then now would be a great time. Some of the old thoughts are to lift and divide in the autumn but I prefer to do it in early spring. My thinking behind this is that the plants are just about to start their active growth and should recover from any damage quickly. Waterlilies can be fished out and divided and re-potted. Don’t be tempted to keep too many of the rhizomes. We have some very vigorous cultivars at York Gate, and I throw away at least half every other year. You are much better off with one large healthy rhizome with a nice growing point than a number of smaller plants all competing for space.

While you are out in your garden keep an eye on weeds. Annuals like bittercress and chickweed are appearing in their thousands. If you get used to identifying them nice and early you will save yourself a headache later on. A point to remember is if you have sown or have self-seeding annual or perennial plants and you want to keep them you have to be able to identify them as well.

The birds are starting to sing, and the daffodils and other spring flowers are appearing. Get outside and enjoy spring.


Galanthomania at York Gate

For us at York Gate, February is dominated by snowdrops, or to give them their scientific name Galanthus (which translates in Ancient Greek to milk flower, gala meaning ‘milk’ andSnowdrops in Hazel Walk at York Gate ánthos, ‘flower’).

After a long cold winter, these incredibly hardy little plants are one of the first flowers to stick their heads up out of the chilly earth. There are about 20 or so species of Galanthus, hundreds of cultivars and more being bred every year. They sit in the Amaryllidaceae family which has other garden favourites such as daffodils and nerines.

Their natural home is Europe and the Middle East; we don’t have a native Galanthus in the UK though G. nivalis is widely naturalised in woodlands throughout.

Here at York Gate, we open for snowdrop days every year. We have over sixty varieties including the yellow flowered ‘Wendy’s Gold‘, and my personal favourite ‘Rosemary Burnham‘. During this time it is a common sight to find galanthophiles lying on the floor with zoom lenses taking pictures.

It is easy to get caught up in all the snowdrop excitement and forget about all the other wonderful plants in flower at this time. Crocus are starting to emerge, we have some early miniature daffodils appearing and Cyclamen coum are flowering happily under the hedges. Two buttercup relatives are doing their thing, the super shiny yellow flowers of the winter aconites (Eranthus hymelis) with their green ruff of bracts, and the nodding heads of hellebores. Our trainee Amy has discovered a new love for these varied woodlanders and is currently trawling through nursery websites for new varieties for The Dell – witch hazel (Hamamelis), sweet box (Sarcococca), Mahonia, Daphne bholua, Chimonanthus, the list goes on, all filling the air with wonderful fragrance.

As for things for your own garden: if you have left your perennials standing throughout the winter as homes for insects to hibernate you might want to start thinking about cutting some down. Some plants make an early start and it can be difficult not to damage new emerging shoots if you wait much longer. Our epimediums and aconitums have already started to grow and grasses can be particularly time consuming to pick through if you leave it too late.

It is, however, important to note that lots of insects will still be hibernating in the stems so don’t fire them through the shredder just yet. Pile them up under a hedge or at the bottom of your garden for at least another month yet.

Make time to get out and visit your local parks and public gardens during snowdrop events to get ideas for flowers and plants for your own patch.

Photo: Clive Nichols


Jack Ogg becomes Gardening Correspondent for Yorkshire Times

Pond at York Gate

I am delighted to have been invited to become the Gardening Correspondent for the Yorkshire Times. Each month I’ll be sharing news about York Gate and the projects we are working on, along with sharing gardening tips.

I started my first column in January, where I introduced myself and shared some of the history of York Gate, before sharing jobs we’re doing in the garden as outlined below.

January at York Gate mostly consists of the jobs we put off before Christmas. We will be clearing out some sludge from our orchard pond and dividing and re-potting the water lilies. Normally this job would be done in Autumn but we didn’t get round to it this year.
We will also be finishing the evergreen plant pruning. We have a few large dome shaped hollies that need a trim and the yew hedges and topiary is due its yearly cut.

Then it will be the jobs that I had planned for January. We have a lovely large Wisteria that needs all its vigorous summer growth pruning hard back to its flower buds for a wonderful display in April. Plus, all the roses will be pruned and trained.

Now is a great time for you to do any major pruning. Removing any larger branches from fruit trees, thinning out overgrown shrubs to keep them at a manageable size for your garden. If it’s not going to be too wet, then winter is a great time repainting your fence or shed. We get all the York stone paving pressure washed at York Gate in the colder months to get rid of that slippery algae build up. These are some of my least favourite jobs in the garden but it’s great to have a nice fresh start to the new year.

Read the full article here.


January at York Gate…

…mostly consists of the jobs we put off before Christmas. We will be clearing out some sludge from our orchard pond and dividing and re-potting the water lilies. Normally this job would be done in Autumn but we didn’t get round to it this year.
We will also be finishing the evergreen plant pruning. We have a few large dome shaped hollies that need a trim and the yew hedges and topiary is due its yearly cut.
Then it will be the jobs that I had planned for January. We have a lovely large Wisteria that needs all its vigorous summer growth pruning hard back to its flower buds for a wonderful display in April. Plus, all the roses will be pruned and trained.

 


A new season welcomes a new head gardener

My name is Jack Ogg, I am the new head gardener here at York Gate Garden.Jack in the paved garden greenhouse

I have worked in horticulture since leaving school. I got a job in a local garden centre after leaving Askham Bryan College, then joined a landscaping team building gardens. It was a fun and interesting time of my life, and I learned a lot, but it was lots of paving and decking rather than planty stuff. I was then lucky enough to be accepted on to the Professional Gardeners Guild (PGG) scheme.

My time was split between York Gate Garden and Harewood House, a large historic house in Leeds. At the end of my training I was offered a full-time job at Harewood working in the Himalayan Garden. I spent nine years at Harewood working in all of gardens there, even replanting parts of the Bird Garden to try and make the residents feel more at home; Himalayan Rhododendrons round the Monal pheasants and bananas round the parrots.

I think one of the plantings I am most proud of at Harewood was many different water lilies in the lake. I started off trying to wade into the lake and plant them but soon gave up on the idea when the icy lake water flooded over the top of my waders! My alternative idea proved much easier and very successful. I tied the big rhizomes to rocks and lobbed them in from the shore; they have since rooted in well and make fantastic displays every year.

My next career step was to come back to York Gate as the senior gardener working under Ben Preston, until he left to start his own nursery earlier this year – now I just need to keep the garden looking beautiful.

When Ben was the head gardener, we divvied up the garden into separate sections that we looked after. I had the paved garden, the Dell, the pinetum and Sybils garden and anything to do with water. I love messing about with ponds and playing with pond plants. I have now done the same with Thomas our senior gardener. We have halved the garden between us, and we have also given our two trainees – Kate and Amy – a room each to look after. Kate has got the paved garden consisting of the rockery, the gravel beds and the succulent house. Amy has got the Dell with its mature trees, stream and mixed woodland planting.

Now we have closed for the season our main autumn and winter tasks are under way.  Collecting the leaves from around the garden and adding them to our giant leaf mould bay. Leaf mould is like gold dust to us gardeners. When ready, it will be spread around all our woodland areas and under the tree ferns in Sybil’s garden. aeonium collection is now safely tucked away in the paved garden green house

We have cut all the beech hedges and have made a start at the yew hedges and topiary. I also plan on taking lots of cuttings from our old yew trees so we can add them to the new yew hedge surrounding the front garden of the café.

