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Meet one family successfully blending nature with craft-based accessories for the garden<br/>Words and Photographs Heather Dixon
Imagine a tiny village in Crete where for generations a handful of families have made some of the finest pottery in the world.
Picture too, swinging scythes cutting through water reeds which are perfect for the ancient art of thatching. Now fast forward to a mining village just off the busy A1/ M62 where these pots and reeds have been brought together under one roof.
For here, in the village of Kellingley, West Yorkshire is the Garden Barn, a family-run garden shop which is unlike any other in the county.
The family aims to provide genuine rustic and rural accessories for the garden including beautiful Cretan pots. At the same time the owners have developed a new concept in bespoke, thatched garden gazebos which are all hand-built in redwood and thatched on site.
The five-strong team which includes Stacie and Lee Johnson, Stacies parents Steve and Janet Roberts, and Lees father George was formed out of a meeting of minds when they launched a wholesale business to specialise in Cretan pots.
Janet and I made a rash decision to move to Crete for a while, discovered the village where these pots had been made for generations, saw a niche in the market and seized the opportunity, says Steve. We brought a container load to the UK and started knocking on doors.
The business grew so rapidly that before long the entire family became involved and actively looked for other opportunities which would go hand-in-hand with the pots. We particularly liked the link with nature and age-old crafts, says Stacie. Garden designs seem to have gone full circle and the accent is now on natural materials and blending nature with craft-based accessories.
It wasnt long before Steve discovered a source for thatching reeds and Lee developed the concept of made-to-measure thatched garden buildings which he now designs and builds. Thatching is very labour intensive but the thatch is a beautiful and very traditional way of finishing a building, says Lee. It mellows over time and weathers along with the timber frame so that it looks as though it has always been part of the garden.
Unlike other thatched outdoor rooms, Lees designs are flexible and multi-purpose: one customer wanted one to shelter a vintage car and another to cover an aviary, although they are most commonly used for eating al fresco.
Lee has furthered his skills developing a range of products for the garden - including thatched bird tables and he also makes bespoke pieces, the most recent being a planter made from the seasoned wood of vintage whisky barrels. I make everything here on site, he says.
Each item is unique and made using traditional methods.
Until recently, the family concentrated solely on their wholesale business but then they had the chance to develop the Garden Barn in redundant farm buildings in Kellingley, next to an existing plant nursery. It was the perfect location, says Stacie.
There is ample parking and there is space for us to have outdoor storage for the wholesale pots, a workshop for Lee to build the thatched gazebos and a retail area where we sell rustic garden ornaments, statues, fountains and metal ware which take gardening and gardens back to their roots.
The family share a passion for traditional crafts and they each bring something different to the family business. They are keen to become known as unique garden specialists in Yorkshire.
For more information go to thegardenbarnshop.com
The art of pottery in Crete goes back over 4,000 years.
Historically Cretan pots have long been used to store olive oil and wine as well as for the decoration of Minoan palaces.
The clay used to make the pots is only found on the Island of Crete.
The pots can take several days to complete, each one thrown in stages over a period of time.
The pots are fired in a traditional kiln at over 1,000 degrees. The fuel used is dried olive pips (Pirinaki) a by-product of pressing the olives which takes place every winter in Crete.
Water reed is one of the farthest spreading plants in the world.
When the dry canes have lost all their leaves they are ready to be harvested.
Traditionally reeds are harvested with scythes or sickles. A skilled harvester can tie between 15 and 20 bundles an hour.
Reeds are renowned for their water resistant, thermal and noise insulation properties. They are also frost resistant.
Today there are around 24,000 listed thatched buildings in the UK.
The print version of this article appeared in the July 2012 issue of Yorkshire Life
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