21 years on, Anglesey Abbey’s celebrated Winter Garden prepares for three-year refresh

Press release
Visitors in the Winter Garden at Anglesey Abbey
Published : 04 Nov 2019

The National Trust’s Anglesey Abbey, near Cambridge, is marking the 21st anniversary of its renowned Winter Garden by embarking on a three-year project to refresh the popular feature.

One of the finest winter gardens in the country, the garden features approximately 150 plant species chosen for their winter colours, scents and textures, from ghostly white birches and vibrant dogwoods to sweet winter-scented honeysuckle and one of the largest snowdrop collections in the country.

Formerly named the Fairhaven Centenary Walk, the Winter Garden was planted to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the first Lord Fairhaven, who went on to leave Anglesey Abbey to the National Trust in 1966. The then Speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd, officially opened the garden on 5 November 1998 by planting a giant redwood at the start of the route.

Now, the garden team, led by Acting Head Gardener David Jordan, is working to refresh the plantings at key points along the 450m-long route.

David says: “We are taking the opportunity of the 21st anniversary to kickstart a three-year plan to re-think several areas. The garden was densely planted to create impact and, two decades on, some of the original planting schemes have outgrown their space.

 “We want to create new layers, including shrubs and bulbs, that will keep the Winter Garden – one of the garden’s most loved areas – beautiful for future generations.”

David continues: “Two decades after the garden’s instigation, there’s a much wider palette of exciting plants to choose from. So rather than replace like for like, we’ll be challenging ourselves to find new and interesting plants.”

Plant selection is ongoing but additions are set to include highly-scented, large-flowered Daphne 'Perfume Princess', swathes of early-flowering narcissi, honey-scented Galanthus ‘Magnet’, a variety of ferns and four new witch hazel and dogwood selections. The team will also be introducing some conifers (weeping blue Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’) for the first time along with topiary Pittosporum.

Work has already begun on resurfacing and edging paths, soil improvement and removing outgrown plants. New plants are being researched, sourced and grown, all in peat-free media.

The project is being part-funded by money raised through the property’s 2019 Special Places Raffle, with fundraising set to continue until January.    

The Winter Garden will remain open throughout the course of the refresh and gardeners will be on hand on selected days to answer questions about the project.

David says: “Visitors will notice that preparation work has begun, with some areas already cleared to make way for new and exciting plants. As with all gardens, new plants will take some time to settle in, but we’re looking forward to enhancing the garden so that it can keep brightening winter days for the next 21 years and beyond.”

Key plants and top tips from David Jordan

10 stars of the Winter Garden

  • Prunus serrula
  • Betula utilis var. jacquemontii
  • Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ and C. ‘Winter Beauty’
  • Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’
  • Chimonanthus praecox ‘Luteus’
  • Lonicera x purpusii
  • Cornus sanguinea ‘Anny’s Winter Orange’
  • Sarcococca hookeriana var. ‘Digyna’
  • Sarcococca ruscifolia var. chinensis
  • Sarcococca saligna

Winter combinations with impact

David says the walk’s most successful combinations have been mixtures of trees and shrubs underplanted with smaller winter-interest plants, such as Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ underplanted with Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’ and Acer griseum as a focal point.

Early- and late-flowering bulbs can be used to extend the season.

David says: “Introducing bulbs means it is possible to add autumn flowering species such as Nerine, Crocus, Colchicum and hardy Amaryllis, although they will need to have plenty of sunshine to get them to flower.”  

Creating your own winter garden: Back to basics

David says the key to success is to know your soil pH.

David says: “Check what neighbouring gardens are growing – if there are camellias and rhododendrons next door (not in pots!), the soil is likely to be acidic, so you can choose all sorts of maples and other choice acid-loving plants.

“If your neighbours have lilacs and your soil turns slightly grey when it dries, the soil is likely to be alkaline, so won’t support azaleas, rhododendrons etc. This may be got around by planting in pots of ericaceous soil, but will require some specialized care such as watering with rainwater only, to prevent the soil becoming alkaline from the tap water.

David continues: “The garden at Anglesey Abbey is pH 7.7, which is on the alkaline side. This year we will be mulching heavily with an ericaceous soil conditioner to prevent us increasing the pH any further and helping the borderline plants (such as witch hazels) to thrive.”