All of our succulents and growing aeonium collection is now safely tucked away in the paved garden greenhouse. We will be taking lots of cuttings of the aeoniums this week both for sale in the nursery and also just to bulk up our stock for planting out in the garden.

Kate and Amy are ploughing through the tropical garden lifting and potting bananas, cannas and gingers. Taking tender cuttings of impatiens and roldana. Once they’re all put away for the winter the trainees will plant around 400 tulips in shades of red, orange and yellow for a display in the spring.

Thomas is getting on with cutting down the white garden and preparing to plant the tulips, daffodils and crocus we have picked. He is also getting on with weaving some lovely low hazel edging to the kitchen garden beds.

It continues to be a busy time for us, but that’s why we’re here – to keep the garden looking beautiful.

 


Meet the Team

We have eight full time staff and over 100 volunteers that look after the garden and our visitors.

The York Gate team

 


From the Head Gardener at York Gate

June 2022 – Into full swing

We’ve had a great year in the garden so far. As the lovely weather continues it’s getting better and better. After a chilly and cold May, June has not disappointed. Although the garden is starting to get dry, we’re very much enjoying the sunshine and so are the plants. Thankfully, we installed a bore hole and irrigation system through the winter months, so we have no problem looking after the ever-growing stock in the nursery.

The nursery beds

What’s happening in the garden…

Jack has been back to his creative best, getting all the tender plantings out in the garden. Most significantly this involves planting up Sybil’s Tropical Garden and moving the succulents outside for their summer holidays in the paved garden. Aeoniums have become a big seasonal feature for us over the last few years. Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ is always the peoples favourite with some of our specimens now towering at 7ft tall.

Emerging new foliage

It’s all about the foliage, texture and jungle feel in Sybil’s garden. The main framework of the hardy planting has really begun to settle in over the last 3 years. Schefflera’s, hostas, ferns, persicarias and many more unusual treats beginning to bulge over the borders in June. Once the annual tender layer was added after the last frost it really begins to take shape. By the end of this month, the Jungle effect takes over.

New fern tree fronds

 

One of the big questions we always get asked is are the tree ferns hardy? The answer is yes, we leave them out all winter. Leaving the last years fronds until winter has passed and protecting their crowns, when there is any sign of frosts. The most important thing throughout the year is water. We have a drip-feed irrigation in the top of every tree fern that we turn on overnight. This ensures they produce the huge fronds that make them so impressive.

Over in the new garden the borders are really coming on. It’s hard to believe the Pillar Garden was only planted on 14th April last year. A purple theme holds the border together and the planned succession of multi-layered perennials will keep going deep into the autumn. The long flowering Euphorbia wallichii has been zinging since late May and will soon be joined by Sanguisorba, Nepeta, Agapanthus and many more.

Orchids in the meadow at York Gate

The meadow has once again been an immense success. The colonies of yellow rattle is ever growing and the orchids are well and truly settled in. Let’s hope they spread their seeds around and there will be thousands of them in the next decade. We can but dream. Enjoy the summer and happy gardening.

Ben, Head Gardener


Mid-Summer High

August 2021

I often get asked, ‘When is the best time to visit the garden?’ My response has always been the last week in May. The garden is fresh and all the trees flush with new leaves. The much-cherished woodland treats like Trilliums and Meconopsis are on full show. This summer has challenged that thought. Walking through the garden in mid-July with the borders bulging and so many things in flower and new plant combinations coming to fruition. There have been several influencing factors for these thoughts and some that you will very rarely hear a gardener say. The weather and growing season has been almost perfect.

We long complain of pouring rain or intense drought, but the balance in Yorkshire this summer has been quite wonderful. Steady temperatures in the low 20’s and mild nights has seen plants grow like mad but not frazzled in intense sunlight. When the garden begins to look dry, we have had a thorough soaking that hasn’t been heavy enough to damage plants.

The carpet path has looked particularly good this summer and continues to develop as we move through the season. It is the first year we have staked Eryngium ‘Blue Waves’. It’s tended to collapse in heavy summer downpours in previous years, so we wove hazel baskets over the emerging foliage in mid-spring. It has done the trick and has been glowing cobalt blue flowers for weeks on end. Soon to be joined by Sanguisorba ‘Cranshan Cranberry’ and Aster ‘Violette’.

Carpet path

The new pillar gardens sat bare in 2020 and through the winter, drew mutterings of empty space and impatience but this year is a different story. On the 13th April we laid out an army of pots and bare root plants amongst the beech columns planted just a few weeks before. The beech still clinging to their old leaves before the flush and drop towards the end of spring. 

To be quite honest I’m amazed how the border has filled so quickly. Obviously, as mentioned above, the weather has certainly helped. It has been a pleasure to watch this young border evolve so rapidly, and a lesson that planting many small plants is often better than few large plants. Mark and I undertake monthly evaluations of the border, making notes of things that have been a success and bits that need changing. Overall, the border looks great, and we will continue to add more intricate layers over the coming years. The next stage will be adding the bulb layer in the autumn.

The new path

The meadow has also been a great success this summer. The pignut as always stole the show in May but the yellow rattle has been prolific this year. So much so that we have collected enough to sell in the nursery. There is almost too much going on in the garden at this time of year. I become overwhelmed with which bits to write about, but what a great summer for gardening. Enjoy!

Sue Mac, one of our long-standing volunteers in her native habitat collecting seed.

Ben Preston, Head Gardener


April 2021 at York Gate

Well, what an amazing start to the year. I don’t really know where to start, it has been quite an unusual but remarkable 12 months. It has given us a real chance to get the garden and nursery to where we want it and we’re really proud of what we’ve achieved.

This time last year the new garden was still under construction. Now the finishing details are starting to come together. The team and I have been working hard getting the garden ready to welcome you all back. Hedges have been planted, topiary positioned, and fences woven. It has been incredibly exciting seeing the new garden evolve and the planting has only just begun. We have most enjoyed adding the layers of craftsmanship that has always made this garden so special. Working alongside the immensely talented, Geoff Norton from Yorkshire hurdle’s, we have weaved a sweet chestnut and hazel fence around the nursery. Not only was it very satisfying to build, it’s tactile and looks very aesthetically pleasing. Both our trainees Andy and Tom took to it very well. The skills they have learnt will be taken with them on their horticultural journeys into the future. It is important to preserve these old crafts and techniques and pass them down through generations of gardeners to come.

Authentic woven hazel fence

The weather is always keeping us guessing as usual. Already at the start of April, we have had +20 degrees, -4, raging winds and heavy snow showers and yet the ground is still bone dry. Although we often curse the weather as gardeners, it really is what makes this country such a wonderful and diverse island to grow plants. Our Mediterranean winters and temperate summers mean that we can grow a vast array of plants from across the world.

Tulipa praestans 'Fuilier'

The established garden is starting to burst into life. As always at this time of year I fall in love with the little vibrant red species, Tulipa praestans ‘Fusilier’. It was Sybil’s favourite and follows on from the snowdrops under the nut walk. It has flowered reliably on 30 March in my four springs in the garden, regardless of the changing weather. It’s a truly perennial Tulip and the first to flower here at York Gate.

