York Gate Garden

I was first introduced to the York Gate Garden in first year with a field trip on a chilly October morning. I was keen to return with a course mate in slightly warmer conditions.

York Gate is in Adel in North Leeds and is easily accessible by bus. The garden was created between 1951 and 1994 by the Spencer family and is now open to the public. It is divided into rooms by yew and beech hedges, each small garden has its own theme and style. After Sybil Spencer’s death in 1994, the garden was gifted to Perennial, a charity who help horticulturalists in need. The garden is very well regarded and was listed as the 7thbest garden to visit in the UK by The Times in 2017.

We arrived in the early afternoon after walking from the bus stop through a very nice church yard. To enter we each paid £6 (£6.60 with gift aid) which is reasonable for this small but intense garden. The woman at the gift shop recommended we enter the garden down a small path by the driveway, so we headed down a small brick path into an area known as the old orchard.

You land on a well-kept lawn that surrounds a pond a tall horseshoe of copper beech encloses a bench. We head through an arch created by a magnolia. I like this arch a lot the magnolia has been trained to reach out over creating shelter and frames the path. It also creates refreshing dappled shade.

The Magnolia archway

Great thought has been put into the creation of views in this garden of rooms. A particularly well-choreographed arrangement of plants and structures, I feel, is of the folly. Designed by Robin Spencer the folly is suspended by six tree trunks and has a steeply pitched roof. It becomes immersed within the Dell by the planting I particularly like the pointed leaves of the tree peony and how that reflects the pointiness of the folly’s roof. 

The folly

Whilst walking through the Dell the flowers of the Greater Masterwort (Astrantia major)caught my eye the flowers are tiny clusters of white on umbels. They are surrounded by white bracteoles with intricate green tips. I like these plants because at first glance you think you see these large flowers but upon closer inspection you notice that what you think are the flowers are in fact leaves that surround the very small compound umbels of flowers. I also love how the green tips of the bracts transition from green to white in a vein pattern.

Astrantia major

A narrow path lead us out of the dell into a hazel tunnel which creates dappled shade and an immersive experience. This particular hazel tunnel I feel is well constructed, it has been trained in a very uniform arch shape and retains the same form throughout the entire length.

The hazel tunnel

From here we headed to Sybil’s Garden that I remember well from my last visit. It is circular and has a level area that is split between lawn and planting. The change in level is well resolved with the combination of a slope wrapping around the retaining wall on one side of the circular garden and steps up the other. This creates a wonderful journey through the garden which creates a reveal as you reach the top.

Sybil’s Garden

In the centre of the garden there is a small fountain that creates ambient noise and creates a small amount of movement in the garden as well as reflecting the herbaceous planting. The planting is well composed with an interesting selection of plants. I quite like how the three columns of Thalictrum balance the scheme.

My favourite bit of the planting is in the far corner of the garden, large Cardoons (Cynara cardunculus) combined with towering Scabious (Cephalaria gigantean)create an overwhelming sense of scale. This explosion of stems that loom above the path intensify the experience of enclosure within the garden room. Wooden benches allow you to sit within this dramatic combination of plants.

Cynara cardunculus and Cephalaria gigantean

We spent a great deal of time talking to a couple about Thalictrums and the effect they can create in gardens with their translucent clouds of flowers. We also talked a lot about what we study and the importance of getting young people interested in horticulture.

We headed to the herb garden, which is a long garden room containing a whole array of herbs and four topiary box (Buxus sempervirens) spirals. The garden terminates at a folly which proudly exhibits a piece of art as a focal point and is a place to rest. Interestingly there is a small door on the inside of this building.

The herb garden

The small door that is on the left of the building as you enter leads you out into the alley of tall beech hedging that directs your focus onto the stone sundial at the end of the avenue.

The alley

Once out of the alley we headed to the white and silver garden which was an impressive display of plants that were swaying gently in the wind. I was particularly keen on the thistles included in the scheme I am a fan of the silvery coloursand love the sharp yet soft flowers and how they contrast with the rest of the plants. They along with cardoons are the mavericks of the border.

The silver and white garden

Escaping the sun we headed under a wonderful timber pavilion by the kitchen garden that had a selection of cut plants left out to dry.

Inside, drying plants

Interestingly one of the walls of this structure is covered in clam shells. This assemblage of molluscscreates an unusual yet intriguing addition to this garden.

Out behind the main garden is a large meadow with sinuous mown paths through the long grasses. The movement of the tall grasses is relaxing and the incessant sound of the crickets are a reminder of the wildlife surrounding us.

The Meadow

Before we left we stopped at the café for a well-deserved piece of cake.

I enjoyed York Gate a lot there was so much to see and the garden is so diverse for only one acre. I look forward to returning again to see what I have missed and experience how the garden changes through the season.

York Gate Garden is open 1stApril – 30thSeptember: Sunday to Tursday 12:30 – 4:30

More information can be found on their website: https://perennial.org.uk/garden/york-gate-garden/

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