Millgate Garden is one of those places you may well walk past if you had no inkling of what lay behind the 18th facade of the Georgian townhouse. In fact I have, on previous visits to the North Yorkshire town of Richmond. Lying just metres from the central market place, a simple ‘garden open’ sign was what we were told to look out for, by the lady in the tourist information centre.
A door at the side of the house leads into an alleyway, or snicket as they are known in these parts, where there’s an honesty box to pay your admission and pick up a guide to the garden beyond. A small area at the side of the house, shaded and damp, might otherwise go unadorned; the perfect place to stash those encumbrances of modern life, such as the wheelie bin, but here it’s packed with containers of hostas and ferns.
Climbers such as Parthenocissus henryana and Clematis clothe the walls, there are pots of topiarised box and shots of colour from yellow poppies appearing from cracks and crevices. From here you enter the garden proper, through an old gate in the substantial stone wall enclosing the garden.
The house, with it’s Regency extension at the back towering over the garden, may feel grand but the garden at a third of an acre is the sort of space that those of us with even the smallest of outdoor spaces can take inspiration from.
The layout of the garden with its upper and lower terraces was established in the 1930s but the planting and the feel that has been created is the work of the current owners, Austin and Tim, who moved into Millgate in 1980. They wanted to create a garden with year-round interest, structure and movement. I loved it and I’m not the only who thinks this is a gem of a garden. Some years ago they won the RHS National Garden Competition from some 3200 entries.
Visiting a smallish garden like this, developed by self-taught horticulturalists for their own private pleasure is truly inspiring. Gravel paths wend through the upper part of the garden; stone steps lead down to the lower section with paths taking you to seating areas, one of which overlooks the countryside beyond and the waterfalls of the River Swale. On our visit, with river levels high, the roar of the water flooding over the rapids could be heard from the garden.
The use of trees and shrubs to create the bones of the garden, to give it structure, was for me the most inspiring feature and something I want to learn from. The upper garden is dominated by an incredible Rosa helenae, a vigorous climber that can achieve 6-8 metres in height and it’s not the only rose at Millgate with over 40 varieties scattered throughout the borders.
Acers, hollies and yews created some lovely shady areas where geraniums and martagon lillies were thriving. Clematis climbed their way up supports and through other plants. Dotted around were containers with lollipop pruned box and hollies. Purple campanulas tumbled out onto paths and spotted leaves of pulmonaris could be seen poking through gaps, hinting at what was on show here earlier in the year.
When you’re an avid garden visitor like myself it’s individuality and personality that you start to look for in other gardens and Millgate had plenty to keep me happy. I loved these little stone features.
I have no idea what their previous purpose was but you know when you’re in the garden of real plantophiles when no opportunity is missed to find somewhere to put a plant. A quote from Isaac Watts, the 18th century hymnwriter, etched onto slate and placed above a seating area was a great touch.
There were some stunning plants but I was particularly taken by this, apparently rare, Polemonium ‘Katy Daley’. A slate label said it was from Jackson’s Wold Nursery just outside Scarborough.
And, if all this wasn’t enough, Millgate House is actually a B&B. What better place to stay than somewhere with such stunning gardens and with Helmsley Walled Garden, RHS Harlow Carr and Castle Howard all in the area and my favourite plant nursery at Eggleston Hall, this has all the ingredients for the perfect gardening holiday.