We have started to add a few more species of tulips around the garden They are much daintier than their Dutch cousins and reliably perennial. Tulipa praestans ‘Fusilier’, Tulipa humilis ‘Persian Pearl’ have been run in drifts through the paved garden. The delicate yellow-flowered Tulipa turkestanica now greets you as you enter the driveway on the left-hand side. We plan to add more over the coming years. The one that we all long for as gardeners is the critically acclaimed Tulipa Sprengeri, it’s highly sought after amongst the gardening community. I purchased a few bulbs from Derry Watkins at Special Plants in the autumn. I have placed them in various locations around the garden, hoping that they will find where they are happy and will begin to naturalise overtime.

It really is an immensely exciting time after the labours of winter. It is this time of year where our hard work starts to pay off and the garden begins to flourish. Spring emergents burst into life and the young shoots of summer perennials start to create little green tufts of expectation. I feel it is going to be a great growing season. I’m really looking forward to seeing you all back in the garden.

Tulipa humilis 'Persian Pearl' and emerging pot displays

Ben Preston, Head Gardener


October 2020 at York Gate

Sunset over the garden

The leaves begin to fall…

There have been some absolutely cracking mornings this month. It is so easy to forget the delights of autumn when we are in the height of summer. Then the trees put on a fabulous show for us, this year has been magical. As the darkness draws in closer on a morning before the clocks go back, we are all able to appreciate sunrises that many of us often miss when the days are longer. This was view from Robin’s old bedroom window a few weeks ago.

I suppose I can’t let the autumn pass without waxing lyrical about the wonderful genus that is Salvia. Our ever-growing collection of tender and borderline hardy species has yet again proved popular. Consequently it has prompted us to move into producing many more for sale in the nursery next year. They are an incredible easy plant to take softwood cuttings from. Many of them flower from early summer until the first frost.

There is constant debate between the garden team which is the best, it’s impossible to choose. The variety in colour, habit and leaf shape seems to be endless and they can be used in so many ways. We try new cultivars in pot displays and then select our favourites for planting out in the garden.  Whether that be in amongst permanent plantings with architectural species like Salvia confertiflora or the smaller S.microphylla types like Salvia ‘Royal Bumble’ or S. ’Blue note’ in annual combinations. My current favourite is the sensational Salvia curivflora, planted in the Istrian font in the centre if the garden. An introduction from Mexico growing the up to 2m with the most intense pink blooms.

Because of their ease to propagate they are a great plant to share and swap with friends. I am forever giving and receiving cuttings of new types. Gifted to us this year is the unusual chocolate-orange hooded flowers of Salvia africana-lutea ‘kirstenbosch’, selected at Kirstenbosch botanic garden in Cape Town. The options are endless.

I am sure I will mention this plant every year at this time but Acer aconitifolium is one of my favourite trees. Not just the way the low light illuminates the burning colours of the leaves. but the kaleidoscope of patterns it drops on the paths under our feet. The intricately dissected leaf that lives up to its name, leaf like an aconitum.

I would like to welcome the newest member of the team, our new trainee Tom Nicolls who will be with us for the next two years. One of his first jobs was lifting and repotting the succulent display with Jack and Andy. He is settling in just nicely.

Enjoy the leaves falling and happy gardening!

Ben Preston, Head Gardener


September 2020 at York Gate

Late Summer…

After such a glorious spring, the summer seemed a little disappointing up here in Yorkshire. The temperatures have very rarely crept above 20°C and it has been rather wet. This does mean the garden is looking very lush, but the late-summer flower power provided by many of the tender perennials has not kicked in as usual, but there is still time yet. The low morning light at this time of year really does come into its own, making the garden glow. The meadow is the first area to catch the light, on bright mornings when the dew is thick. It is quite breath-taking.

Under the Dawyck beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck) in the pinetum a carpet of Cyclamen hederifolium and Colchicum agrippinum has begun to emerge. Over the last year we have removed a large clump of Rodgersia and been regularly weeding out self-seeded Geranium replacing them with these beautiful late summer emergents. The mottled intense purple blooms of the Colchicum and soft pinks and white of the cyclamen will provide and amazing show for the next month followed by the winter tapestry of interesting cyclamen leaves that will give ground cover until early next summer. Both will thrive in the very dry soil under the huge beech and hopefully continue to seed and colonise the area. I have plans to add many more Cyclamen to the garden.

We have grown many of the less well-known species from seed. Some of my personal favourites: C. libanoticum, C. pseudoibericum and the less hardy C. graceum and C. mirabile. These will be introduced to the Mediterranean garden over the next few years, where the free draining sand will hopefully protect them from rotting in damp winters.

The Mediterranean garden is continuing to develop, more plants are going in every week before the bulb layer next month. Paeonia tenuifolia, an early flowering species that grows on steppe in Southern Russia and Kazakhstan, has been planted in a drift in the lower bed. Swathes of European feather grass (Stipa pennata) in the upper tier along with dot plants of Eryngium varifolium and Euphorbia charcias var. wulfenii. Small clustered group of the very dainty Sisyrinchium ‘Quaint and Queer’ has been scattered throughout the design. A lovely gift from the equally lovely Daphne Morrell, a loyal friend of the garden.

The main task of the month has been out in the meadow. It has received its annual cut and this year we have moved to using traditional Austrian scythes. It has been a resounding success and has added another layer of interest to the way we manage the garden. Andy was a natural, future scything champion?

There is a greater connection with the land choosing a scythe over machine. Yes, it is hard graft but by working more closely with the land we cultivate we can learn to understand it a little more every year. Observing the changes in the density of wildflowers, the new species that appear and the thickness of grass sward as we slowly reduce the fertility, gives us incite in how we should manage each area. It is a much more hands-off approach to the way we control the garden, but our patients will reward us, I am sure.

Happy Gardening!

Ben Preston, Head Gardener


August 2020 at York Gate

Mid-Summer…

Running the garden has had the better of me once again so I’ve been very poor updating the blog. But I suppose there are much worse things that could be occupying my time. I’ve nestled down with the snooker semi-finals on in the background to reflect on the garden. (Currently Wilson vs Magill 9-9). I’ll start with the view that I step out onto every morning. The veg garden.

I’m thinking about Dahlias and annuals this evening. After being inspired by Graham Gough and both Jimi and June Blake last summer. I have begun my Dahlia from seed journey that will no doubt last for years. Graham gave me a handful of seeds from a Dahlia coccinea, a very striking strong orange form. They are just about to come into flower, so we’ll see what we get.

I also ordered Dahlia coccinea and D. coccinea var palmeri seeds from plant world seeds. The latter grows to 7-8 feet and has lovely dissected foliage and a bright orange single flower. We have had some interesting results. No oranges yet, but some beautiful red and pinks. Flowering at about 2ft but I expect them to get much taller over the coming months. These 3 plants are all from the same seed packet but are subtly different. Collecting seed from your own dahlia is quite easy. Don’t deadhead all the spent flowers, leave some there for the seeds to form, and collect them once they become papery and dry, about 4-5 weeks after flowering. Then save them until late-winter before sowing.

