With the new season of the Open Garden Scheme sweeping across Yorkshire, Bethan Andrews speaks to one of the county’s most renowned gardeners, Dean Bolton-Grant, as he celebrates a year since opening The Northern School of Gardening
Although acclaimed gardener Dean Bolton Grant might not be actively participating in the national Open Garden Scheme this year, things don’t get much more open than his latest career move. Focused on making gardening, and his knowledge of all things nature, accessible to all, it’s been one year since Bolton-Grant opened The Northern School of Gardening at The Yorke Arms in Nidderdale.
And given his illustrious career, knowledge is something Bolton-Grant has in droves. After starting his professional life at Raymond Blanc at The Manor in Oxford in their kitchen gardens, Bolton-Grant travelled the world working for the Queen of Denmark in Copenhagen and the Maltese prime minister and president managing historic gardens on the island.
Having come back to the UK and started his own business a few years ago, Bolton-Grant found himself settling in Harrogate and started managing the gardens at the wonderful The Yorke Arms. “Lockdown came along and threw a spanner in everyone’s works,” sighs Bolton-Grant. “Suddenly there was this beautiful kitchen garden that wasn’t being maintained, and the whole venue was closed. I had a conversation with the owners to see what they were going to do with the place and they didn’t know!”
It got Bolton-Grant’s brain ticking, and soon he found himself opening a new school, one which focuses on horticulture, food and art. Aside from seeing the potential in The Yorke Arms, what really made him want to open an upmarket gardening school in the depths of the Yorkshire Dales? “I suddenly really wanted to open the school because it appeared that people were becoming more interested in gardening and didn’t know the first thing about it,” he explains. “People are losing touch with the outside world – it’s even proven that the words people are using more now relate back to nature less and less.”
Coming from a family background in landscaping and gardening, Bolton-Grant forgets that people don’t just know how to garden from an early age. “I’ve always been around plants and the outdoors,” he says. “Then, always having been in the industry, I kind of assumed people knew how to garden and they just don’t – that was an eye opener! I thought it was high time I passed on my passion, love and knowledge.”
A year on from opening the doors, Bolton-Grant is over the moon with the reception from the public and is excited for adding more courses this year and next. “I’ve really enjoyed seeing people’s enthusiasm and watching people get really excited by what we are teaching them,” he says. “One of our unique selling points is that we have full reign of the whole garden, so our guests can be in the garden digging things up, not just standing pointing at things – they can really get stuck in.”
In a positive move forwards, Bolton-Grant has noticed that people are more interested in their gardens and the outside world since the pandemic. He hopes the school can further inspire people and raise the profile of gardening as a career. “I think it’s a really undervalued career, and it’s a career that can take you anywhere in the world,” he beams. “I don’t think that’s advertised enough.”
So, speaking of being an open book for gardening advice and knowledge, when it comes to battling the, at times, harsh elements in Yorkshire, what tips would Bolton-Grant offer those wanting to get their northern gardens up to scratch? “Yorkshire is so big and varied, but bear in mind that winter lasts a long time in the county,” he says. “Think about the plants that will hold form over the winter and give you winter interest, such as grasses like morning light and meliniar, that will help extend the seasons. Late flowering plants, spring bulbs and winter interest are your friends.”
With experience across the globe, too, I wonder what influences Bolton-Grant likes to bring to a Yorkshire garden, and what he likes to see going on in the great outdoors up here? “If you think the Dales are famous for mossy, craggy walls, and little ferns so I would go with lots of ferns and mosses within walls,” he says. “Dry stone walls are a perfect haven for wildlife.”
Naturally, having worked for royalty, Bolton-Grant is a perfectionist so despite not being quite ready to showcase the Yorke Arms gardens in the Open Garden Scheme this year, it’s an initiative that Bolton-Grant thinks is brilliant and he’s looking forward to being a part of it in the near future. It sounds to me like a case of watch this space when it comes to getting a look at his work in Yorkshire in 2023.
Aside from his knowledge, what else does Bolton-Grant really want to get across to his students and the public? “There’s a satisfaction of seeing things grow, being out in nature and seeing the seasons change,” he says. “You’ve just got to be out there and in it.”
To get out into nature then this year, where would Bolton-Grant tell you to go? “Oh, it’s going to have to be the Yorkshire Dales, those big empty spaces,” he enthuses. “Look down at the ground when the heather is in season, it’s just beautiful and I love the enormity of it.”
Open Gardens to visit across Yorkshire in June and July
- Greenhill Open Gardens, Saturday 25 June
- Cawthorne Open Gardens, Saturday 25 June
- Barwick Open Gardens, Sunday 26 June
- Upper Hopton Garden Trail, Saturday 2 July
- Bellerby Open Gardens, Sunday 3 July
- Emley Open Gardens, Saturday 9 July
- Boston Spa Open Gardens, Sunday 10 July