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The new winter garden at Wakehurst

PUBLISHED: 06:10 03 December 2019 | UPDATED: 10:45 04 December 2019

The new winter garden has replaced the former planting on the west side of the Elizabethan mansion

The new winter garden has replaced the former planting on the west side of the Elizabethan mansion

Leigh Clapp

Complete immersion in seasonal beauty is one of the main aims of the new winter garden at Wakehurst, where you will find swathes of stunning plants in a naturalistic landscape

All-weather paths meander through the winter gardenAll-weather paths meander through the winter garden

As winter sets in, the bare bones of the garden are revealed and the beauty of bark and vibrantly coloured stems can create dynamic effects and combinations with other seasonal plants.

Over recent years the potential of the winter garden has been increasingly appreciated for the opportunities it offers to create stunning seasonal pictures. Many of the UK's great estates and public gardens have embraced the trend with dedicated winter garden areas to stroll through for inspiration that we can translate into our home gardens. Wakehurst, one of the most significant botanical gardens in the country, has always been a trailblazer for winter gardens, having one of the first in the UK which was planted in 1986 to the west side of the Elizabethan mansion, in the planting style fashionable at the time.

The process of completely re-doing the winter garden began three years ago when the area was identified as one of 25 different character areas that needed intensifying, decluttering or redefining. Gardens supervisor Francis Annette, who studied at the London College of Garden Design, was charged with coming up with the plan for the new winter garden, which was planted in early 2018 and opened this January. His stunning contemporary design takes inspiration from winter walks on the South Downs with its swathes of plants, creating a real visual impact from quite a limited palette of trees and shrubs. Evoking a sense of wildness and immersion in the emotion and connection to landscape that would then meld into the surrounding areas informed the look and planting choices. It was important to have that sense of cohesion while focusing on plants that star throughout winter by including many plants and trees that were already at Wakehurst.

A pheasant explores the gardenA pheasant explores the garden

Some 33,000 plants have been used to great effect and entice the visitor to immerse themselves in the beauty of winter. Whether you visit on a bright, sunny day or when the light is muted you will find inspiration for the potential of creating a winter corner in your own garden. Colour, scent and shape is in evidence across the composition from choices such as massed vibrant cornus stems, fragrant daphne blooms and the stark white beauty of 30 mature silver birches interspersed with gleaming copper Prunus serrula which form the framework that links the design together. Repetition is key, with wafting grasses, textural heathers, carpets of snowdrops and groups of witch hazels reinforcing the look.

Intersecting and connecting the eight large, curvaceous beds are architectural focal points of 45 clipped buxus spheres, which also provide an evergreen foil. Low sunlight sets the scene ablaze as it intensifies the colours of bare stems, while all-weather paths snake their way throughout the garden allowing for close-up inspection.

Do take time to sit on the contemporary carved benches where you will feel cocooned in the atmospheric landscape. Wrap up warm and explore the possibilities of the winter season.

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