July 2019 at York Gate

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 and 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 months. The exquisite unfurling crosiers and giant arching fronds of the Dicksonia Antarctica added last year tickled our Kiwi taste bud, so 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.

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!

Head Gardener, Ben Preston


June 2019 at York Gate

We made a number of 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 at the start of the month, 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, 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 and the hedges are thick and tightly clipped, dividing the garden into the many different garden rooms. As custodians of the garden, our aim 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.

The meadow is looking quite wonderful this month, the dense swathes of pignut (Conopodium majus) is quite breath taking, the carpets of white froth ripple down the meadow towards the woods beyond. The density of the pignut is quite unique and provides the perfect habitat for the small and beautiful Chimney Sweeper (Odezia atrata). A small dark brown day flying moth with 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 will in time help more wild flower species to thrive. It will take a number of years to establish large communities of wild flowers but 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.

‘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, but 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.

The bean poles and pea sticks will be used for plant supports throughout the garden and 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!

Head Gardener, Ben Preston


February 2019 at York Gate

I am 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 the 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.

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 back 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. It’s 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.

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.

Happy Gardening!

Ben Preston, Head Gardener


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 tea room, it will be relocating to the cottage, doubling our catering capacity. We’ll have onsite parking, releasing the pressure on other facilities around Adel, and 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 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