I’m drawn towards the dark and hot coloured single forms and have planted several different cultivars with liquorice all sorts of Rudbeckia hirta cultivars. I find when planting in this fashion having at least one species that provides continuity through the chaos can help to tie it together. Rudbeckia occidentalis ‘Green Wizard’ does this beautifully, a rather bizarre but attractive cone flower with no petals. Just a tight collection of phyllaries, a naked cone flower to you and me.

The shorter mix of annual Rudbeckia hirta are a mix of ‘Denver Daisy’ and ‘Cherokee sunset’ but seems to be a complete mix, providing a mix of yellow through the bronze blooms. Another couple of my favourite Dahlias this week are D. ‘Honka Dark’ and Cosmos x Dahlia ‘Mexican Black, both have near black flowers. ‘Mexican Black’ has the subtly scent of chocolate cosmos, and although not the easiest to use in a planting combination, it is one I really love.

Now something very different and much longer lived. Over in the new garden, we spent Tuesday planting the main back bone of the Mediterranean garden. The Olives.

After spending a month cycling and climbing in Andalusia in January 2018 I was taken not just by the vast number of olive groves dotting the landscape, but the smaller details. Early-flowering bulbs, heavily scented Narcissus and dwarf Iris tucked in rockery crevices and Ferula communis growing from cracks in rock faces. Flowering at 2ft tall, a world away from the deeply mulch giants in the borders at Great Dixter, where I first came to know the plant. The quiet corners of derelict Olive groves proved to have the greatest diversity. The inspiration for the new med garden here at York Gate.

So, the olives are in, planted in the tiered pockets of local sandstone from a quarry just 1.5 miles up the road and the very bedrock that lies beneath our feet. Peter Korn and Keith Willey also deserve some inspiration credit, neither of which I have met. I saw them both talk at the Beth Chatto symposium and have since devoured their books. It is not just the plants they use and way they garden. But thought process and allowing failure to be part of the journey. Its just as much about the mistakes and plants we lose as the successes. I have no doubt we will kill more than a few plants and won’t get the planting associations right straight away, but we’ll have a whole lot of gardening fun in the process. And don’t the olives look just great without anything else planted yet?

Happy Gardening!

Ben Preston, Head Gardener.


May 2020 at York Gate

Another month of lockdown passes, and the garden continues growing blissfully unaware…

May is without a doubt my favourite month of the year. Suddenly the trees are in full leaf again and the skeletons of winter long gone. Growth in the garden is vigorous, changing day by day, with treats emerging to satisfy our horticultural cravings.

It is hard to pinpoint my favourite plants this month as there are just so many. A new rare treat, grown by Jack’s fair hand is certainly challenging for first prize; Meconopsis horridula. Now this really is a sexy little plant. We’ve had mixed success with it. The slugs are quick to attack when it emerges, but this one in the paved garden has made it through. Standing at the towering height of 15cm, this dwarf blue poppy grows in the wild at between 3000-6000m from Western Nepal, through the Himalaya to Western China. It truly is a beautiful little plant. Meconopsis baileyi is also strutting its stuff down in the dell.

 

GArdener taking unusual tree fern picturesI keep catching Mark napping in the garden pretending he is taking photos of plants.

A hedgehog exploring the gardenIn other exciting news we have a new member of the team and he’s received more fan mail than anyone else already! Meet Richard aka ‘Dickie’ the hedgehog. We have adopted him from Chapel Allerton Hedgehog Rescue. He only has one eye which he is blind in. This means he required a secure garden to spend the rest of his days. York Gate is a secure garden and turns out to be a blind hedgepig utopia. I’m not going to lie; he’s revealing my softer side. Walking through the garden to find a spiky fellow stumble out of the undergrowth and pootle alone minding his own business brings an instant smile to my face. He makes a fair few appearances in the day, which is apparently common in blind hedgehogs. You may be lucky enough to bump into him if you visit later in the summer.

From the Head Gardener

The carpet path is looking radiant, with the bright tulip ‘Doll’s minuet’, Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ and Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ making a real impact in May. I’ve been working on the complexity of this border since I started at York Gate nearly 3 years ago. It is the focal point of the garden and needs to look spot on right through the year. This means plants must work really hard for their place. The backbone of the planting is perennials and then further layers of bulbs, annual and tender perennials keep the display looking good through to the first frosts. The border will naturally ebb and flow with seasonal peaks so careful plant selection is needed.

From the Head Gardener

I have been particularly happy that Smyrnium perfoliatum has started to perform, self-seeding in the low end of the border. I added elegant white Narcissus ‘Thalia’ to compliment the acid-green of the Smrynium and Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae. It has worked a treat. Failures must be accounted for in this process of horticulture experimentation and only mistakes will lead to better design. I added the knock-out Lupinus ‘Masterpiece’ last year, which has all but faded out, so I may consider using it a seasonal layer. Removing it as soon as it has flowered and replacing it with a Salvia or Dahlia? One to ponder. Having bedding pockets within your borders is a good way of extending the interest. I’ll touch more on this next month.

From the Head Gardener

Down in the meadow things are happening. The vast swathes of pignut (Conopodium majus) are majestic and the yellow rattle that we have added a few years ago has gone ballistic.

From the Head Gardener

The slow and patient process of developing this beautiful meadow is something I want to leave with York Gate far beyond my tenure. Careful management to lower the fertility and develop plant communities in meadow gives me a real buzz. Even in the space of a few years we have seen the natural seed bank in the soil start to show itself. The paths mown through the meadow break it up into different plant communities, with grass vigour playing a major role in this. The area with the greatest diversity in species has the lower growing and least vigour grasses. By splitting the meadow into different areas using the paths, we can manage each area in a different way.

From the Head Gardener
From the Head Gardener

And one last treat…a beautiful evening last week looking back towards the house. Primula pulverulenta and Persicaria bistorta ‘superba’ on the ponds edge while the house basks in the late sunshine.

I hope you are all enjoying your gardens as much as me.

Happy Gardening.

Ben Preston, Head Gardener.


April 2020 at York Gate

A strange but uplifting time…

Gardener tending to the garden

We have emerged from one of the wettest winters on record into a truly glorious spring. The weather over the last few weeks has been nothing short of energising. Bulbs emerging, buds popping, and any thought of the cold winter days banished for another year. Many plants have caught my eye this week but the carpet of pale lavender anemones (Anemone nemorosa ‘Robinsoniana’) brought an instant smile to my face. I stumbled upon a lesser-spotted Mark Jackson rearing his head from amongst their beauty, glasses balanced on brow and camera in hand. Maintaining social distancing, I captured the rare creature in his natural habitat.

The garden was meant to reopen on the 1 April but, for obvious reasons, we will be closed until further notice. Let us not dwell on the negatives. We are a nation of gardeners, pulling together; chatting to our neighbours over the hedge, painting previously unloved fences and waging war against the weeds (they won’t know where to hide, this summer)! For many of you in isolation, I feel the best tonic is to garden on and make the most of it.

From the Head Gardener

The new project has been taking shape through the winter. HACS our contractor, led by foreman David Lusher has coped remarkably well with the relentless rain. Our lovely free-draining sandy loam has come into its own. The workmanship is sublime. The detailing and vision by Alistair Baldwin and his team have encapsulated the very essence and spirit of York Gate.

