This season in the garden - news from our gardeners this Winter

Summer visitors often wonder what happens to the garden in winter. Many are surprised that we garden throughout the season, ably supported by some of our garden volunteers

We have been busy with the usual end of year tasks such as pruning and training the climbing and rambling roses, cutting back herbaceous plants and mulching as many of the beds and borders as possible with our home-grown compost made from all the garden waste of the previous year. 

 Other tasks we perform in winter include shredding the woody prunings, turning the compost heaps, cutting the ivy on the walls, ordering seeds and summer bedding, maintaining our machines and caring for our tender plants and cuttings in the glasshouses.  

A major job we undertake in late January/February is to prune the very large wisteria trained on the front of the house; the long stems are trimmed back to two or three buds to encourage an abundance of flowers in May.

Even on the wettest or coldest of days there is a job to be done, such as cleaning old plant labels so they can be re-used, washing seed trays in preparation for spring or ensuring all our paperwork is up to date. 

If you visit us you will get a real ‘behind the scenes’ look at how the garden is managed during the winter months;  it is how we lay the foundations for the colourful displays later in the year and how we keep the garden rejuvenated but, at the same time, also care for some very old and special plants.  You may not see manicured lawns or totally weed-less paths at this time of year but a garden in winter will help you appreciate the importance of evergreens to create structure and the value of those special plants which do flower during this period.

Outside you may see snowdrops, aconites, irises and winter flowering shrubs. To escape the cold outside you could head for our glasshouses: the Orangery is home to three very old fruiting orange trees and a seasonal display while the Prop House contains tender plants which wouldn’t survive outside in the winter. 

Here are a few of the interesting plants that you may see in flower:

Snowdrops: mostly the common single and double but some unusual varieties grow near the Thatched Summer House.

Petasites fragrans (Winter heliotrope): perennial with scented flowers growing by the back steps to the house. 

Sarcococca (Christmas Box): low growing evergreens with small white scented flowers and black berries.

Hellebores: low growing plants with flowers ranging from dark purples and pinks to yellow and white.  Some are doubles, having many more petals than the single varieties.

Winter aconites:  bright yellow flowers growing close to the ground.

Lonicera fragrantissima (Winter Honeysuckle): pale cream scented flowers on the shrub trained against the back wall. (Widerness Walk)

Chimonanthus praecox (Winter Sweet): a highly scented shrub with wax like flowers. (Bee Bed)

Garrya eliptica: shrub with long dangling catkins. (Alexa’s Garden)

Cornus mas (Cornelian Cherry): a large shrub with yellow flowers in February. (Croquet Lawn)

Skimmia ‘Rubella’: low shrub with dark pink flower buds close to the path edge at the Reed Barn end of the Scented Shrubbery.

Witch Hazel: bright yellow scented flowers on shrubs at the end of the small pathway in the shrubbery by the Cat Cemetery. 

Mahonias: shrubs with spiky leaves and scented yellow flowers.

Plants can also provide winter interest from their bark or stems:

Betula utilis jacquemontii (The Himalayan Birch): the tree with creamy white, papery bark.

Cornus alba (Dogwood): a shrub with shiny red stems.(Orchard Lawn)

With such a wide variety of plants to provide shelter and food, it is no surprise that we support a large number of garden birds.  You will almost certainly see blackbirds but you could also spot robins, wrens, blue tits or even goldcrests.  Algie, our property cat, misses the company of visitors during the winter and so he may well come to say ‘hello’ as you wonder around the garden – unless the weather is very wet or cold and he is curled up asleep in the Potting Shed!