Brookleigh Pumpkin Patch: Meet the former London mum who is now running a pumpkin patch and Halloween trail in rural Yorkshire

When Clapham-based mum-of-two Sarah Foster suddenly found herself 200 miles from home nearly four years ago it was the biggest culture shock of her life, but little did she know that within three years she would be not just a mum-of-three but now a grower and fast becoming an expert on pumpkins, much to her father’s delight.

This is the third year of Sarah’s Brookleigh Pumpkin Patch at Menston where she has trebled her original 200 pumpkins grown in 2021 and has now incorporated a new Hallowe’en Trail this year.

“My husband Tom is from here,” says Sarah. “I’d been coming up every year to help with his family’s Christmas Tree business on the farm, but I was very happy in Clapham. I loved the lifestyle, but when the pandemic hit it was ’we’ve got to get back to the farm’.

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“That Thursday night when Boris announced we were going to get a lockdown, we packed as much as we could into the car, including as much toilet roll and tinned tomatoes as we could.

Sarah Foster has gone from London mum to running a pumpkin growing operationSarah Foster has gone from London mum to running a pumpkin growing operation
Sarah Foster has gone from London mum to running a pumpkin growing operation

“We just had the boys at that time. We picked them up from school, said our goodbyes and see you on the other side. We got here at 1 o’clock the next morning. Dexter is now 10 and Herbie is 9. We were lucky enough to have Tiggi a year ago, a young lady with a lot of spirit.

“It was a massive culture shock for me. I’m a very convenience-led person and here it is 20 minutes to get anywhere. I have to be much more organised not living in a city, so my fridge now has to have proper food in it, whereas before I could just wing-it. And the weather as well! I remember thinking, it doesn’t get warm here until May, hello! What’s all that about?

Sarah says she has become a lot more accepting of the weather now, but she doesn’t reckon her southern accent, she’s from Salisbury originally, is going to give anyone the impression that she is now a Yorkshire lass.

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“I’m trying my hardest, and I’ve become slightly more organised, and my dad, who is a horticulturalist, is really impressed with what I’m doing with the pumpkins.

Sarah Foster pictured at Brookleigh Pumpkins & Christmas TreesSarah Foster pictured at Brookleigh Pumpkins & Christmas Trees
Sarah Foster pictured at Brookleigh Pumpkins & Christmas Trees

“The reason why I did pumpkins was also down to convenience. I used to have to drive from Menston to Harrogate to get pumpkins for the boys for Hallowe’en. It would take 45-50 minutes. After a while I thought I might like to grow pumpkins myself as I like Halloween. I thought let’s give it a shot.

“I grew 200 the first year and sold out within three days. I’ve now gone up to 600 this year. I’m still a small pumpkin patch, but it works and maybe I might just have become a bit of a pumpkin expert. I grow Jill-Be-Little, Jack o’ Lantern, Racer and Gladiator, all predominantly orange varieties.

Sarah says that not everything has always run smoothly even though she has taken advice.

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“I’ve learned about how to plant, irrigation, fertilisation, bug control, pollination, slug control, rabbit control and how to cure them properly and prepare for sale, but I still had a dreadful time at the start of this year’s crop.

Sarah Foster's husband's family also have a Christmas tree businessSarah Foster's husband's family also have a Christmas tree business
Sarah Foster's husband's family also have a Christmas tree business

“The weather was tough this year. It was really warm at first and then got really rainy. We planted down the other end of farm as well, but we got hit by rabbits and slugs.

“We grow our plants in sacks and trays and then hand farm them all, it’s a huge amount of work. When we checked on how they were doing we found the rabbits had cut nearly all of them off. It was quite soul destroying as I then had to start again, but the crop is now looking amazing and we have some absolute beauties.

Sarah opened up a fortnight ago. The weather couldn’t have been better, unlike last weekend.

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“We had our best weekend on pumpkins so far,” says Sarah. “Everyone came and they all really enjoyed our new trail as well as picking their pumpkins. It was a great atmosphere.

“Our trail consists of eight installations of spooky scenes with witches and a 10ft Grim Reaper, a Zombie Walk Through and Zombie Apocalypse and a Surprise Spider. It’s all innocent Halloween fun and lots of children came dressed up.

Sarah would like her Brookleigh Pumpkins to be more established and to grow more, but she’s also happy that what she is doing is turning into a community event.

“I’d like more pumpkins, but I really like to see local kids coming down to the farm. It’s not a massive trip out, but it is something to do. As a working mum it is also giving me fulfilment too. I offer a free visit for local nurseries to come to the patch and every morning there’s a group here. It’s quite philanthropic giving something back to the community.

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Sarah has other ideas for the future and is looking forward to the start of the Brookleigh Christmas Tree season.

“It’s not far away. Tom and his parents have run it for many years. I help out on the customer service side. We are already getting messages from people wanting to order their trees.

“I find the pumpkin business really good fun but quite different to what I was doing before. I was employed in investment banking.

“I could probably go back to city life quite easily but I’m enjoying being a part of the countryside. I particularly like going to agricultural shows. Kilnsey Show is my favourite and I have thought what it would be like to do the Crag Race. Another favourite is Askwith, mainly because that’s where my boys won the dog competition.

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“I’ve become very concerned with the weather these days. When I wake up in middle of night, I will look on my phone to see whether any sunshine is coming. The pumpkins are great, but it’s not very relaxing constantly looking at the weather forecast.