Winter Cheer – A visit to Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire
In these often grey and damp days of January, it’s easy to convince ourselves that there’s little in a garden that we could possibly find to lure us outside. However, on my way back from a client meeting on a bright, but bitterly cold day last week, I had a timely reminder of how far from the truth that can be when I stopped off at the National Trust property, Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire, and found a winter garden that was a real source of inspiration just when it was needed!
Started only 7 years ago, the garden is maturing into an oasis of winter colour and fragrance, and as soon as you pass through the gate, the scent of early-flowering shrubs hits you – from the low-growing evergreen, Sarcococca (Christmas box), with its modest but perfumed flowers, to the bright yellow, honey-scented blossoms of Mahonia.
No winter garden is complete without some colourful stems, and this one is no exception. Together with the ghostly white-stemmed bramble, Rubus cockburnianus, mass plantings of fiery-red Cornus alba (dogwood) and glowing, orangey-yellow Salix alba ‘Britzensis’ (shrubby willow) give an impressive show.
Cut back every year in late winter/early spring, a good display of colourful stems for next year can be guaranteed.
Taller stems of colour are provided by Prunus serrula (Tibetan cherry), with its shiny, mahogany-like bark, together with the single and multi-stem birches, whose chalk-white bark almost seems to glow in the winter sun.
The dried winter foliage of Pheasant tail grass (Anemanthele lessoniana) and the bold, purple-tinged leaves of the appropriately named Elephant’s Ears (Bergenia – see photo below) offer a textural contrast as well as colour, and drifts of Hellebores and Cyclamen coum add splashes flower.
Of course, most of us don’t aren’t fortunate enough to have the space to devote an entire area of the garden to winter plants, but carefully woven into the overall scheme of a border, or even planted in pots, they can help to provide the interest so often lacking outdoors between the end of autumn and the emergence of the first spring bulbs.