I have been planning to visit this must not miss garden since it reopened in April for the summer season. What a delightful family garden filled with wildlife, wildflowers and a whole lot of love.
Tucked away just off the green, in this typical unspoilt for centuries village just south of York, is Stillingfleet Lodge Gardens.
The grassy carpark is kitted out with an area for a picnic, and the day I visited I was greeted by these hens grazing amongst the grass.
A bit of history about Stillingfleet Lodge – the Cook family arrived in 1975, and had no intentions then to turn Stillingfleet into the stunning series of gardens that are found there today. The family lived off the fat of the land, relying on a cow for their milk, cheese and butter, pigs and poultry for meat, and used whatever spare land there was for growing vegetables. Vanessa Cook has developed the gardens along with her family and it still remains the family garden.
It is a sensory treat, and armed with a map, I made my way through the orchard, woodland walk and a number of smaller gardens. There are well placed seats in many spectacular places to sit and contemplate.
Delightfully lacking in obtrusive signage, one of Vanessa’s greatest pleasures is to let visitors loose in the gardens to discover their favourite part. An oasis of calm, the Rill Garden is a perfect example of this. Hidden behind hedges, it comprises of a sunken channel surrounded by stones, sculptures and ornamental grasses, and remains one of the only orchestrated aspects of the gardens, especially when compared to the woodland walk and wildflower meadow.
Declaring weeding ‘a waste of time’, Vanessa’s tactic is to plant everything close together so weeds have less space to thrive. Stillingfleet is also wholly organic, so Vanessa cannot use harmful pesticides and must rely on her collection of rare-breed poultry and all manner of wildlife to play their part in pest control duties.
As I was leaving she was picking broad beans and spinach for a family dinner.
Wandering and sitting soon took up a couple of hours, plus of course a stop for tea and cake in the courtyard café, and then followed by a browse around the nursery….and a purchase or two!
I did leave these glorious gardens feeling refreshed and ready to tackle my own garden with energy and was full of new ideas. And a promise to myself to return again soon, just a fifteen minute drive for me.
Do check the website for opening times, and as the RHS are quoted as saying ‘Worth a long journey to visit’.