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Beer and Buddleias – two unique NGS gardens with breweries in common

At two of the National Gardens Scheme's gardens that uniquely share their home with a brewery, plants and beer go hand in hand as the brewery gardens form as much of an attraction as the brewery itself.

For two NGS gardens, Hunmanby Grange in Yorkshire and the Elgood's Brewery Garden in Cambridgeshire, the natural pairing of a brewery and a garden have fallen perfectly into place. The two gardens are thought to be the only NGS Gardens that are sited at a brewery.

Turning back the clock over 30 years for Gill Mellor, moving from Kent to her husband Tom's farm, Hunmanby Grange, in Yorkshire was like having a blank canvas to work with and 'a challenge' that she knew could be developed over a number of years. Tom farmed the land, which sits 110m above sea level and four miles from Filey on the east coast of Yorkshire.

Over the years, Gill developed and shaped the three and a half acre grounds around the house into a series of small gardens, or "rooms", to make one large garden, despite the very windy and exposed conditions on top of the Yorkshire Wolds. Where difficult conditions due to a westerly prevailing wind and chalk soils posed challenges, Gill and Tom found their own solutions: "Our very first fence was concreted in but the next time I looked at it, it had blown over!

"Now, our hedges and fences have grown which keeps the garden sheltered and I increased the depth of the soil with a lot of compost to increase the organic matter in it.

"The biggest issue is the wind when we want to keep the view and sunshine!"

Gill and Tom recently received an engraved fork, to go with the 10-year trowel, to mark 20 years of taking part of the National Garden Scheme. Over the years, their gardens have raised over £30,000 and have played an important role in NGS fund-raising, which benefits charities including Macmillan, Marie Curie, Help the Hospices, Parkinson's UK, Carers Trust and NT Gardening Careerships.

They first started Wold Top Brewery in 2003 as a farm diversification when income from the farm was dropping. Tom's idea was to use their home-grown barley and filtered water which has nothing added to it from the farm's borehole in the brewing of the beer.

When Gill's commitment to the brewery increased, she found that she ran out of time and the gardens and nursery were no longer her only priority. At this point she had to make a choice and prioritising the brewery was the option she chose: "Continuing my work on the brewery with Tom, I found that suddenly, on a Monday morning, it did not matter that the plants and garden did not need to be perfect, they moved to become more of a hobby and a joy to be in."

She does however maintain the gardens as they host weddings and events at the brewery and gardens with their offshoot Muddy Souls Events and opens the garden and the brewery to the public for one weekend a year.

Gill, who is also the NGS assistant County organiser for North Yorkshire, studied horticulture at the former Wye College, where she and Tom met, and has always had an interest in gardens since her first job at a local garden centre aged 14.

Her eye for shaping the garden views means careful planning: "I always think a good rule of thumb is to imagine you are taking a photograph; if you can frame the view this way it works.

"I plan my borders for late summer with foliage in mind, as it is always there and the flowers a fleeting bonus. I like to use colour, leaf shape and size to create contrasts.

"I grow a lot of Euphorbias and herbaceous perennials and a special area is the laburnum tunnel which is beautiful early June time when the flowers are hanging down.

"I am always looking, learning and thinking how I can improve the garden!"

For the Elgoods, maintaining their gardens and brewing beer runs in the blood as the three sisters have taken over the reins from their father.

As the fifth generation to look after the 200-year-old Georgian brewery on the bank of the River Nene in Cambridgeshire, each of the sisters has a defined role within the business. Eldest sister Belinda Sutton, 49, is the managing director, Claire Simpson is in charge of developing new products for the brewery and exports; and Jennifer Everall, 45, deals with credit control.

The gardens, which have been part of the NGS for 17 years, were gradually restored over three years to their pre-war grandeur by middle daughter Claire and opened its gates to the public in 1994. "We had the most wonderful response and we even found people coming in just for the garden!

"We have fantastic land here in the Fens, the soil is wonderful - incredibly soft, light and fertile. Everything grows like mad! During the war, the garden was ploughed up to plant fruit and vegetables so in the early 1990s we set about putting it back to how it used to be.

"We looked at photos my grandfather took from before the Second World War and we based the restoration on these. We also wanted to create something more manageable in terms of features which would appeal to people."

Claire studied A-Level botany, prior to a course at Askham Bryan College and then at the Chelsea Physic Garden, and had 'always wanted to be a gardener' so when family circumstances led her back home, it was only natural for her to help design the garden. She was also working in her own landscaping business, which she still works for today, whilst redesigning the brewery gardens.

Features such as the re-landscaped the rockery and the maze have been added and give the four-acre garden a personal touch, as well as family-friendly appeal. They also converted one of the buildings on site into a visitor's centre.

Claire notes: "We intended to keep the gardens in a Georgian style, in keeping with the brewery and in order to maximise the visitor's day out. Now we have a garden that is visitor friendly and something which has been developed through my own interests.

"We wanted to give people something else to enjoy while going round the brewery."

Claire's parent Nigel and Anne Elgood took over the business in 1968, which today also has 36 pubs in Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk, and are very hands-on with the gardening.

"Mum and Dad love the garden, they happily spend their evenings weeding and pottering about in the garden. And it's right on their doorstep," adds Claire.

"The trees we have are a point of interest as they are listed by the National Tree Register and incredibly old."

The 200-year-old specimens, including Liriodendron tulipifera (Tulip Tree), Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree), Araucaria Araucana (Monkey Puzzle Tree) and Pinus sylvestris (Scots Pine) are dotted about the garden which also presents herbaceous borders, a herb garden and a dipping pond to visitors.

"The dipping pond is a new addition as we wanted to encourage wildlife, and we have found that children are interested in it. So it has an educative purpose too."

For these two families, sharing the gardens and their joys is a significant part of opening their doors to the public. It is also hoped that, with the NGS, they will be able to raise the profile of these and other beautiful gardens, which are just too special to keep to themselves.

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