Take a winter seat in the Yeo Valley Organic Garden

The Organic Garden – Behind Closed Doors

Monday 6th December 2021

Get your cosy socks on and a hot cuppa ready – It’s time for Sarah’s winter update.


“The garden gate closed for the last time at the end of October, so now the work can really begin!

Whilst we are always sad to say goodbye to our visitors it gives us an opportunity to ‘take our makeup off’ and get on with the backstage jobs.  For the garden team, the period between closing and reopening in April is the busiest time of year.

Bulbs, bulbs, bulbs!

It’s a source of great amusement amongst the garden team that from August until November there is a constant stream of bulbs being delivered to YOG.

I try to write notes all year round so that when it comes to ordering bulbs in the Summer (I try to order my bulbs by June to have first 1st dibs of the varieties) I can remember my successes, failures, and thoughts from the previous season.

One of the first jobs on closing is getting these bulbs safely into the ground.  As we’re talking about somewhere in the region of 30,000 bulbs, this is no mean feat!  But our efforts are always rewarded – we know that planting bulbs is an investment in next year’s show and something to look forward to.

Our tulips are an exception and are still in their boxes. We’ve got heavy clay soil so we’ve found that it’s better to wait, even until the end of December, rather than have them sitting in the cold damp soil which they detest.

In the compost yard…

Matt working on the compost heap in the Yeo Valley Organic Garden
Matt working on the compost heap

Our compost yard is the life and soul of the garden and Autumn delivers lots of leafy potential. We’re very fortunate that we have access to fallen leaves throughout our five sites and it’s a huge focus for us every autumn. Rather than gathering them, we use a leaf blower and direct our fallen leaves under the hedges and onto the beds where they act as an automatic mulch.

However, where they fall on paths, hard surfaces or lawns we gather them up and store in one of our compost bays. The leaves then break down into leaf mold which we use in compost mixes and as a soil conditioner.

This is a win win, something for nothing, thank you mother nature.

Snuggle down!

This is also the time of year when we look to protect our more vulnerable plants. Those that are not reliably hardy at low temperature – especially given our clay soils.Plants that get tucked up for the winter include our gunnera and our tree ferns.

Our lemon trees, cannas and brugmansia all get brought into the glass house and the glass house itself gets a lining of bubble wrap to insulate against a hard winter.

Feed the birds…

Winter sun in the Yeo Valley Organic Garden
We don’t cut everything back for winter to help keep the birds fed

At YOG we don’t cut back our borders until February/March the following year.

All those seed heads from plants such like panicum, teasels, sunflowers and amaranth become wonderful delicious natural bird feeders when left over the winter. We do put out our own bird feeders too, particularly concentrating on areas that tend to be higher in pests.  The veggie patch and cut flower garden are prime examples.

Cover up!

Where we have bare areas of soil we like to protect them with a green manure.  At YOG we particularly like phacelia as it can be sown at any time of year, makes dense cover, fixes nitrogen into the soil and also, if allowed to flower, sends up an electric blue flowerhead that is a beautiful bee magnet.  We also mulch using our own home-made composts and leaf molds through all our borders, once we have given them a last weed to improve soil structure and add nutrients where necessary.  We don’t dig our composts in as we prefer not to disturb the soil structure, we like to allow the worms to do our work for us.

Winter in the garden
Ready for winter!


Winter is a great time to take stock and have a good old sort out. Pots should be thoroughly cleaned, tools particularly spades and edgers, sharpened and oiled, mowers serviced and everything cleaned and oiled.

Labels are cleaned if plastic or repainted in black if wooden, ready for new signage next year. The glasshouse gets its pre-Christmas clean, making sure all dead plant material is removed and it’s had a good sweep.

By the time the team break for a well-deserved Christmas holiday, we aim to have the garden ship shape and Bristol fashion, ready to start the new year with a spring in its step.

Comments on “The Organic Garden – Behind Closed Doors”

  • A very good read and inspirational.
    Thank You.

    Anonymous on 14th December 2021 at 8:28 pm

  • Wonderful read Sarah! And nice modelling there from Matt…..the afro is still going strong!

    Chloe on 13th December 2021 at 6:19 pm

  • Love the seatladder in your photo. Looks like many a slip while hedge cutting could be avoided.

    Maggie on 13th December 2021 at 9:29 am

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