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 and the late winter wonders are beginning to emerge. Snowdrops, winter aconites and Leucojum vernum are all starting to bloom in the slightly more sheltered pockets, the garden is on the move again. Such an exciting time of year!

Over 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 favourite 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. 

Jack continues to bring new, weird and wonderful plants to the garden and 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.

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.

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. In 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.

We 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.

The 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.

We’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.

Despite 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

What 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.

Jack’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.

The 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.

We 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!

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.

The 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.

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

The 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.

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! 

Ben Preston, Head Gardener

May 2018 at York Gate

The 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

After 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