Margaux Speirs heads out into Somerset to Yeo Valley’s organic garden to check out its gorgeous examples of planned wild planting and more…

Yeo Valley is a successful dairy business based in Blagdon, about 10 miles south of Bristol – with its HQ on one side of the main road through the village and its dairy farm and manufacturing facilities just beyond the village. Farmer Tim’s wife, Sarah Mead, was a dancer before she married him and, by her own admission, knew very little about gardening when she started out on her project 25 years ago. Then she did an RHS course, began planting their 6.5 acre garden on the lake shore beside their farm house, and now employs a landscape architect and small team of professional gardeners who have helped to create an exquisite and unusual garden of ornamental and edible plants.

The farm and garden are certified organic so they work without pesticides, using natural methods for pest and weed control and making their own compost and fertilisers, which adds another dimension of interest and challenge. Since 2010 the garden has been open to the public and this year, visiting starts on 5 May – open days are Thursdays and Fridays between 11am and 5pm, with entry £5. Even apart from the joy of visiting such a lovely place, there is lots to learn there in terms of garden layout, plant stocking, care and maintenance. The gardeners are really proud of the gardens and very willing to share their knowledge of organic gardening. Visitors are also enticed in by the Garden Café which serves coffee and cakes and lunches, often using seasonal ingredients grown in the garden.

Yeo Valley has allowed native meadow buttercups to grow there too…

The biggest treat in store for visitors to the garden this month is the meadow planted with blue camassia quamash. These lovely bulbs are easy to grow, tolerating full sun or part shade and over time forming clumps as they multiply outwards so that each year the meadow gets more and more beautiful. If you are lucky enough to have a large garden with an area of grass which can be left unmown until the end of July, this is one of the ideas to take home from Yeo Valley Organic Garden. Infrequently mown grass is obviously less laborious to maintain and paths of short cut grass can be mown through it for access and enjoyment. Yeo Valley has allowed native meadow buttercups to grow there too and has planted fritillaries which enjoy cool, damp conditions: the overall effect of planned wild planting is stunning.

Beyond the meadow is an avenue of mature crab apple trees in full blossom (malus hupehensis). Take a look at the hedge between these trees: it’s a mature hornbeam hedge (carpinus betulus) which was cut and laid in the traditional manner only this spring by local master hedge layer, Colin Clutterbuck. The way he has woven hazel binders along the top of the hedge makes it a real work of art. Most of the hedges in the garden are beech, chosen because beech has darker brown leaves over winter than hornbeam but the latter comes into leaf earlier than beech and tolerates wet or poor soils and exposed sites better. If you are planning some hedge planting this year, the garden also provides an interesting lesson in what to plant and where.

There is the Bronze Garden, surrounding a formal pool which is lovely in June…

The other feature to look out for is the ‘pleached’ rows of malus × robusta ‘Red Sentinel’ near the glasshouse. They were planted there to give height, otherwise the roof of the glasshouse would have dominated that part of the garden. In an urban garden, the technique is really worth considering if there is an unsightly outlook to disguise but not much space to give over to planting. Had these trees been purchased ready pleached, they would have cost over £400 each but instead they were bought in as maiden standards for £12.50 each and the gardeners started to train them on bamboo canes in 2010. A few seasons on and having been trimmed a couple of times a year, they have already knitted together to form a really pleasing high level band of blossom and vitality. The fruit of this variety stays on all winter, providing colour as well as food for the birds.

Outside the glasshouse, the large terracotta pots have been planted with tulips for late spring colour and coming through them for later in the year are climbers ipomoea lobata (or Spanish Flag) and cobaea scandens (Cup and Saucer Vine). Both are quick-growing annual climbers, with interesting flowers which will carry on blooming for three to four months, and are among the best climbers you can grow: incredibly useful if you have a trellis in the sun which needs fairly instant cover. At Yeo Valley they were grown from seed earlier in the year but it may not be too late to buy them now as established seedlings. Also, if, like me, you enjoy seeing locally made products and crafts, you will appreciate that the glasshouse was made by the Winford-based Incredibly Sensible Greenhouse Company, and the steel frames for the climbers by local garden metal sculptor Willa Ashworth.

A couple of the areas in the garden really come into their own later in the summer – and what a good excuse to come back to see them! There is the Bronze Garden, surrounding a formal pool which is lovely in June when the roses are out; herbaceous planting in gravel beyond the birch wood; as well as an area of shoulder-high grasses to swish through in late summer. Before heading for the café be sure to have a look at the ‘edimental’ vegetable beds, where edible flowers are grown alongside salad and vegetable crops. A couple of them are always out of production but are planted with ‘green manure’ – i.e. short-term crops which are allowed to grow up before being dug back into the soil to enrich it with their nitrogen. And look out for the ‘slug pubs’ too… (Complete with roof and doors and beer to tempt them in – Butcombe of course!)

Margaux Speirs is a pre-registered member of the Society of Garden Designers and runs her business, Margaux Speirs Garden Design, from her home in Bristol. For further information, telephone: 07903 779910 visit: www.margauxspeirsgardendesign.co.uk

Plant of the Month
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Every garden should have a viburnum but with more than 150 species to choose from, the difficulty is narrowing down the choice. For every garden location, whether wet, dry, sunny or shady, there is a viburnum that is just right. My vote goes to the medium sized deciduous specimen V. plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’ whose creamy white, scented flowers are arranged horizontally along the branches: it is the most beautiful head-turner in May. Ours has been pruned into a low-growing form, but left alone it would have grown to several metres in height and spread. Even when the flowers have finished it is a lovely shrub with dark green prominently veined leaves. Also rather gorgeous in May and June is the viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’ (the ‘snowball tree’) which is more upright and which develops translucent red berries in autumn. Both of them are easy to grow and not fussy about the conditions as long as they don’t dry out.