I am very proud to be part of this project. Future-proofing the Spencer family’s legacy, and cannot wait to share it with you all. The hard landscaping at the front of the property is nearly complete. This will become the new sunken garden, with a Mediterranean garden on the South-facing aspect and Woodland walk on the North. The planting will be undertaken in the autumn when the soil has settled, and any pernicious weeds have been eradicated. I will share more of the planting details over the coming months. Exciting times ahead.

From the Head Gardener

Back over in the one-acre gem, the garden is beginning to flourish once again. Almost overnight, the garden has sprung into life. The flush of fresh new foliage, early flowering perennials and dainty spring bulbs always gets my blood flowing a little faster. Lining nut walk, my personal favourite Tulipa praestans ‘Fusilier’ pushing up through the faded snowdrop leaves. I share this passion with Sybil who planted them back in the 70’s. They possess an intense glow, highlighted further by evening light and are truly perennial, coming back year after year. We have added several new species of tulips and their cultivars over the last few years. Many of them will bloom a few weeks before their Dutch cousins and have a more refined and delicate complexion.

Gardener developing the pond banks

Mark has been working hard. potting on and propagating thousands of plants for the new plant sales centre that will launch when we open again. He has also been working hard in the Orchard garden, adding new layers and personal touches. He has a particular love for Epimedium and other woodland treasures.

Andy, our trainee, who has an insatiable appetite for knowledge and plant geekery, is an invaluable member of the team. He has been working on re-establishing the old cut flower border over in the kitchen garden. I have given him free rein. A lime green extravaganza has been promised. Keep your eyes peeled. Andy also planted our Allium trial in the autumn, to compare the many different cultivars now available. The foliage has emerged and it’s fascinating to see the diversity of leaf textures, shapes and glaucous tones. It will be exciting to see them side by side when they burst into flower.

From the Head Gardener

Our resident plant wizard and garden clown is still working his horticulture magic. Jack, the only man who dares to go, rogue; regularly testing my eyes with epiphytes tucked into trees, terrestrial orchids hidden in walls and god knows what else. His main project through the winter has been dismantling Sybil’s garden and transforming it into an exotic oasis. I can’t wait to see the collection of bananas and tree ferns casting shadows for his unusual collection of aroids later in the year. As you can probably tell by now, I’m already overexcited by spring and the coming months of gardening, but a very important message is hanging heavy.

The work we do at Perennial has never been more important. Many people in horticulture and their families are suffering the fierce impacts of the Covid-19. Our work to provide support to everyone affected is ongoing. If you know anyone in need of our support, please pass on this message.

Stay safe, stay home and, of course, Happy Gardening!

Ben Preston, Head Gardener


Update from the Head Gardener…

As another wonderful year at York Gate comes to an end, we move into 2020 with more exciting plans than ever. We said goodbye to Matilya and Becky, our gardening trainees, who have left for the next stage in their careers. We welcome two new members to the garden team. Mark Jackson has taken on the role of Nursery Manager, overseeing the new plant centre and joining us in the garden. Previously Head Gardener at Newby Hall and my mentor for many years, he brings a wealth of experience and knowledge with him. Mark has hit the ground running. Propagating and ordering new plants that will appear in both the garden and nursery next year.

From the Head Gardener

Andy Jackson, no relation to Mark but equally green fingered started in September on our two-year garden traineeship. His healthy obsession for ferns and alpines will no doubt creep into the garden so keep and eye open for some interesting new additions. He has already got his first project underway opposite the Kitchen Garden.

We have reinstated the old cut flower border. This features an Allium trial, comparing many species and cultivars for garden worthiness and longevity. These will interweave with a mixture of annual cut flowers that will make their way into vases in the café.

After an incredibly wet autumn we have finally finished getting all the spring bulbs in the ground. And we’ve nearly finished clipping the hedges back to their neat winter bones. The snowdrops are already starting to push their noses up and all but the last leaves have fallen.

Jack has been working his magic in Sybil’s garden. The lawn is no longer and a rather magnificent display of hardy exotics of will greeting you next year. The family of late plantsman Don Vickers have generously bequeathed a rare collection of plants from a hidden jungle on the edge of Leeds. I’m sure those of you that knew Don will recognise some of his statement plants and a fitting reminder of his extraordinary jungle oasis.

I have been working with Landscape Architect Alistair Baldwin and his team. Creating the new gardens and entrance that will welcome you to York Gate. Our new carpark, café and plant centre along with many new garden rooms will surround the Spencer’s one-acre gem, protecting it for future generations. We have a longer winter ahead, but we can’t wait to welcome you back in the Spring.


July 2019 at York Gate

From the Head Gardener

As we head into mid-summer the golden flush of new foliage on the yew topiary and hedges softens the sharp formal edges of spring and lets the summer perennials take charge. Over in the herb garden our ever-increasing collection of tender Salvia have been planted out to fill the gaps. My personal favourite Salvia curviflora is just coming into bloom and will continue right through to the first frosts. A stunning deep pink that contrasts with its dark green foliage on stems up to 1.5m. A must have if you’re fond of new world Salvia.

We are always looking to extend the season of interest in every part of the garden. We believe it is especially important in a garden of this size. The Dell is full of colour in spring and early summer then moves quietly into green textures over the summer. The exquisite unfurling crosiers and giant arching fronds of the Dicksonia Antarctica added last year tickled our Kiwi taste bud. Therefore, we have added some more architectural New Zealand species. Psuedopanax crassifolium and Psuedopanax ‘Moa’s toes’ look rather Jurassic with their unusual evergreen foliage on tall narrow stems.

Tree fern
Beautiful flower border

We have threaded a number of annuals through the borders this year to bridge the ‘June gap’. After the spring flowers have bloomed and we wait for the summer stalwarts to take a hold, gardens can be left with a brief lull. Interesting purple opium poppies, Papaver ‘Lauren’s Grape’ and ‘Black Peony’ have proved popular amongst visitors. A little pet hate of mine is people snapping off the seed pods.  But I do take pleasure in telling red handed individuals that they have been a little premature in their thievery as the seed won’t ripen. Cornflowers have also added an extra layer in and around the kitchen garden.  Centaurea ‘Blue Boy and ‘Black Ball’ underplanted with the zingy orange Calendula ‘Indian Prince’ will flower all summer long.

It really is a dream job working here at York Gate. Every week we are reminded of the passion that the Spencer’s poured into this magical garden. I met the most wonderful lady today, secretary to Robin back in the early 1970s. She shared fond memories of the kindness Robin had showed her and his obsession with the garden. Mrs Carter delved into her bag and pulled out a polaroid from her wedding day. Robin perched proudly on the church steps with her family and friends. She was overcome with emotion that the garden still flourishes, and the legacy of Robin and his parents lives on.

Happy Gardening!

From the Head Gardener

Head Gardener, Ben Preston


June 2019 at York Gate

From the Head Gardener

We made several changes to the Carpet Path border in the winter. Adding a new layer of early summer perennials and annuals to support our mid-summer stalwarts Astrantia ‘Gill Richardson group’ and Eryngium ‘Jos Eijiking. The bold Lupinus ‘Masterpiece, early flowering Salvia ‘Viola Klose’ continue the purple and blue theme. As the border came into full flower early in June, I felt we were just missing a little something. A loyal volunteer and member of the local hardy plant society, Judith Ladley, suggested the border needed a little orange to contrast with the purples. We have since threaded the long flowering Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ through the border that has given that extra zing. So, thanks you Judith.

