The Winter Garden

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Just when the weather is at it’s bleakest – grey, wet, cold and generally downright miserable. Just when we could probably all do with some cheer – some colour, some signs of life, some greenery – we give up on our gardens.  Or by and large we do.  This is a shame, because there are many plants that are at their most beautiful at this time of year.

In recent years there have been efforts to overcome this tendency as various people and gardens have developed ‘The Winter Garden’.  Among the very first was at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire, a National Trust property, but others have followed, for example the winter borders at the RHS garden at Harlow Carr.  Other gardens, such as Hodsock Priory, near Worksop, open especially to display extensive snowdrop collections.  This hopefully gets us out and about, visiting these properties and getting some fresh air, but there is no reason why you cannot enjoy a winter garden, on a smaller scale perhaps, at your own home.  All it takes is a little foresight and preparation.

The ground may be too wet at this time of the year to do very much actual gardening but there is no reason that you cannot have a garden that is still beautiful to look at, either through the windows, or by venturing out on sunnier days.  Even better, why not make use of the fact that we all see our front gardens daily, as we come and go about our business.  If nothing else why not have a pot of something with fabulous fragrance right by the front door.  All we need do is plant a careful choice of plants earlier in the year.  (This year I have taken some cuttings of the astonishingly scented winter honeysuckle to go in a pot by the front door for this time next year.)

Our own front garden is now largely planted up for winter and early spring.  (The back is reserved for a riot of bad taste in summer when we want to spend as much time out of doors as possible.)  The display in the front garden starts with the coloured stems of the dogwoods – fiery orange, yellow and dark purple.  Yellow witch hazel with its delicious scent follows.  Then it’s the turn of the mass snowdrops and crocuses to show off.  (In a fit of pedantry I painstakingly transplanted all the orange crocuses we inherited into the back garden, leaving only the more ‘tasteful’ white and mauve ones in the front.)  As all this is going on we slowly move towards spring and there is always something to see, to go outside and observe.  The white and plum hellebores, the early primroses, the Viburnum carlesii with it’s heavenly scent.  Before we know it the early daffodils are out and the forsythia too; we have arrived at spring without knowing it.  The winter garden has carried us through.

So this year, when the time is right for planting, why not think ahead and develop your own winter garden.  You won’t regret it!

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