Vanessa Cook shares the secrets of Stillingfleet Lodge Gardens with F&F readers.
We bought the house in 1975. It was derelict and surrounded by four acres of field, so we spent the first year in a caravan doing up the house. At this stage the only gardening that we did was to plant a long shelter break of native trees as the Vale of York is very flat and we get very strong westerly winds. We also planted an orchard of apples and plums, and until 1984 lived the good life with a house cow, pigs, sheep and hens, as well as growing all our vegetables and bringing up four children.
After attending Askham Bryan Horticultural College, I opened a plant nursery at Stillingfleet, and as the nursery grew, the animals began to disappear. After the cow left us, I had space to dig double herbaceous borders: up to this point we only had cottage garden planting round the house.
Soon after, the sheep went as it was impossible to run the nursery at its busiest when lambing was also going on. This meant I could dig out a wildlife pond in one area of the garden which has clay soil, and the pasture returned to meadow, packed with native wildflowers. We have also planted bulbs and some hardy geraniums to prolong interest, but this ancient pasture is nothing like the annual meadows you see nowadays.
After I removed one of our polytunnels from near the house, we had the ideal space for my very model rill garden. Lizzie Tulip helped me design this part of the garden, but otherwise it has just been crafted by me and my family.