Rowe's at Priory Gardens: cutting garden in Yorkshire

Rowes at Priory Gardens: a stunning flower farm in a medieval priory

James Rowe is continuing the family tradition of growing cut flowers in land nestled around a medieval priory. Words Caroline Beck, photographs Annaïck Guitteny

The flower farm in the middle of the medieval Yorkshire town of Guisborough is a well-known landmark, and as you walk round the town, especially in autumn, you can see the tall heads of yellow sunflowers peering tantalisingly over the high brick walls. It was originally a market garden, established by George and Dora Rowe in 1962 with just £10 in their pocket. George also worked the night shift at the chemical factory ICI in nearby Teesside and had seven children to support, but he still managed to show dahlias in the local flower show. The dahlia connection has remained, with rows of more than 60 different cultivars being the high point of the flowering year. George Rowe rented around two acres of the 12th-century Priory Gardens from Lord Gisborough, and the Gothic outline of the ruined Augustinian priory still forms the backdrop to the atmospheric garden.

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George’s son Eddy helped him from the age of five, and his son James, who now heads the family business, can’t remember a time when the family didn’t work with flowers. “Our heyday was in the 1970s and 1980s when Grandad and Dad used to cut 50 buckets of chrysanthemums and dahlias three times a week and take them to the local wholesale market.” The family were well known in the town, and on Christmas Eve there would be a queue all the way down the street of customers waiting to buy bunches of hothouse chrysanthemums. “We hardly saw Dad on Christmas Day, because he’d be cutting another 200 buckets to sell on Boxing Day.” Eddy still has the trowel he’s had all his life, worn down to a third of its original size after decades of continuous use. Things changed, however, drastically during the mid-1990s when globalisation of the multi-million pound UK flower industry almost ruined the business. They couldn’t compete with the price of imported flowers, and a sudden hike in the cost of oil meant they couldn’t afford to heat the large greenhouses any more.
The family’s connection with dahlias is more than a commercial decision. They grow dahlias like most people grow lettuce – effortlessly

“It cost us over £2,000 a week just in oil, and then the price for our flowers crashed,” says James. In the past five years with the resurgence in interest in British grown flowers, the business has bounced back. From late spring onwards, long rows of flowers, such as tulips, cornflowers, scabious, larkspurs, salvias and rudbeckias and, of course, dahlias are a visual treat. Discover more about the garden below.

In brief

What A flower farm in the grounds of a medieval priory. Where North Yorkshire. Size Approximately two acres. Soil Excellent loam which has been well-worked over decades. Climate Can be affected by a cold sea-fret as only five miles from the North Sea. Hardiness zone USDA 8.

The Old Priory
© Annaïck Guitteny

Early autumn in the picking garden with Zinnia ‘Benary’s Giant Mixed’, Scabiosa atropurpurea ‘Salmon Queen’ and foxtail millet (Setaria italica ‘Red Jewel’). All of these are annual flowers and need to be  sown in March and they begin to flower in late summer all the way through to October.
The Old Priory
© Annaïck Guitteny

The dahlia fields in front of the medieval barn, which is now used for drying flowers from July onwards. The dahlias are planted out into the soil in mid-May, disbudded until mid July, and then flower until the first frosts in late October.

Rowe's at Priory Gardens: cutting garden in Yorkshire
© Annaïck Guitteny

As the sun rises over the flower fields at Priory Gardens, the ruined medieval priory provides an atmospheric backdrop to a colourful mix of Scabiosa atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais Bonnets’, Salvia viridis var. comata and cornflowers. Third generation grower James Rowe, who now heads up the business, and his father Eddy sow the seeds directly into the ground in mid-April in long rows for ease of picking.

Flowers from Priory Gardens

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USEFUL INFORMATION Address Priory Gardens, Bow Street, Guisborough, North Yorkshire Ts14 6pr. Tel 01287 771496. Website rowesatpriorygardens.co.uk Open The gardens host a series of flower-arranging workshops and pick your own events throughout the year. See website for details.