Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to somewhere that I'd wanted to go for quite some time: the organic gardens at Yeo Valley headquarters in Somerset. The purpose of the visit was to see how they have really taken on board the technology behind organic farming, as with their dairy products, and to see the techniques they employ.
Yeo Valley is not like so many of those large companies, churning out products (pardon the pun) with little regard for anything other than commericial criteria. They started in the 1970s as a family run business between a husband and wife, the company continues to be run by Mary and now her son Tim, while the gardens are the brainchild of Tim's wife Sarah. When they moved back to the farm twenty years ago, Sarah set about changing the traditional farmhouse garden into something more personal and contemporary, expanding the area to six and a half acres, and opening up the view to Blagdon Lake just beyond the farm.
In 2009 the farm became completely organic, and the gardens followed suit the next year as one of only a handful of organically certified ornamental gardens in the country. Everything in the garden, which is then used in the tearooms, is grown organically and is home-made. The team working on the gardens and in the kitchens, are incredibly dedicated to creating a home-grown environment and delicious foodstuffs, from the organic compost made on site (making them virtually waste-free) to the cheesecakes made by the head chef Jaime.
When I arrived, I was treated to a tour of the gardens by one of the gardeners. The garden is split into 'rooms' and allows for different design aspects to be explored.
The Bronze Garden was one of my two favourite sections, with all flowers and plants fitting the colour scheme of 'bronze'. The pool you see here is treated to an organic black dye every year, this makes it reflective and allows for the statue and surrounding area to be reflected beautifully, but it also means that the sun's rays do not penetrate the surface and therefore no algae grows. Clever hey?
The vegetable garden was my other favourite section; the mixed beds are bursting forth with carrots, leeks, brocolli, sweetcorn, with Love in the Mist and marigolds scattered in between them. It was a riot of colour, life and promise. There are beautiful metalwork sculptures throughout carrying the vegetable theme on.
The flowers throughout the garden are simply stunning: a riot of typical British countryside flowers in either the natural meadow setting (complete with Yeo Valley's own beehives making sixty jars of honey a year) or the woodland walk with foxgloves and ferns galore.
Following the tour of the organic gardens, we were fortunate enough to have the head chef at Yeo Valley show us how to cook three dishes using the delicious range of Yeo Valley yoghurts. Jaime demonstrated how easy it was to make sourdough bread (the non-messy way), to smoke trout (as a vegetarian I didn't pay much attention to this one, although it could probably do vegetable kebabs and halloumi nicely) and how to use a pot of yoghurt to make a cheesecake.
Don't they look delicious? Fortunately we got to taste test them, as they made up part of our lunch. The chefs at Yeo Valley had created a stunning array of simple side dishes to accompany the smoked trout, or roasted vegetable tart.
Clockwise from top left: home-grown tomato salad, pasta with feta cheese, mustard and olives, beetroot salad, and roasted vegetable tart.
The afternoon concluded with a talk about making organic compost and feeds for plants. I'm quite a keen composter but didn't realise the difference between aerobic and anaerobic composting; most of us compost anaerobically (not turning the mixture) and this can take up to eighteen months. Yeo Valley are keen to use all their garden waste; compost, leaf mulch, nettle and comfrey teas etc. Very impressive, and food for thought in my own garden.
It was an amazing day and I've been trying out a few of the recipes that Jaime showed us, more of these to follow in the next week.
If you'd like to find out more about the organic gardens at Yeo Valley then click here for more information. If you'd like to visit them, then they run open days on Thursday until September, click on the visitor information tab.
I received a day out at Yeo Valley and a bag of gorgeous dairy goodies to experiment with my cooking.