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Winter Garden at Wakehurst Place

PUBLISHED: 10:06 01 March 2016 | UPDATED: 10:06 01 March 2016

The mansion makes a stately backdrop

The mansion makes a stately backdrop


Leigh Clapp takes a stroll through the Winter Garden at Wakehurst Place, near Ardingly

Kew’s country garden is a joy to visit at any time of the year and February is no exception. This is the time to enjoy the Winter Garden area and the first signs of spring. Stroll past the carpets of cyclamen and snowdrops at the entrance of Wakehurst before heading to the dedicated area that celebrates winter. Situated to the west of the Elizabethan mansion, adjacent to the walled garden, you will find vibrant stems, architectural greens, scented flowers, textural barks and skeletal, parchment-toned grasses in a series of carefully designed beds and borders. Brimming with a vast array of plants that either flower or have good textures and colours, it is sure to brighten the dullest winter day.

In one bed, yellow and green variegated shrubs contrast with a carpet of winter-flowering Erica carnea ‘Springwood White’, along with other hues of heather in pink and crimson, that ebb and flow from December through to March. Spires of bare, spiky, silver Rubus cockburnianus complete the eye-catching effect. Mass-planted dogwoods, including the aptly-named Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ and willows, with their scarlet and golden stems, have been placed by the lawns to catch the rays of low winter sunlight. The unusual black stems of Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nigra’ act as a striking foil. This blaze of colour can easily be adapted in the home garden. Although here it is on a large scale, the principles are translatable in a domestic setting. Using a controlled, limited palette of two or three plants in blocks lends drama to a scheme.

Another bed shows the power of monochrome. Magnificent white-barked birch trees are underplanted with inky black Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ (mondo grass) dotted with emerging snowdrops. A trick to increase their pallor is to wash the trunks in warm water with a soft brush in October and a couple of times during winter. Texture can also be seen in the glossy Mahonia, with spires of golden flowers set above jagged leaves, contorted hazels and strappy moor grass, Molinia caerulea ‘Variegata’.

As you stroll the paths you will enjoy intoxicating scents. Most of the flowers are not large or showy at this time of the year so you may have to hunt for the source. Remember that some blooms hold fast to their scent so try almost burying your nose in them to discover their fragrance. Other perfumes will waft over you as you pass by. Subtle cream Sarcococca (sweet box), twiggy honeysuckles or spidery witch hazels are just three to discover. The witch hazels, such as golden Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ and ‘Moonlight’ have to be my favourites.

Opening times

Wakehurst Place, Ardingly, West Sussex, RH17 6TN | Daily from 10am | |


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Making your garden an oasis for wildlife this winter - It may seem as though this is the one time of year we don’t have to feel guilty about neglecting the garden. But Sebastian Oake says that it’s the perfect opportunity to make it an oasis for wildlife


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