Winter may be well and truly upon us, but don’t let that stop you from getting out and enjoying some of our amazing outdoor spaces. Over the next five pages, we take a look at the glorious gardens worth visiting at this time of year, even if you have to wrap up warm…
A treat for the season
Although humans aren’t hibernating animals, many of us tend to stay in and keep warm rather than getting out and about over the winter. It’s understandable – the summer sun is appealing for long lazy walks, flowers in full bloom make attractive surroundings to wander in, and just the extra rigmarole of finding hats, gloves and scarves can put many of us off a winter expedition. But if we give in to this reluctance, we are missing a treat.
The UK doesn’t routinely administer vitamin D supplements to children in winter as many of our European neighbours do. Some say we should, but others feel we should make a point of ensuring the weather doesn’t trap us in our homes for months at a time. We are surrounded by National Trust properties that keep their doors open all year round, with glorious gardens that are tended throughout the seasons. They may be quieter than in the height of summer, but they have no less to show us and many even come into their own with dazzling winter displays.
If you prefer the subtle show of winter bushes, and fancy a stroll through tranquil landscapes glittering in the winter sun, this is the perfect time of year for a refreshing walk. Not only will you discover bright winter berries and late-flowering shrubs, you may get to admire the sparkle of frost-highlighted leaves and even a sprinkle of snow to create a picture-perfect winter scene.
Most of the properties we’ve picked out also have cosy tearooms serving winter warmers. So there really is no excuse for not making a day of it with a garden visit and spot of lunch – perfect for giving your flagging spirits an energetic boost and leaving a little more colour in those rosy, winter cheeks.
At seven acres, Dunham Massey’s Winter Garden is the largest of its kind in the UK. Designed with the help of plantsman Roy Lancaster, the garden is home to more than 700 plant species and 1,600 winter shrubs, trees and evergreens chosen for their scent, colour and texture.
Work began to create the Winter Garden in 2007. Before this, the area was an impenetrable thicket with brambles and weeds in danger of taking over. New paths were laid and some trees and shrubs cleared. Such an ambitious garden project needed a few years to establish, so the Winter Garden only officially opened in November 2009. Since then, it has flourished. Cathedral-like beech and oak trees maintain the historic woodland feel, while the plants underneath provide interest throughout the winter.
Colour for the cold
Thousands of bulbs spring to life in winter, including snowdrops, irises and cyclamen, which thrive in the dry conditions beneath the trees. The Birch Triangle is surrounded by grasses, black-stemmed dogwood and white cyclamen. Wildlife continues to be attracted to the garden, with snowdrops providing the early forage for bees and woodpeckers burrowing into tree trunks.
There’s always plenty to explore, with inspiring planting ideas to enhance your own garden. Highlights include Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ with its yellow and orange stems, while silver birch provides a striking contrast to the purple-black stems of Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii’ and the snowdrops and white cyclamen beneath.
The Yellow Meadow’s winter-flowering bulbs bring real drama and ensure a show-stopping show even in winter. For a more subtle display, look out for the delicate blue Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’, which provides lovely colour in contrast to the bright white carpet created by quarter of a million snowdrops. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunham-massey
The Dorothy Clive Garden, Willoughbridge, Market Drayton
Named by the Daily Mail as one of Britain’s best winter gardens, the Dorothy Clive Garden makes a feature of the coldest months of the year and is open to visitors at weekends throughout the season. Its immaculate woodland borders are bound to lift the spirits
on even the coldest day.
The beautiful one-acre Winter Garden comes alive from November onwards, with cyclamen heralding the display soon followed by Iris reticulata, Chionodoxa, hellebores and snowdrops. Trees, chosen for their textural bark, include Prunus serrula and Acer tegmentosum ‘Joe Witt’ and ‘White Tigress’.
Cornus and Salix are used for their coloured stems, while shrubs such as Sarcococca and Daphne add their scent and are placed near paths to maximise their impact. Small, white Betula ermanii trees are planted close to evergreen shrubs such as Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’ and Skimmia japonica ‘Kew Green’. Viburnum species include V. rhytidophyllum and V. bodnantense ‘Dawn’.
Foliage and flourish
Several witch hazels – Hamamelis intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ (yellow), ‘Jelena’ (orange), and ‘Diane’ (an unusual dark red) – weave their spidery flowers from January to February, while Mahonia wagneri ‘Pinnacle’ picks up the baton from February to April, adding a flourish of yellow flower clusters.
The main maintenance for the Winter Garden happens in March, when Cornus and Salix stems are stooled back to encourage more colour next winter. The Dorothy Clive team mulch the soil with leaf mould and organic matter every year or so as the garden is built on sandstone and there isn’t not much depth to the soil. The snowdrops are divided in late February/ early March.
There is so much to see, it’s worth a repeat visit. The garden offers a special winter membership of £5, entitling the holder to free entry garden from October to March. www.dorothyclivegarden.co.uk
Tal-y-Cafn, nr Colwyn Bay
With its colourful and fragrant plants, Bodnant’s garden brings cheer to the chill of winter, with colourful-stemmed birches, bright bergenias and bulbs such as snowdrops, iris, cyclamen and crocus. A particular highlight is the rich scent, with shrubs such as Hamamelis, Daphne and Sarcococca.
Created over 150 years, the garden is the result of the vision of generations of the McLaren family and Puddle head gardeners. This haven of rarity and beauty has a stunning backdrop of the Carneddau mountains of Snowdonia, and is a delight for the senses with year-round colour. Described as a ‘garden for all seasons’, it provides a stunning setting of frosted landscapes in winter and, from late autumn, a firework-like display of crimson, amber and gold.
Treat in the trees
Bodnant boasts Wales’s largest collection of UK Champion Trees – the biggest and best of their kind in Britain – many of which are at their finest at this time of year. Among the historic collection are also rare exotics collected by plant hunters more than a century ago, along with other beautiful native trees.
Head to the Glades to enjoy Japanese acers, and be awestruck by the towering American conifers in the Dell and Far End. In the formal gardens on the Terraces, roses are still in bloom throughout autumn and herbaceous beds are bursting with late-flowering asters, sedums and dahlias in all colours of the rainbow.
If the candyfloss scent of Cercidiphyllum japonicum gives you an appetite, there are refreshments in the tearooms. There’s always something to see and do for all the family throughout winter here, from guided walks exploring Bodnant Garden’s trees, autumn colour, history and wildlife, to a host of nature-inspired activities for youngsters. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden
Best of the Rest
Biddulph Grange Garden, Staffordshire
Just beyond the Shropshire and Cheshire borders lies Biddulph Grange Garden, a showcase for plants from all over the world set amid rockwork, topiary and an extraordinary collection of eclectic garden buildings. Take a stroll through the Pinetum, where the path weaves its way between conifers, hollies, yews and monkey puzzle trees. Winter is the best time to appreciate this formal garden and there is a fine view from the western terrace looking over the Dahlia Walk with its magnificent yew hedges to the pyramid in the Egyptian garden.
Dyffryn Gardens, Vale of Glamorgan
Further south, you’ll find Dyffryn’s’ enchanting series of outdoor rooms. Visitors can wander through the arboretum past bright red holly berries and discover winter roses on a winding walk down the paths. Dyffryn’s glasshouses are packed with colourful chrysanthemums, and you’ll also find a vinery, cacti house and rainforest with orchids and banana trees.
Another draw at Dyffryn is the impressive architecture, with romantic archways and winding outdoor steps.