Friday, 16 September 2011

The Organic Garden at Holt Farm

It's not often that my worlds of gardening and choir collide*, but earlier this year they did, in the shape of Eileen who I first met on my singing holiday last year in the Czech Republic. We bumped into each other for a quick catch up before Sing for Water West in July and it was only then we found out we have a shared love of gardening.

However, Eileen is lucky enough to be a professional, where her daily work takes her to The Organic Garden at Holt Farm. Come and see our meadow, she said, I'll email you when it's ready. Her email arrived whilst I was in Seattle, so shortly after my return, on a very wet day I did...

... two massive fields of Pictorial Meadow form a late season burst of colour. It's much more yellow in character this year and James, the Head Gardener, thinks this might be due to late sowing. The dry weather this spring meant the seeds couldn't be sown until late May. Look a bit closer and you'll still find plentiful red, blue and white flowers as well as a couple of beehives.

The garden plan I was given at the gate must be one of the few which places The Compost Yard centre stage, but all the garden team are very proud of it and give regular demonstrations on how you can make your own. I believe many of us may need to re-learn this 'lost art' for ourselves in future.
I'm not going to give you a full guided tour as I want you to go there to find out for yourselves. This is the view of The Veggie Garden from the cafe. Make sure you grab a windowside table for this view. James told me that their vegetable growing is more experimental and ornamental here. Off site there's a much more extensive productive fruit and vegetable area which provides for both the garden cafe and the staff canteen at Yeo Valley.

Yes you read that right: Holt Farm belongs to the Mead family who own Yeo Valley, so you can guess just how yummy (and organic) the cafe's fayre is for those who come and visit. The cafe deserves a post to itself because it's extraordinary, though I've already given you a preview of the ladies' loo when I posted this month's Muse Day.

The garden is very much part of the family home and is one of the few with full Soil Association registered organic status. There's quite a few gardens (such as Hampton Court in Herefordshire) which are gardened on organic lines, but very few go the whole hog and register with the Soil Association. With the surrounding farmland having full registration so that Yeo Valley can sell their products as organic, it makes sense for the garden to be so as well. This does give them some extra hurdles to go through, not only with record keeping, but also with sourcing plants for the garden e.g. there's just one registered organic herbaceous nursery in the UK, so plants brought in from elsewhere need to be bare rooted or their non-organic soil washed off and repotted straight away.

The above picture shows how the farmhouse rises above the new gravel garden like a ship. Elsewhere you can lose your self in some of the other garden rooms such as the Bronze Garden and the Red and Lime Beds.
Another view over the gravel garden from Tarka's Hut, which shows the garden's proximity to Blagdon Lake. It also shows how including yellow flowers in the planting scheme act like spotlights on a dull day in the garden. From here, I walked by the side of the house to a courtyard area where I got talking to a local couple. It turned out that the lady of the two had been Mr Mead's (as she called him) secretary i.e. the father of the current owner. She was trying to remember what the courtyard looked like back in the day in the 1970s when she also saw the first ever Yeo Valley yoghurt coming off the production line.

After bidding the couple farewell, I walked across the fields towards the lake and this rather jolly sculpture ** which also served as a warning: go beyond it and you'll find the Ha-Ha.

I'm showing you this because I have severe greenhouse envy and this is where the garden team plan to propagate much more of their own plants in the future. The green building behind is part of the Yeo Valley business so you can see how close I was to there. The garden team are most enthusiastic about the garden and I can see there'll be plenty of projects to come. Whilst it's the Meads' garden, the entire team are involved in the planning process and have lots of discussions on what comes next.

The garden is usually open only on Thursdays, plus the first Sunday of the month during the season, but starting tomorrow they're opening every day from 11.00am until 5pm for 'A Year in the Garden' until October 2nd. This is part of Somerset Art Weeks and is an exhibition by a local group of artists who've been inspired by the garden.

I'm hoping to revisit again during this time and for 'Seedy Sunday' on October 30th which is in association with Garden Organic (the garden also acts as a seed guardian for two local varieties). There'll be lots of seed swaps, compost demonstrations (I'm sure), plus Pennard Plants and Thomas Etty Esq. will be in attendance. I'm also anticipating the pleached crab apples will have a lot more colour, so I can show them off to you. I'm a big fan of trees trained in this way and the use of crab apples was a refreshing change from the usual lime or hornbeam.

I'm really pleased to have discovered this garden in such a serendipitous way, which deserves to be much more widely known. My thanks go to both Eileen and James for giving me so much of their precious time on the day. BTW you'll love the admissions 'hut' on the way in - I handed over my entrance fee to a very cheerful lady in a Yeo Valley ice cream van! Look out for the planted up mini in the car park too - very different to the one I found in Birmingham last month ;)

Update: I emailed Eileen this morning with a link to this post, so she could see my write up. Here's part of her reply because it's important and sums up the impression I gained about the place on the day, especially the dedication and enthusiasm of Sarah Mead and her team:

I love the write up but can you include a bit about Sarah, I hope you will meet her when you come because the garden wouldn’t exist but for her, her energy and enthusiasm. I have included the extract from our web site that I wrote up when we were getting the site off the ground and it really sums her up. In addition, it is her generosity in working so closely with the team that makes this a great place to work, we are all involved in the design and decisions which I think is pretty unique:
“Sarah is the garden owner and the driving force, with the big ideas (come and see the purple glasshouse) and the sense of humour- look at the sculptures around the garden. Sarah did the RHS Horticulture course. It's her passion, vision and enthusiasm that gives the garden its unique character.”

* = apart from when we perform at Stourhead

**= just like the gate in the top picture and this kite, the garden is full of jolly metalwork to make you smile, all commissioned locally by Sarah Mead

14 comments:

  1. It looks like a story book garden. Beautifully laid out, beautifully kept and lovely to look at. It has an informal atmosphere at the same time as being phenomenally well ordered. I expect they are very proud of it and can quite see why you enjoyed your visit.

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  2. Thanks for sharing this, VP. It gives me severe greenhouse envy, as well. How nice to combine your passions of singing and gardening with another!
    xxxooo
    Frances

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  3. Great post - lovely garden - it is amazing that it still looks good at this time of year - love the sculptures.

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  4. *sigh* greenhouses.....;) such a lovely place! i'd love to see it sometime. thanks for the tour.

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  5. Esther - I seem to be specialising in garden visiting on rainy days this year. If they can still make my heart sing, then that's a mark of a good garden in my view.

    Frances - it's been a lovely surprise :) xxx

    Elaine - I could have done an entire post just on the sculptures and other humorous touches in the garden. But that would have spoilt the joy of discovering them for yourself ;)

    Petoskystone - I'll be returning...

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  6. Beautiful garden, a dream garden at that. The greenhouse is amazing and the sculptures. Thanks for leaving a message on my Blog this week regarding the blog give-away.

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  7. Hi Amanda - you're welcome :)

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  8. Shall have to go. What great website they have too. Promise not to sing.

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  9. Mark - I love the site - especially the wandering snail :)

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  10. went there today, superb meadows, the Phacelia in the willow meadow had the biggest bumbles i have ever seen.

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  11. Flower - I'm so pleased you went: the meadows are wonderful. I let the Phacelia flower on my allotment and love how it attracts all the bees :)

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  12. Such a lovely garden and that greenhouse would cause anyone to have envious feelings.

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  13. Sounds fantastic, VP, and I really love that gate. I'll have to add it to my list of places to visit!

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  14. Juliet - I love that gate too :)

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