I need a winter walk for garden inspiration. This winter, so far, in my part of Suffolk, its been crisp and cold with overnight frost. I need to get out and about…a good garden walk may rekindle the dormant gardener in me.
In recent winters I’ve joined fellow members of the East Anglian Garden Group, on our annual ‘Banish the New Year Garden Blues’ walk. This January, though, I wasn’t able to join them at the regular venue, the National Trust property Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire, which has an exceptional winter garden. But it is an inspiring winter walk and maybe it will provide the kickstart that this gardener needs to get going again.
Anglesey Abbey’s Winter Walk, planted in 1997 and designed to showcase the maximum winter colour possible, holds around 150 species of plants with burnished stems, bright berries and flower and foliage colour, too. The evergreen yew hedging with bright red berries in winter, acts as a wonderful foil to fiery or silver stems. It also is a vital windbreak and on still days holds the perfume of winter-flowering plants such as Chimonanthes praecox and Mahonia ‘Winter Sun’. Other plants that excite me at this time of year include the willow, Salix alba ‘Britzensis’ with red and copper stems and the dogwoods, in a range of coloured stems. For me, the most dramatic of these are the dark stems of the dogwood, Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Beauty’. At Anglesey the plants are massed, so that the overall effect of their stems and flowers provides a burnished glow of colour.
There are so many wonderful trees that sing out at this time of year. Prunus serrula is one of my favourites. Its mahogany-ruddy bark looks as if it has been polished within a centimetre of its life. There is also a twisted hazel, Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ that offers an unusual shape and the wildest, most contorted stems you are likely to encounter in a tree.
Further into Anglesey Abbey’s winter garden there are yet more delights from flowering plants such as Kerria japonica with its yellow, star-like flowers and the fizzing, firework flowers of witch hazel, Hamamelis mollis. Another winter favourite for dramatic effect is the bare-stemmed ornamental bramble, Rubus cockburnianus. If you have the space to mass plant this scrambling plant, its ghostly white stems will make a wonderful shimmer of silver-white in your winter garden.
Cotoneaster and skimmias are also planted here in profusion, providing berries to brighten the season. A grove of silver birches, Betula utilis var. jacquemontii, on either side of the path mark the gateway into the main part of the garden at Anglesey.
There are now several gardens open to the public where you can look at plantings that highlight plants that shine in winter. Among my favourites to visit are The Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and Cambridge University Botanic Garden. The National Botanic Garden of Wales and The Savill Garden are also on my list at this time of year.
Today in my own garden I enjoyed the frost on the foliage of sweet box, Sarcococca confusa and S. hookeriana var. digyna ‘Purple Stem’. They both have sweetly fragrant flowers but their evergreen foliage differs. My thornless blackberry’s foliage made its own frosty statement, reminding me that I have pounds of its wonderful fruit in the freezer… time to bring out the crumble recipe!