My Yorkshire: The garden designer behind Welcome to Yorkshire’s plot at the Chelsea Flower Show

Tracy Foster would encourage a stranger to Yorkshire to take a walk among the flowers at RHS Harlow Carr.
Tracy Foster would encourage a stranger to Yorkshire to take a walk among the flowers at RHS Harlow Carr.
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Sheffield-born garden designer Tracy Foster has been chosen to create the Welcome to Yorkshire plot at the this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

She lives in Leeds with her husband, Andy, with whom she has two children.

Garden designer Tracy Foster.

Garden designer Tracy Foster.

What’s your first Yorkshire memory?

Growing up in Sheffield, and going for holidays at Filey – the family used to have a little caravan, and dad would tow it up there. I can remember my sister and me paddling in the sea – which was always pretty cold. It’s a few years since I’ve been, but nothing much seems to change in Filey.

What’s your favourite part of the county – and why?

Yorkshire is so vast that I’m always finding new favourites. For the Chelsea garden this year I’ve been roaming all over the place, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time at Flamborough, drawing inspiration from that line of coast.

What’s your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire?

Walking in the North York Moors or the Dales, and also visiting the gardens of people who open them up to the National Garden Scheme. It’s really inspirational.

Do you have a favourite walk – or view?

Along the coastline from Flamborough Head to Bempton Cliffs, with its hundreds of thousands of seabirds. And, at the right time of year, the chalk soil is perfect for a stunning, apparently never-ending, display of gorgeous wildflowers.

Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch?

Sport and I have never gone together, ever. But, for her sheer determination, athletic skills, and that big sunny smile, a few hours in the company of Jessica Ennis-Hill would be a complete delight.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner?

Alan Titchmarsh, because I think that he’s so multi-talented and knowledgeable, and seems such a likeable chap. Not only is he a great gardener (from pretty humble beginnings) but he’s also an amiable presenter, writer, you name it.

If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what would it be?

It’s that NGS Yellow Book because it tells you of so many gardening treasures around the county. I’ve often stood by a front gate and thought, ‘Well, this looks a bit small’, and then you go through, and you find that it is the gardening equivalent of the Tardis.

If you could choose somewhere, or some object, from or in Yorkshire to own for a day, what would it be?

The walled garden at Scampston Hall. I would love to be there, alone, to examine their planting, and to take photograph after photograph, with no-one else to be in the background. I’ve always yearned for a walled garden of my own, and I think that this might be my only opportunity.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

We lived in Cambridgeshire for a while, and I can’t tell you how happy I was to come back home. Down there, it feels as if you have to have lived in the same house for 30 years before anyone will strike up a conversation with you. Here, there is still a sense of community.

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?

Yes, and it’s The Reliance, in North Street, in Leeds. They only offer the highest quality food, and it is always of the season, and locally sourced. Lovely staff, not too expensive, and always a treat.

Do you have a favourite food shop?

The Farmers’ Market at Oakwood Clock, run by an organisation called Reap, is outstanding for its vegetables and fruit, and I’m still a fan of Leeds central market for meat and fish.

How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you’ve known it?

Nothing stands still, does it? Overall, I think change has been for the better. It’s certainly a lot cleaner, and there’s more variety these days. Cities like Leeds and Sheffield are more cosmopolitan and diverse, which is great, because they used to be so insular and scruffy.

If you had to change one thing in, or about Yorkshire, what would that be?

The stereotype that we are all flat-capped and miserly, and that we have a padlock on our purses and 
wallets.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?

My husband. He is so long-suffering and patient with me when I’m away for days (often many days) at a time, doing all the shows I get involved with. He lets me get on with what I love. He’s also a great cook, a lovely man and a fantastic dad.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work?

In every way. The very nature of the changes in landscape, soils, prevailing winds, conditions, whatever, all play a huge part in the gardens I design and make. It seems obvious to say, but a garden on the east coast will be fundamentally different from one in one set in the Dales, so you have to plan and plant accordingly. The county is always inspiring me.

Name your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer?

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I was commissioned to make a garden based on the Brontë 
family and Haworth, about five years ago and I came away with a great admiration for all of them – brother included – and how creative they all were, despite some pretty primitive living conditions.

If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be?

Allow me two? The first would be York, which is just about perfect in every way and the second would be to RHS Harlow Carr near Harrogate, for a stroll in those magnificent gardens. Watch out for a little corner called Hedgehog Street, which I was asked to design. It’s three domestic gardens next to each other, and it shows the public how they can help to stop the slow decline of one of our favourite little creatures by subtly changing things in their own backyards.

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show runs from May 23 to May 27.