The successful renovation of the pond last year has allowed us to work on yet more new planting schemes. Willow leafed blue star, From the Head Gardener

Achillea ‘Terracotta’ along with swathes of Primula pulverulenta are now growing around the water’s edge. While the giant Hosta ‘Empress Wu’ is growing by the day at the top of the miniature waterfall. We will continue to add new species to extend the growing season.

The Spencer family started laying down the foundations of York Gate Garden back in 1951. Now in its 68th year, the structure and back bone of their designs are coming to fruition. The trees are reaching maturity, hedges are thick and tightly clipped, dividing the garden into the many different garden rooms. Our aim, as custodians of the garden, is to protect the Spencer legacy and carry the garden forward. Gardening with their same principles and philosophies. The garden will continue to evolve but we must protect the spirit of York Gate. Jack and I have taken great pleasure in looking through Sybil’s old plant records. It has been reassuring that many of our plant choices appear in these lists. We will continue to add new and interesting species and cultivars, so the garden keeps evolving while protecting the Spencer’s Legacy.

Cow parsley in the meadow

The meadow is looking quite wonderful this month. The dense swathes of pignut (Conopodium majus) are quite breathtaking. The carpets of white froth ripple down the meadow towards the woods beyond. The density of the pignut is quite unique. It provides the perfect habitat for the small and beautiful

From the Head Gardener

Chimney Sweeper (Odezia atrata). A small dark brown day-flying moth with a white tip to the apex of their wings. The yellow rattle sown last autumn to stunt the vigorous grass species is also growing well, which in time will help more wildflower species to thrive. It will take several years to establish large communities of wildflowers. By gradually reducing the fertility in the soil and slowly introducing new species, we can create a hay meadow that will stand the test of time. Just like the wonderful garden the Spencer family created.

Happy Gardening!

Head Gardener, Ben Preston


March 2019 at York Gate

With Spring and the first day of the open season fast approaching we’re busy getting ready to welcome visitors back to the garden. Paths are getting re-gravelled, sprawling ivy tamed and perennial seed heads left for winter structure cut down before the new foliage emerges.

From the Head Gardener

‘Behind the scenes’ the potting shed is a hive of activity. Annual seeds being sown, cuttings of tender perennials struck, and seedlings pricked out. I really hope Sybil would approve of the work we continue to do as the garden evolves. Her tiny potting shed at the head of the carpet path is such a special and intimate space. I think of the many hours she spent potting on and making plans for the garden. It also reminds me of my first day at York Gate, looking through the port hole window with awe at the magic and intricacy of the garden that now consumes my life.

Layers of bulbs are erupting from the borders, shrubs budding and ferns unfurling, teasing of the delights ahead. Chaenomeles x superba ‘Crimson and gold’ is glowing deep red on the front of the house, flowering over a month earlier than last year.

The crocus and snowdrops provided a spectacular display but faded quickly with the warm weather in late February, showing us how different each year can be. Only 12 months ago we were battening down the hatches for the ‘beast from the east’.

Our annual delivery of bean poles and hazel sticks have arrived courtesy of Leeds Coppice Workers. They are a wonderful co-operative that have committed to restoring and managing neglected woodlands for the local councils and wildlife trusts. Traditional hazel coppicing and woodland management has fallen by the wayside in recent years. This is certainly a step back in the right direction. The co-operative manages the woodlands for free and make a living by selling bean poles, pea sticks and charcoal that are by-products of their work.

Bean poles and pea sticks

The bean poles and pea sticks will be used for plant supports throughout the garden. Not only are we supporting local sustainable business, but the rustic hazel looks far better than bamboo that has become an unnecessary staple in our gardens. We’ll be selling bundles at York Gate from the 1 April in the nursery. Get in touch with your local wildlife trusts to see if there are similar initiatives in your area.

We’ve also had the pleasure of Gardeners’ World filming. With Adam Frost looking at the wonderful structure and backbone of the design at York Gate. It will be aired on the second programme of the series, Friday 15th March.

A very exciting and busy gardening month ahead.

Happy Gardening!

Ben Preston, Head Gardener


February 2019 at York Gate

I am a little late catching up on my writing this month.  The clear skies and frosty mornings didn’t last long, we are amid a rather scorching February. The highest ever overnight temperature in February was recorded in Scotland just a few nights ago, a balmy 14c. As Englishmen, we have a disposition for complaining about the weather, but I find it all rather fascinating. Every year and season we find ourselves with new challenges and ever-changing weather systems. We must think forward to a changing climate and garden accordingly. Drought tolerant planting is going to be the key to gardening success in the coming years.

Snowdrops emerging among the foilage

The beginning of snowdrop week has been a huge success. The dry weather has meant we have been able to keep on top of the garden and have it looking it’s very best for the visitors. Although the snowdrops have stolen the show there are many other treats that have impressed. The chocolatey frothy foliage of the emerging Corydalis temulifolia ‘Chocolate Stars’ has been my personal favourite. The foliage begins to flush in December and by April it will fade to lime green and produce an abundance of purple flowers.

Sybil Spencer planted York Gate’s favourite snowdrop, G. ‘Samuel Arnott’ back in 1962. She bought 3 bulbs at 3 shillings and 6 pence each, a fair sum backSnowdrop carpet then.

Now the garden is filled with thousands of the muscular little cultivar. It is taller than its species counterpart with a much larger showy flower. Its ability to bulk up quickly makes it a worthy stalwart to any garden.

We have had the first of our ‘York Gate evening lectures’ from my good friend Anne Wright, specialist snowdrop and miniature daffodil breeder. ‘How to make the most of your snowdrops’ gave us an insight into breeding and selecting new cultivars. And how to use combinations of hellebores, Crocus, Eranthis, Euphorbia amygdaloides purpurea and the scenesing foliage of Epimedium to support your snowdrop displays.

Snowdrop in a tree

The hanging installations of snowdrop ‘Kokedama’ moss balls have been a hit. An intriguing concept of the Japanese Art form, suspending plants in neat balls of moss. We’ve hung them from the winter skeleton of our Magnolia × soulangeana ‘lennei’. Another bit of gardening fun to keep us entertained.

The wood anemones have even started flowering today, enjoy the warm weather.

Crocus in bloom

Happy Gardening!

Ben Preston, Head Gardener


SnowdropsDeveloping York Gate

You might have seen that we were recently granted planning permission for the development of the facilities at York Gate. Work will start in September/October 2019 and is scheduled to finish ahead of (or shortly after) the 2020 opening.

There’ll be no interruption to the facilities at York Gate this year though. It will be business as usual from 1st April 2019.

What’s the development all about? 
Perennial  acquired the garden’s neighbouring property in 2015.  Following the success of our small but beautiful tearoom, it will be relocating to the cottage, doubling our catering capacity. We’ll have onsite parking, releasing the pressure on other facilities around Adel. Giving us a safer, more accessible solution for cars, bikes and pedestrians arriving at the garden. The current front garden of the cottage will undergo a major design and landscape overhaul to create a new beautiful space to compliment the garden rooms next door. This will form the new entrance to the garden. There’ll be a significant number of native trees planted as part of the development too.

