Life and colour of winter in the garden
The low winter sun tints frosting yew topiary, rose stems and wall climbing honeysuckle, while gnarly wood in the stumpery frames delicate winter flowering gems. The garden's high stone walls and internal hedges provide some protection from the wintry winds rising over adjacent escarpments except in the East Court, where easterlies filter in over the ha-ha from the Wine Glass.
In the Ornamental Orchard, crab apples from Western China glow bright red, as do the berries in the holly hedges, throng with small birds. Look out for mistle thrush, resident blackbirds, flocks of fieldfare and redwing, solitary nuthatches, and the occasional waxwing. They steer clear of the ravens and mobbing jackdaws, which are more associated with the ruinous outlines of the Old Hall.
In the Fruiting Orchard, apple and pear trees are pruned when dormant during the winter months. Some of the cuttings, for example of Newton Wonder – a local Derbyshire heritage cultivar, will be kept for grafting onto new rootstock to replace older specimens and for sale in the shop. Late season dessert apples e.g. Duke of Devonshire, are sold in the shop, along with Norfolk Beefings; slow-baked and sold in London Biffen markets, as mentioned by Dickens.
Bulbs replace dahlias in the cut flower borders. Naturalised snowdrops cluster around the oldest yews in the stumpery. This fascinating feature offers family fun by spotting the various shapes amongst stumpery's uprooted oaks – some resemble animals.
Time to shine
The winter border is now coming into its own. Hellebores flower amongst the red and orange stemmed dogwoods. Cold, still air intensifies the fragrances of Christmas box, winter- flowering honeysuckle, and viburnum shrubs.
Cobnuts and filberts, coppiced in January, provide supports for sweet pea, hops and greenhouse-grown cherry tomatoes, which you’ll be able to enjoy later in the year in summer salads in the restaurant. The nuts are long gone - courtesy of the cheeky garden squirrels.