Winter in the garden at Bateman's

A winter view across the pond towards the house at Bateman's in East Sussex

As the nights draw in and the weather turns colder, things begin to change in the garden at Bateman's. A great time of year to visit and see the structure of Kipling's garden.

A typical Kipling winter

We all feel cheered by seeing the glossy greens of winter foliage interspersed with the occasional splash of colour from winter flowering plants. We have this in the garden here at Bateman's, especially in the spring borders with Hellebores and Pulmonaria starting to give their best at this time of year.

Evergreen shrubs such as camellias (look out for our newly planted autumn-flowering varieties by the front door), viburnums, aucuba, magnolia grandiflora and holly can be found in the borders by the house and in the wild garden but most of these are more recent additions.

At this time of year the Kiplings chose to abandon Bateman's and head for warmer climes, spending much of the winter in South Africa, or heading to Switzerland for the skiing season. For this reason, Kipling didn't concern himself with specialised winter plantings in the garden so the plants we now select to add interest are much more subtle than you'd expect from a winter garden.

Helleborus x hybridus
Flowering Magenta Helleborus x hybridus in the garden at National Trust Bateman's in East Sussex
Helleborus x hybridus

Winter garden highlights

Yew hedges - take some time to appreciate how the yew hedge planting has divided the garden into separate spaces, each with their own character.

Pleached limes - planted just a few years before the Kiplings came to Bateman's, this double row of 'hedges on stilts' reveals its architectural form providing a great photo opportunity with the low winter sunset glowing orange through the branches.

Views of the estate - now the hedges have been clipped you can see over them and through the occasional gap to the countryside beyond. With the hay meadows having a rest from the grazing cattle and with the leaves off the trees the views the views become far-reaching, opening up the gently rolling and lush hills of the Dudwell Valley with small pockets of ancient woodland typical of the Wealden landscape that inspired some of Kipling's later writings such as 'Puck of Pook's Hill' and 'Rewards and Fairies'.

Sheep grazing in a winter meadow at Bateman's in East Sussex

Putting the garden to bed

At this time of the year the garden team are focusing on 'putting the garden to bed'; raking leaves, tidying the last of the herbaceous borders, and preparing the ground for springtime as well as meticulously pruning the pleached limes to reveal the architectural framework of these living structures.

There's plenty of tree work and pruning to do; maintaining and training the climbing roses, hard-pruning the floribunda roses in the Rose Garden and planning ahead for the all too soon re-awakening of the garden in spring.

For a brief time in winter we also try to give the lawns a rest, especially as the ground can quickly become waterlogged and dangerously slippery, so you will see a few signs dotted around the garden asking our visitors to help us look after these areas by keeping off the lawns as much as possible.  We thank you for helping us with this simple but important piece of conservation work.

Winter sunlight shining through a wintry tree in the garden at Bateman's in East Sussex

A cautionary tale

For our more intrepid visitors, a walk around the estate is to be recommended, but maybe choose a crisp, frosty day to do this as the estate footpaths will be very muddy at this time of year so proper walking boots or wellies are a must. The occasional visitor who has attempted to explore further afield in their lovely new white trainers has soon learnt the folly of their choice of footwear.

Another consideration is the very occasional but predictable certainty that the lower half of the garden will flood at least once at this time of year. We strive to keep the route open at all times but sometimes we need to close the paths from the quarterdeck and through the wild garden to clear the thick layer of silt that the river deposits over the garden when it floods. But don't be put off by this temporary set-back.