Winter is not a time that most people think of visiting a garden, unless of course you’re a gardener, in which case you’re probably already aware that this is the ideal time to nose around other gardens, stealing ideas, notebook in hand.
For a start, apart from clearing and winter pruning there’s not a lot going on in your own garden so you will have more time on your hands to poke about in other people’s. Beyond this, and perhaps more pertinently, winter is the best season in which to re-think the structure and all season appeal of your own garden and in order to do that you’ll need some inspiration.
By structure we mean arches, walls, statues, or sculpture, obelisks, fences and trellis and the success, or otherwise, of these features is best determined when all else is dormant.
As you wander around the gardens you visit consider how to bring interest to your own garden in winter; evergreens in the form of box, yew or laurel hedging and topiary; the tandoori red flash of cornus stems; the peeling bark of silver birches and prunus serrula; or the miraculous appearance of icy white clematis, hellebores, aconites, and soon the snowdrops. It’s even possible to sniff out heavenly scents in winter: Witch Hazels, Viburnums, Daphnes and Mahonia all brim with scented flowers through the winter months.
With the exception of Alnwick Gardens, all featured gardens are in Scotland. The Telegraph has good guide to winter gardens in England and Wales.
Recognised as one of Scotland’s best small gardens Shepherd House is on a pleasingly domestic scale. Unlike the other featured gardens it was not conceived and executed in a single master stroke but has evolved since 1957 and is the culmination of the love, talent and devotion of artist owners, Charles and Ann Fraser.
It’s slow evolution allows means it is easily appreciated in bite sizes, as a series of elements that are achievable for any gardener; it is a place to plunder for ideas, and Ann and Charles happily acknowledge the debt they owe to gardens they themselves have visited. Many features can be appreciated year round; the box knot garden, and second knot garden of rosemary, santolina and box, the rill that leads the eye beneath the bare rose arches, the wonderful drystone seat by Nigel Bailey and the yew hedge, with moon gate. As well as the many artistic flourishes evident throughout.
Open Saturday and Sunday 23rd and 24th February from 11.00am to 4.00pm. Also Tuesday and Thursday 12th to 28th Fabruary from 2.00pm to 4.00pm. Entrance £4.00.
Alnwick Garden is on the grandest scale and most commercial of any of the gardens included and is the exception in being the only garden in England featured. We say commercial, but this is by no means intended in any derogatory sense. Alnwick Garden is an extraordinary feat; the vision of the Duchess of Northumberland – in collaboration with Belgian designers Jacques and Peter Wirtz. Lady Jane Percy has recently in a very humble interview declared her intention to complete and step back from her incredibly ambitious project by 2015.
Forget Disneyland Paris, bring your family to Alnwick and let them experience a magic of a more enduring, naturalistic kind. Let them snake through the Serpentine Garden and run hither, tither through the Grand Cascade, they won’t care that it’s winter – change of clothes advised – then ascend to the fairytale Treehouse Restaurant for cake by a roaring log fire. After school cooking clubs, courtesy of Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food, run from 24th Jan, 3.30-5.15pm, at £8 a pop. Perfect to allow you time to inspect the Ornamental Garden which is perhaps the highlight of the winter gardens
Click here for winter opening.
Greywalls Hotel in Gullane was designed by Sir Eward Lutyens, the renowned Arts and Craft Architect and built in 1901. It is believed that the garden was conceived by Lutyens long time collaborator Gertrude Jekyll and today, due to the dedication of a small specialist team, and significant restoration, the gardens remain a magnificent example of Jekyll’s ‘Garden of Rooms’ style.
In summer visitors are seduced by exuberant, romantic planting but in winter the bones of the garden, in all their beauty are exposed. Nowhere is the beauty of walls more evident, not grey as the name suggests, but creamy yellow, blush pink and pale cinnamon; views are framed and mysteries revealed. Paths link the many ‘rooms’ and strong structural hedging is used as living walls, to divide and shelter, leading the eye to carefully placed focal points.
Open daily. Nip into the hotel for afternoon tea, but be warned you will not want to leave.
Earlshall Castle, which lies just north of St Andrews, is another example of the Arts and Craft movement. In this case an early example by Sir Robert Lorimer, who was according to Suki Urqhuart, ‘a one-man version of ….Gertrude Jeykll and Sir Edward Lutyens.’ He restored the castle and laid out the gardens that exist to this day. The gardens are peppered with discreet stone buildings; a summer house, dairy, potting shed, apple store and dairy, all decorated with Lorimer’s signature motifs of hearts and monkeys.
These details are what make Earlshall such a joy, dates with hearts carved on garden steps and inscriptions above doorways, ‘He who loves his garden still keeps his Eden.’ In winter the topiary garden retains it’s pure form and curious charm.
Open by arrangement. If you feel disinclined to call visit instead the nearby Kellie Castle, another example of Lorimer and open year round.
The historical significance of Scone is perhaps so lofty that the appeal of the garden and grounds is overlooked but a wander around at any time of year, including winter soon rectifies this misconception.
The star, quite literally, of the winter show is the Murray Maze. Laid by world renowned maze designer Adrian Fisher, it comprises an equal mix of copper and green beech to form a five pointed star incorporating the Murray family crest. Feel small in the Pinetum, which dates from the early 1800’s and where visitors are dwarfed by the mangnificent giant redwoods and Douglas Firs. A splendid example raised from seed and planted in 1826 is but an adolescent and still has another 500 years growth to go. If you keep your eyes peeled you may spot red squirrels foraging in tufty, Nutkinish way – it’s a myth that they hibernate all winter, January is generally the start of the breeding season. Take tea afterwards in the coffee shop.
Click here for winter opening.