Garden of the week
Visit this breathtakingly beautiful Yorkshire flower garden created from a farmer’s field by a couple with no formal horticultural training
Just five miles east of York lies Breezy Knees that’s advertised as Yorkshire’s Flower Garden. It’s smack in the middle of the Vale of York, not the most sheltered place for a garden and nursery, hence the name. It’s the creation of Colin and Marylen Parker, who jumped at the opportunity to buy 50 acres of low-lying farmland some 20 years ago.
“It was a council tenanted farm,” Colin explains. “But it was too small to make a living from, so the house and land were sold off separately. We’d been wanting to make a large garden for a few years, but every time a parcel of land came up, the local farmers snapped it up under our noses.”
At the time Colin was working as a pharmacist and, although he didn’t have a gardening background, both he and his wife Marylen enjoyed their hobby immensely.
Their philosophy is that you have to embrace life and make the most of what you do, so they decided to take the plunge, although Colin carried on working as a pharmacist for another few years.
Their first job was to create a shelter belt to stop the biting north-easterly winds that come in straight from Siberia. “We spent the first seven or eight years planting trees and hedges,
so we only made our first flower garden 12 years ago, in 2006,” they explain. They’ve kept going and the newest areas are only two years old.
“We’re also creating a 10-acre arboretum close to the lake, which is really a large pond made in an area that continually flooded in winter.” The spare soil from the excavation work was piled round the lake and most of the borders in this garden are raised above the paths. “That way the rainwater has a chance to escape and this helps plants to survive our wet winters.”
The heart of the garden contains herbaceous borders and everything found on the nursery can be seen growing in the garden, although Colin is keen to point out that they’re “a garden with a small nursery, rather than a nursery with a garden”.
Despite that, the nursery has roughly 1,200 perennial varieties for sale. However, only half the plants in the garden are herbaceous, because Colin confesses to liking almost every plant. “We try to have as much
variety as possible and there’s a conifer garden, lots of shrubs, roses, a peony and daylily garden, and seasonal areas that peak in different months. The only things we don’t grow are annuals, because they can be difficult to establish in dry seasons, and we don’t use spring bulbs either because the garden doesn’t open until May. It’s not because we don’t like them, but we only have the equivalent of two full-time gardeners here, so we have to be sensible.”
“The very best time to see this garden is July and August,” Colin adds, “but our September Garden extends the season and begins to shine from mid-August onwards. We have five colour-themed sections in red, white, yellow and orange, pink and blue and this provides ‘concentrated colour’,” as Colin calls it.
Tall late-season grasses, mainly molinia and miscanthus, act as buffer zones between each colour-themed area. There are also roses in the September garden, but these are given a Breezy Knees version of the Chelsea chop to delay flowering time. “They have their buds removed in June and this makes them produce a glorious flush late in the season.” The warmyellow floribunda rose, ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ and blush-white tea rose, ‘The Bride’, are among Colin’s favourites.
Shrubs also play their part in this autumn arrangement, especially those with a late presence. The spectacular spindle tree, Euonymus
europaeus ‘Red Cascade’, displays a heavy crop of vivid orange and red fruits in autumn in the red border. The yelloworange berries of an English holly, Ilex aquifolium ‘Amber’, light up the yellow borders and Colin also uses perennial rudbeckias in this area. The single, brown-centred ‘Goldsturm’ and a long-flowering double ‘Goldquelle’ add a blast of sunshine-yellow.
Asters, ‘an autumn essential’,
also play their part, whether it’s the vivid-pink New England aster, Symphyotrichum novae
angliae ‘Andenken an Alma Pötschke’, or the paler pink ‘Barr’s Pink’. These are both upright, middle of the border asters, but the shorter Italian
Aster amellus ‘Brilliant’ curtsies over the path, providing a cloud of purple.
Sedums are also an autumn staple here and Colin admires their ability to survive from year to year without being divided. ‘Karfunkelstein’, a dusky-leaved sedum with pink-red flowers, and ‘Purple Emperor’ with red August flowers, fade to Subscribe for just £1 an issue. Go to chocolate-brown as autumn days shorten. ‘Red Cauli’ does what it says, producing a round head of florets.
Breezy Knees attracted 15,000 visitors this year. However, it’s still a bit of a secret outside Yorkshire, so do come and explore next year. There’s colour aplenty whenever you arrive, and you’ll find tranquillity, too. With 12 acres to explore, you’ll need a cuppa and Colin and Marylen’s daughter Holly can be found hard at work in the café. You’ll even be able to take plant treasure home with you! It’s the perfect day out...
A hazy autumn day, with low sun shining on subdued beds of autumn hues
Autumn can be just as much a riot of colour as summer – rusty grasses and burgundy berberis jostle with vibrant roses and asters, with slices of lime for good measure
Left, the red garden (in the background) goes rusty in autumn, with molinia separating it from the elegant white garden. Right, rose ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ is one of Colin’s favourites
Verbena bonariensis, clumps of various asters and monkshood look lovely in the blue-themed garden, with miscanthus grass in the background separating this section from the yellow-orange area
Above, sedum ‘Brilliant’ lives up to its name and, right, asters in bold blue. Below, asters ‘Barr’s Pink’ and ‘Andenken an Alma Pötschke’ dominate the pink bed, with a liberal dose of sedums, phlox and alstroemeria to boot