Snowdrop event
York Gate Garden will open their doors for this snowdrop special event between
16 – 24 February | 12.30pm – 4.30pm 
So wrap up warm and join us to see the garden’s wonderful structure in all its winter glory.


January 2019 at York Gate

Happy New Year! As always, the weather is keeping us guessing. The meteorologists have promised us a perilously cold start to the year, but it is still relatively mild. With the late winter wonders beginning to emerge. Snowdrops, winter aconites and Leucojum vernum are starting to bloom in sheltered pockets, the garden is on the move again. Such an exciting time of year!

From the Head GardenerOver in the paved garden the rockery has undergone a complete overhaul. Jack and Dave have been working tirelessly since mid-December moving rocks and creating new micro-climates and planting pockets. Recreating the harsh natural environment that alpines thrive in across the globe. Tiny saxifrages, species tulips and many other horticultural treats will be neatly tucked into gaps over the next few months.

The first cyclamen coum flowers are poking through the Scottish river cobbles in the Pinetum. While another winter favourites so often under used is flowering at the foot of the house; the striking Algerian winter iris (Iris unguicularis). I spotted the first flower on the 7th December and has since produced a mass of purple blue flowers. A very useful plant for a dry spot at the bottom of a south facing wall, with evergreen foliage and a mass of flowers when they are most needed in the depths of winter. striking Algerian winter iris

Jack continues to bring new, weird and wonderful plants to the garden. In late December, a rather odd climbing onion joined our succulent collection. Bowiea volubilis, native to southern Africa, he assures me the grapefruit size bulb will only get a little bigger. Another little treat that makes York Gate forever quirky and interesting.From the Head Gardener

The last of our seed orders for the vegetable garden and summer annuals have been ordered this week. Get yours in if you haven’t already. Let’s hope for another fantastic year of gardening.

Happy Gardening!

Ben Preston, Head Gardener


November 2018 at York Gate

As we head towards the shortest day of the year the autumn colour is still providing golden russet tones while we busily prepare for our winter opening in December. This is the month of spring bulb planting here at York Gate. I love trawling through the bulb catalogues on mid-summer’s evenings trying to decide how I’m going to combine my old favourites with new and exciting introductions. We are going bold and hot this year! Combining dark rich wallflowers with fiery tulips, delicate daffs and carpets of grape hyacinths.From the Head Gardener

In order to prepare for bulb planting the herbaceous borders are being cut back, cleared and weeded, with special attention to leave self-sown annuals and biennials that will add more interest to next year’s blooms. Honesty and Foxgloves are two of my cottage garden favourites that self-seed freely, giving late-spring and early summer colour. From the Head GardenerIn the White garden we leave the tall seed heads of the grasses Calamagrostis ‘Avalanche’ and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberfeder’ to give structure architectural frosty structures through the winter months.

We’ve already had a couple of hard frosts that have finally ended the floral wonder of the Dahlias and tender Salvias. Once the Dahlia foliage blackens it’s time to get them lifted and stored for winter. We knock off the majority of the soil, let them dry for a fortnight before storing them in a mix of dry compost and vermiculite. They will spend the winter hidden away under the potting shed bench until next year.

From the Head GardenerWe are still busy clipping yew hedges and topiary, the Friday volunteers take great pleasure from clipping the golden yew buns on the driveway, alternately clipping each week, giving us a little textural treat to admire for a couple of weeks. It’s these small things in gardening that give us the greatest pleasure.

The leaf clearing continues….

Happy Gardening!

Ben Preston, Head Gardener


October 2018 at York Gate

The gates are closed but we are busier than ever. It’s time to start preparing the garden for next year’s botanical fireworks. We’re busy tightly clipping yew hedges, scarifying and aerating lawns, ripping out annual displays and replanting with spring delights, collecting seed, propagating perennials and clearing the colourful array of leaves that make this such a magically time of year.

From the Head GardenerThe autumn colour has been quite wonderful, with russets and reds lighting up the garden even on the dullest of days. The intense Euonymus elatus ‘Compactus’ coupled with the bright foliage of the golden yews buns greet us in the driveway every morning. While Acer palmatum ‘Aconitifolium’ is dropping a patchwork of the most exquisite finely dissected leaves throughout the dell.

Over in the Orchard garden we’ve been renovating the borders around the pond. Some of my favourite perennial introductions include; the willow-leaved eastern bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia), purple spires of Lobelia x gerardii vedrariensis and fading yellow flowers of Achillea ‘Terracotta’ amongst many others. It’s always fun to play around with new plant combinations and re-design borders, seeing what works well together and what doesn’t, before running additional seasonal layers through the permanent structure.

From the Head GardenerWe’ve had a handful on frosts already this month, so the tender succulent displays of Echeveria, Aloe and towering Aeonium have migrated inside. We’ve added a few new Aeonium species to the collection this year, the most recent being A. ‘Logan Rock’ a lovely lanceolated leaf form and the honey scent A. balsamiferum. It’s getting to be quite a squeeze in Sybil’s beloved succulent house but I’m sure she would be delighted by all the new additions.

From the Head GardenerDespite the frosts the Dahlias are still flowering there pants off. Dahlia ‘David Howard’, Fuschia ‘Thalia’ and Bidens feruifolia spilling out of the pots by the front gate. Let the leaf clearing begin……Happy Gardening!

Ben Preston, Head Gardener


From the office – season round up

The team at York GateWhat a year we have had at York Gate Garden in the summer in of 2018! We have worked with a team of 100 volunteers who have gardened, washed up, tour guided, welcomed visitors, tidied, researched, archived, fundraised, promoted and looked after us generally throughout the whole year. We have welcomed a record breaking 11,000 visitors this year, and we have a whopping 548 members of Friends of York Gate. One of the biggest areas of growth we have seen is sales in our plant nursery. We have welcomed garden interest groups from all over the UK as well as Germany, Belgium and Australia.

The two not-so-new-anymore professional gardeners have just about completed their first full year together, and have been a real credit to the garden. Their knowledge and enthusiasm shows from every perspective; the garden volunteer team has grown from 5 helpers to 19 helpers in the last 12 months.

We celebrated with our volunteers at the end of September with a party at the Chilli Barn in Otley to thank them for all their hard work, for all the expertise and personalities they have brought to the garden, and all the money that we have raised as a team that helps to support the upkeep of the garden, and promotes the wonderful work that Perennial do, caring for horticulturists and their families in times of difficulty.


September 2018 at York Gate

We are drawing towards the end of a wonderful and busy season here at York Gate and there is still plenty to see in the garden. The nights are beginning to draw in and there is definitely a feeling that autumn is nearly here, but the borders are still bursting with colour.

From the Head GardenerJack’s tender border is bursting onto the path, the vibrant dahlias ‘Honka Pink and ‘David Howard’ along with the huge red leaves of Ethopian Black Banana (Ensete ventricosum ‘maurelii’) and the magnificent arching stems of dark-flowered Bolivian Sage (Salvia atrocyanea) continue to be a show stopper.

a hot mix of Rudbeckia and Pennisetum rubrum is hotting up the front gardenThe annuals and tender perennials are starting to come into their own; a hot mix of Rudbeckia and Pennisetum rubrum is hotting up the front garden while Salvia ‘Amistad’ and fulgens are continuing the show along the carpet path. Over in Sybil’s garden the blues and whites of Asters and the swaying stems Molinia ‘Karl Forester’ have given a wonderful tranquil feeling and often where I find myself contemplating next year’s displays of an evening.

