A paradise of plants and wildlife

Words by:
Caroline Bingham
Featured in:
September 2022

Caroline Bingham visited Yew Tree Farm, Gosberton to meet Robert Bailey-Scott and tour the garden which he and his wife Claire have created over the past 15 years.

I put the date in my diary for late July, a time in previous years when Rob and Claire have opened the garden to the public as part of the NGS scheme. Not this year though, so I felt very privileged to be enjoying the one and a half acres which lie behind their beautiful Grade II listed Lincolnshire farmhouse.

“The oldest part of the house dates from 1510,” explained Rob, “but when we bought the property it was derelict and we lived in the annexe while the house was renovated.” The couple moved from West Pinchbeck, attracted by the period property but also its nearly acre of land. I asked: “Who is the more passionate gardener?” Rob had to consider that question carefully. “We both are,” he replied tactfully, “but maybe me a bit more so. Claire is very passionate about her fruit and vegetables.”

When work on the garden began there were already some well established trees in situ including an ancient mulberry which still fruits and conifers at parts of the boundary providing shielding from the prevailing west wind but the central area was concreted over. This had to be broken up and removed, 27 tons in total, before any layout or planting could be considered. The patio runs across the rear of the house with two narrow borders softening its stone edges as you step onto a large lawn which has the mulberry tree on its far side.

“Our first border was near the silver birch trees,” continued Rob, “which I planted as additional shelter on the east side and then we have moved on, area by area. We have planted metres of British native hedging too which has provided wonderful food and shelter for wildlife as well as demarking certain zones of the garden. This is the most fantastic soil here – the sandy loam of the Fens – so most things that you plant do very well in these conditions.”

We stepped through the pergola under the sweep of the mulberry branches onto another lawn which on one side accommodated a large wildlife pond and under the silver birches, a woodland inspired trail through tall clumps of sea thistle, Eryngium, contrasting against the beautiful bark of a Tibetan cherry tree. The woodland area is especially colourful when all the bulbs flower in spring.

The pond has attracted a resident family of moorhens as well as species of dragonflies, frogs and newts. “If you create a suitable environment, nature will make itself at home,” said Rob. “We have owls, swifts, blue tits and a badger who visits as well as bats, grass snakes and slow worms. To date I have logged sixty-four different species of wildlife in the garden!”

Nearer the house, a neat box hedge followed the curve of the pathway. Behind it a border whose backdrop is the timber walls of the annexe. Three domed, standard Robinea trees gave height and drifts of one of Rob’s favourite plants, Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’, were teamed with Aster ‘King George’ and Lythrum virgatum Dropmore Purple. I was very impressed with the immaculate condition of the garden, from the precise hedge cutting to the neat lawn edges and the perfect condition of Rob’s favourite perennials. I could see why the garden has won many accolades including winning the Daily Mail’s National Garden Competition in 2019 and finishing amongst the final five of the BBC’s Gardens of the Year – a competition Rob would like to have another crack at in the future.

Garden features abound including a seat as the focus to the rear of the pond and bistro table and two chairs on the lawn. The garden shed close by houses Rob’s collection of vintage and blacksmith made garden tools. Many were designed with specific jobs in mind, like the rosette weed lifter for the lawn. In the summer house, framed photographs and press cuttings of the coverage the garden has attracted hang on the walls.

Beyond this area lies an orchard which is on land Rob and Claire bought six years after their initial purchase of the property. The orchard is home to four hives which belong to a family friend and the bees are welcome pollinators of the wide variety of trees including pear, apple, plum, medlar and cherry.

The additional land enlarged the garden to its present day one and half acres and the first lockdown gave Rob the chance to get to grips with his vision for this space. “I suppose you could describe the first areas we completed as being an English country garden style but I love symmetry and what I wanted was a contemporary reflective pool which would blend with and reflect the landscape here.”

The square area is accessed via lawned pathways through tall hedging. The circular pond at the centre is surrounded by arced beds of grasses beyond which are four triangular beds of tall grasses. Rob adds black dye to the pond to give the depth of reflection of surrounding trees and sky overhead. The rustle and sway of the more than 600 grasses Rob planted could really be appreciated from the top of a ladder kindly left in place for me to climb. It was an impressive view.

We continued our walk across the pathways to the fruit and vegetable garden. “This is very much Claire’s domain,” continued Rob. “We grow most of our own food and love to try different varieties.”

Rob does most of his own propagation and in an Open Day year will split plants to pot on to sell to visitors. “Nothing from the garden is wasted. I have my compost beds which I use to make general compost or leaf mould. I use no chemicals in the garden, harvest rain water and make comfrey tea as a liquid fertiliser.” With the main structures in the garden now in place and well matured, Rob makes seasonal changes, tweaking his ‘hot’ border with bigger blocks of winter texture and colour.

I had already commented on how green the garden was which Rob put down to his dense planting and heavy mulching each autumn and spring.

“It has not been all plain sailing. The drought has taken some toll already. We had a very mature laburnum at the back of the border to the left of the house. It flowered magnificently this spring, an absolute picture, but I came home one afternoon a couple of weeks ago and it had fallen over, breaking the main trunk. I had no choice but to get the chainsaw out and remove most of it.”

What a delight to be guided round this stunning garden by its creator. All being well, Yew Tree Farm will be taking part in the NGS scheme in 2023. Keep 23rd July in your diary for a visit of your own.

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