York Gate Garden, found beside an ancient church in Adel on the northern fringes of Leeds, is small but perfectly formed at just one acre.
The garden was originally created by the Spencer family, with Frederick Spencer building its basic structure in around 1951 before son Robin’s imagination was allowed to run wild. An innovative and pioneering garden designer, Robin Spencer was meticulous in his creation, always introducing gorgeous details to the family’s beloved garden, using traditional materials in inventive ways and daring to make bold planting choices. Sadly, Robin died aged just 47 and it was left to his mother, Sybil to take care of this treasured piece of our heritage.
When Sybil passed away in 1994, the garden was bequeathed to a charity – Perennial – the Gardeners’ Royal Benevolent Society. Happily, this means that everyday keen gardeners can enjoy the fruits of the Spencer family’s labour during a visit to York Gate Garden.
For the domestic gardener, York Gate Garden has real appeal. Its scale means it is a genuine source of direct inspiration with its compact features, many of which could be replicated at home. Let’s take a look at five of York Gate Garden’s key areas:
Many gardeners struggle to achieve the ‘flow’ that passes between various areas of an otherwise exceptional garden; somehow the different sections work independently but can appear jarring when experienced as a whole. At York Gate Garden, water provides the answer. The garden’s wonderful raised canal, vital ponds and gentle streams connect every ‘room’ to present a harmonious full effect.
The Dell, with its exquisitely pretty hexagonal folly, simply demands that you take a seat and let the beauty of the environment wash over you for a while. The dappled sunlight darts through the leafy branches above, and the sound of the stream bubbling by adds an extra touch of enchantment to this beautiful setting.
While her son and husband may have laid and executed the overarching plans for this brilliant small garden, Sybil Spencer had an excellent eye (and hand) for quality planting. It’s fitting then that this most formal section of the garden should be in homage to Sybil’s talent and dedication. Sybil’s Garden is a circular space split into two halves, with finely maintained borders that are packed with colourful blooms.
The Herb Garden
Although you may expect an area with such a name to be a laidback, slightly overgrown affair, in fact The Herb Garden, with its clipped topiary, carefully set paving and stylised planting choices, is one of York Gate Garden’s most formal spots. This space offers a lovely contrast to the more rustic sections.
The White Garden
Perhaps the most elegant and feminine ‘room’ in the York Gate Garden is The White Garden. In its full glory in midsummer, this space is simply awash with white and silver-tinged flowers – full, scented roses, blousy peonies and bell-like campanulas sway and dance in the fresh breeze. A traditional obelisk provides a fitting focal point for a pretty pathway.
The Pavement Maze
Immediately in front of the beautiful Spencer family home is the Pavement Maze, which is created from stone setts in gravel. Surrounding this area are a number of clipped yew spheres, giving the property’s entrance a grandiose air which belies its diminutive size.
Gardeners from all around the country make the trip to see York Gate Garden, which is now maintained by a talented and dedicated team of voluntary staff. It is a true jewel in the UK’s collection and one everybody should to endeavour to visit, whether they have green fingers or not.