winter gardens – there’s a lot to enjoy right now

It’s easy to batten down the hatches, assuming that there’s nothing much to see in the garden right now. In many gardens that is the case, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are in fact many plants that are doing their ‘thing’ right now, looking and smelling their best, so get out there and enjoy them.

I had the opportunity this week to go to Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Romsey, and was lucky enough to choose the sunniest, clearest, crispest day imaginable, it was perfect. The low winter sun illuminated colourful stems, the breeze rustled grasses, and the warmth of the sun released the fragrance of so many flowers.

Dogwoods and Silver birch

Plants in full flower were snowdrops, in fact some of the largest snowdrops I have seen were a cultivar called Galanthus ‘Magnet’, planted beneath trees amidst swathes of cyclamen, hellebores and winter aconites. A flower that surprised me was daffodils. I really did not expect to see them so early in the season, it is still January after all, but what a nice surprise it was.

The scent of daphnes, wintersweet and witch hazel frequently stopped me in my tracks as I wandered around enjoying the sunshine. Aesthetically we often think of trees and shrubs in terms of blossom and autumn colour.

We should never underestimate the beauty of the ‘naked’ tree. There are some which actually come into their own when the leaves have dropped, with their form and bark stealing the show. I’m thinking particularly of silver birch, Tibetan cherry and Chinese paper bark maple which contrast so beautifully with the surrounding planting. Conifers feature quite heavily in this garden providing an evergreen backdrop and an important textural contrast. The national collection of dogwoods is held here so it was no surprise to see such a range of colours from yellows through to black. My favourite has to be the vibrant Anny’s winter orange which looks amazing along side silver birch and evergreens.

witch hazel

We may not all have acres in which to create a ‘winter garden’ but even in the smallest garden a few bulbs and a couple of shrubs with colourful berries or stems could make all the difference. In a larger garden how about making an area which can be viewed from a window your ‘winter garden’. Colourful shrubs, interesting trees and some winter flowers could create a wonderful view on a winter’s day.

The wildlife would think so too.

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