From the Head GardenerWe would also like to give a warm welcome to our two new garden trainees Matilya and Dave, they will be with us for the next year, studying horticulture and working alongside myself and Jack in the garden. They have had a baptism of fire-thorn this week, apologies for the pun, pruning our 60 year-old espaliered Pyracantha. Just over 2 days of careful pruning to reveal the bright late-summer fruit and redefining the tiers spanning the width of the house. Great job!From the Head Gardener

I hope you’ve all got your tulip and other spring bulb orders done. Enjoy the last of the summer evenings and happy gardening.

Ben Preston, Head Gardener


July 2018 at York Gate

Thankfully the reservoirs are still at good levels here in Yorkshire, so the watering continues. We’re managing to keep our lawns lush and green, the only blemish is ‘the mole M1’ running through the Orchard garden.

We have begun the hedge cutting marathon, starting in the white garden. The beech is first on the list, which we will work our way through in August and move on to the yew later in the year. The Spencer’s began planting hedging in 1953, starting with 399 beech trees around the boundary of the garden and many more planted since. They provide the back bone to the garden and enclose each garden room.

Tomato harvestThe Kitchen Garden is in full summer production, and our tea room is reaping the benefits. We have lifted the main crop potatoes (Pink Fur Apple), they are making their way into our potato salads. Runner bean ‘Fire Storm’ is producing masses of sweet runners, a trio of beetroot; Chioggio, Golden Detroit and Bulls Blood are heading to the roasting tray and Radish ‘Cherry Belle’ is spicing up our side salads.  The highlight of the kitchen table so far though has been our heritage tomatoes. I personally love the smaller sweeter varieties, so we’ve grown ‘Black Cherry’, ‘Sweet Million’ and ‘Yellow Pear’. All have grown wonderfully well but ‘Sweet Million’ wins my award; Earliest cropper, best taste and most productive, definitely one to try next summer if you haven’t already.Rainbow over the garden

We saw our first bit of rain for months just a couple of days ago, finishing off what’s been our busiest month ever here at York Gate. Even though we water regularly nothing can replace the vibrant flush after a good downpour. I was lucky enough to catch this lovely view of a rainbow, showing off the golden yew buns in the driveway.

Happy Gardening.

Ben Preston, Head Gardener


June 2018 at York Gate

Delphiniums in the canal bedThe Mediterranean weather continues…. June has been an absolute scorcher and it looks like more of the same for the rest of the summer. Jack and I are spending most of our lives watering and rotating the sprinkler between the garden rooms to ensure the plants continue to flourish for the rest of the summer and don’t wilt under the heat.

Along the carpet path the deep claret red of Astrantia ‘Gill Richardson’ has teamed up with the intense blue of Eryngium ‘Jos Eijking’ providing a lovely underplanting for the towering spectacle of Delphiniums in the centre of the canal bed that will flower long into July.

Over in the veg garden we have been gathering the fruits of our labour as well as battling with a few garden beasties. The peas have been prolific and the lettuce has been growing quicker than we can pick it. The brassicas on the other hand have not done so well. We have suffered with cutworm caterpillars that feed on the base stem and roots of the cabbages and kale causing them to collapse, coupled with a regular visit from a resident mole we’re not expecting a great crop but we’re winning overall. The two varieties of courgette; ‘Parthenon’ and ‘Yellow Zucchini’ have produced masses of flowers and courgettes that make their way onto plates on the café every day.From the Head Gardener

It’s a very fine balance to create a kitchen garden that is both highly productive and aesthetically pleasing. We have used the tall and hot red of Tagetes ‘Burning Embers’ around the periphery and the dwarf Tagetes ‘Tangerine Gem’ around the paths. The frothy white umbels of bolting coriander has added an unplanned extra too. Sweet peas grown up the hazel poles at the back of the plot have been flowering for weeks already, adding colour both where they flower and in vases in the house. We’ve trialled the new sweet pea cultivar ‘Together’ this year that is a cross between Matucana, the wonderfully scent old favourite, and a long stemmed showy Spencer variety. We’ll give you the verdict later in the summer.

Happy Watering! From the Head Gardener

Ben Preston, Head Gardener


May 2018 at York Gate

From the Head GardenerThe heavy rainfall in early spring followed by the wall to wall sunshine in May has done nothing but wonders for the garden. Everything is flourishing and running rampant. The spring bulbs are now finished and we’re heading into full summer mode. Tender perennials, annuals and summer flowering bulbs have been planted out to fill gaps between permanent planting.

Alliums are the show stoppers this month; Allium ‘Mount Everest’ dominates the White Garden, the purple explosions of Allium Schubertii in the Paved Garden and everyone’s favourite Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ is stealing the show along the carpet path.

Jack’s also been busy adding some more unusual Aroids throughout the garden. The bold foliage of Arisaema  provide interesting textures and contrasts in shady pockets in and around the pinetum. Martagon lilies throughout the dell will also be looking their best this month, you may even find other displays of colourful lilies lurking in hidden pockets in quiet areas of the garden.

We’ve added a new interesting succulent display to the paved garden that gives you an example of how small spaces in the garden can be used for something a little more unusual than summer bedding. Playing around with plants and trying new ideas is all part of York Gate ethos and we welcome your comments and opinions on our new displays. The striking rosettes of Aeoniums underplanted with House leeks and Echeveria beneath the Windmill Palm along with Aloes and other succulents in stone planters add a Mediterranean feel. See what you think.

Ben Preston, Head Gardener


April 2018 at York Gate

The pondAfter a slow and wet start to the season plants are bursting into flower. The tulip displays will be at their best this month, with a variety of colour and schemes complimenting the different garden rooms, accompanied by grape hyacinths, daffodils and many other spring treats. We have underplanted the main tulip displays with forget-me-not, a wonderful spring favourite that will show off its dainty blue flowers for weeks on end.

Down in the dell there are carpets of anemones alongside the bright yellow flowers the skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) and Himalayan blue poppies. The wet spring has help many of the plants get off to a good start on our free draining soil and the stream that often runs dry at this time of year is still providing a sense of tranquillity.

We have undertaken two major projects this winter, restoration of the pond in the Orchard garden and re-lining the canal. The pond now benefits from a lovely miniature waterfall and will no longer lose its water level in the summer months, providing a beautiful reflective backdrop to the summer perennials. We have also welcomed two new resident mallards to the garden that seem to have taken a liking to the upgraded water features.

Restoration work has begun on the architectural espaliered Pyracanth on the end of the house, it has been suffering from leaf minor in recent years and we’ve made the decision to undertake some restorative pruning to improve the health and aesthetic of the plant. So don’t be alarmed when you see the hard pruning that has been undertaken, they respond well to hard pruning in spring.

We would like to invite you to see the new wild flower meadow project that is now underway, we have opened the gates in the white garden to the paddocks beyond. We have put together a plan to plant a mixture of spring flowering bulbs this autumn including crocus, snakes head fritillary and wild daffodils. Over the next few years we will introduce native summer flowering perennials, keep your eye on this space and most of enjoy!

Ben Preston, Head Gardener