Yeo Valley Organic Gardens – Part 1

 

 It’s been a long time coming, but finally here’s my take on the Yeo Valley Tour…

As the raindrops stick to and meander down the window panes for the umpteenth day in a row, I can’t quite believe the luck that we had on the Tuesday that we visited the Yeo Valley farm. Some weeks ago I had received an invitation to visit the recently overhauled organic gardens at the farm… you know – Yeo Valley of yoghurty, cheesey, milky fame? It turns out that the beautiful stone farmhouse belonging to Tim and Sarah who run the company is actually nestled in the heart of their organic operation, with their 6 acres of organic landscaped gardens and meadows flanked by breathtaking views across the valley and their big blue neighbour, Blagdon Lake.

We had made our way down from Bedfordshire the night before, driving through rain storm after rain storm, hoping that our little green German Crapmobile wouldn’t let us down. And she didn’t. And after a night of being blasted by the freezing cold air conditioning in our hotel room, we blearily made our way through the winding Somerset country roads, wellies at the ready and very much guided by our sat nav. The turning into the Yeo Valley working farm and organic gardens is smaller than I imagined. Although many lorries depart from the farm throughout the day, they’re barely noticeable. It’s all part of Yeo Valley’s strategy – working in tune with their surroundings. It’s a pretty big operation, but you just wouldn’t know it, apart from the odd Moo here and there.

Once we’d found our way into the car park for the organic gardens, we put on our wellies and waterproofs and made our way into the tea room. We were cheerily met first by one of the gardeners going about his daily tasks, and then by Yeo Valley’s friendly team who were quick to offer us a hot drink whilst we waited for my fellow bloggers to arrive. The tea rooms that look out onto the most ornamental aspect of the organic gardens are modern and exceptionally clean, but retain very much a rustic charm, thanks to thoughtful design features such as a timber frame, woodburning stove, a jumble of colourful crockery and cushions and knitted bunting.

Once we’d all gathered and exclaimed at how fortunate we were with the weather – as by this time, the sun had decided to show her face – it was time for our tour. Sarah Mead and her team spent two years designing and updating the organic gardens, building a number of different areas to the gardens that takes you through several different landscapes, all with their own charms and merits. There’s the wildflower meadows, the woodland walk complete with stream, the ornamental garden with vegetable plots (that adheres to Sarah’s belief that organic doesn’t necessarily equate to organised chaos), the paper maple mini forest, rockery and gazebo, and my personal favourite, the walled garden that sits at the back of their beautiful farmhouse complete with pond, long border and stunning views across to Blagdon Lake. The walled garden was awash with colour when we visited, thanks to the swathes of tulips that were in bloom, set against the pale backdrop of stone walls and gravelled paths that undulate through this part of the garden.

I took away so many ideas from the gardens – the crab apples (or was it peach?) trees that had been trained tall along large simple structures, Sarah’s revelation from the Alys Fowler talk a couple of weeks previous to our visit was that it’s actually best to ‘free your raspberries’ – don’t stake and train them, let them grow naturally and they’ll flop over so the birds can’t eat them anyway. The beautifully simple, elegant but pragmatic metal borders that keep the paths clear and straight, the use of drift planting, shape and texture to create stunning displays. It’s all there, and best of all it has been done without any nasties. The Yeo Valley organic gardens have achieved certification from the Soil Association – and let me tell you, that’s no mean feat. Everything that’s brought in has to abide by strict regulations to meet Soil Association standards… and as there’s only one organic certified nursery in the UK, it’s a long, hard process. Even if they bought a plant from down the road, the soil is considered ‘foreign’ and would probably threaten their organic status. It’s that stringent. But they manage, and they go to great lengths to preserve their status.

You see, Yeo Valley are very keen to ensure that the public realise that the reality of their operation in Somerset is actually close to the reality that their advertising, marketing and packaging relays. We were allowed to go and see the cows being milked – they all stood very calmly and appeared to be at great ease with this routine. The farmer herding them in and out of the milking room knows them by name, talks to them like a teacher might address his slightly petulant   class of students (some of them are a bit naughty). We met a few girls who were shortly due to calf, and up close they all looked in excellent condition, and were suitably nosey about these strangers that had come to see their fat bellies and fabulous hairdos. I asked a few difficult questions and all were answered with transparency. Because they run a tight ship and care about what they do, they can be transparent. If all businesses were the same, we’d be in a much better place.

There’s more to tell about my eye-opening Yeo Valley visit, but I’m going to split it into several posts to avoid writing a novella. Next up will be a sourdough recipe from the cookery demonstration by Yeo Valley’s head chef, Jaime. And after that, there’ll be yoghurt-based cheesecake and tea-smoked trout recipes for you to enjoy. And then I’ll be exploring organic compost and feed ‘recipes’, as talked about by Yeo Valley’s head gardener, James (he who once worked at Highgrove for HRH, no less).

If you’d like to head down to the Yeo Valley tea rooms and organic garden, they’re open every Thursday and first Sunday of the month from April through to September.

Comments

  1. It is absolutely lovely isn’t it. I enjoyed my day there (thanks to you), the other week. It’s just such a relaxing place when you expect it to be bustling and busy. A real oasis of calm in the Somerset countryside after the nightmare that is driving through Bristol in the rush hour.

    Sue xx

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