Winter Walk Around Bodnant Garden in Wales

Bodnant House dwarfed by a large cedar tree

Only last week I was bemoaning the lack of a Tardis to transport me to a snow-covered Bodnant Garden, near Tal-y-Cafn, Conwy, Wales. The universe did not send me a Tardis, but it did the next best thing. A friend asked us to check out the place his family came from – Dolgellau – and Bodnant just happened to be on our way home.

While the snow in the garden had long gone, heavy white shawls on the Snowdonia mountain range opposite gave Bodnant a wintry feeling. The 130 acres of garden give plenty of scope for walking: you really need some form of season ticket* to make the most of it all.

Yellow witch hazel in a garden with tall grasses, dogwoods and heather

We headed for the winter garden, one of several favourite places at Bodnant, created by clearing azaleas from a neglected hillside rockery. The stems of rubus, cornus, Betula utlis and Prunus serrula provide architecture while witch hazel’s spidery yellow flowers hang eerily in the air. Tall grasses make the most of the light, with spreading plants such as heather, cyclamen, hellebores and irises scattered below.

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In Praise Of Winter Gardens, Plus A Tip Or Two

Wooden bench amongst winter plants and grasses

Bodnant Garden’s colourful winter garden

I’m a big fan of winter gardens that make the most of plants that look good when herbaceous borders are expanses of mulch-covered dirt. Trees with white trunks such as this Betula utilis var jacquemontii (Himalayan birch) often feature, together with evergreens, light-reflecting grasses, red stemmed Cornus (dogwood), Skimmia, Hamamelis (witch hazel), flowering heather, hellebores, Bergenia, Cyclamen and winter flowering bulbs.

Plants like this seem to shrug off winter weather, but the current cold spell means that the hardiness of plants of all types is being tested in many UK and American gardens.

Some gardeners go to great lengths to keep tender plants alive, wrapping their pots up, covering them with some form of plant blanket, or moving them indoors. Others will only plant what grows. Many of us are somewhere in-between, willing to offer our plant treasures a helping hand if conditions are unusually bad, provided we know what to do.

Overhead view of a pot protected from the frost

A pot of bulbs wrapped in burlap, with a double layer of netting to deter squirrels

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Witch Hazel In Winter Gardens

Bare branches with red spidery flowers

Here’s a closer look at witch hazel (Hamamelis). Ancient lore accords these flowering shrubs medicinal, cultural and even religious value, but here I’m focusing on their decorative quality. In the UK, witch hazels drop their leaves in autumn, then produce colourful flowers that are particularly welcome in the winter garden.

Bare branches with orange flowers

The flowers appear to float, held up in the air on slender stems that would otherwise go unnoticed in deciduous plantings. The rusty orange one particularly attracted me. Rich purple calyces provide a beautiful contrast, and the colour palette just seems to get better as the older petals wither.  Continue reading

Two Hellebores At Ness Botanic Gardens

Velvety hellebore hybrid with a blurred sea of snowdrops

The first shot is a variation on a theme. You may remember the purple hellebore bowing its head in homage to snowdrops towards the end of my recent post about snowdrops. This flower was nearby. I bent down, half automatically, and turned the flower up to take a look inside. The darker spotting on a rich, purple background created an effect somewhere between velvet and silk. Very regal. It may be just my imagination, but in this shot, it’s the snowdrops that seem to be paying homage, like fans at a concert.  Continue reading

Snowdrop-aholics in the news

Close up of snowdrops with many others behind them

Snowdrops look alluring in a mass planting

Snowdrops are so hyped up this year that the clickbait on the BBC News website’s most viewed article on Saturday morning was Are you suffering from galanthomania?. Anything that sounds like an ailment evidently has the whole of Britain (minus those aware that a galanthus is a snowdrop) clicking away to find out if they have the symptoms. Well, it is winter.

I have recorded my personal pangs here, but wouldn’t go so far as to call it a mania. Muddy knees, sometimes; mania, nope.

Snowdrops with large bergenia leaves in a winter garden

Red branches and bergenia leaves make a lovely backdrop for snowdrops

But I won’t try to deny that snowdrops cast spells on us.  Continue reading

How To Make A City Garden In A Small Space

Garden with curved paths and benches

Want to make a, easily maintainable city garden? Just follow this plan, as illustrated above.

  • Select your space. The heart of a medieval city is ideal (the more souls that can overlook the garden, the better), but almost any space will suffice.
  • Create one or more organic shaped beds in the centre and another around the perimeter, leaving room for a sinuous, scrollable path (experts advise laying out the path first).
  • Edge the beds in a stone coloured material, selecting a darker tile to define the perimeter border.
  • Scatter shrubs, small, decorative conifers, grasses and herbaceous plants that can tolerate some neglect in the central beds. Keep it on the minimal side – you don’t want to crowd things.
  • Artfully place decent-sized rocks in small groups or piles.
  • Mulch with crushed slate.
  • Add curved, benches that will invite passers-by to linger. Chocolate coloured metal ones will match those tiles around the outer borders.
  • Fix trellises to the walls and encourage vines to soften them, creating the effect of a glade within a city (if you lack walls, add a fence or baffle first).
  • If the same vines can be pruned low to provide ground cover for the perimeter beds, so much the better. If not, plant something green to do the job.
  • Pave, staying true to the neutral, natural theme.
  • In winter, tie the grasses up into neat bundles by wrapping a few of the long outer strands around the clump.
  • Sit back and enjoy.

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A Visit To Harlow Carr Garden In Winter

Colourful Winter Garden

In January, dogwood steals the show in Harlow Carr’s Winter Walk

We set off for Harrogate on a whim, inspired by the weather forecast, and booked into a hotel within walking distance from the RHS’s most northerly garden, Harlow Carr, a favourite haunt. The idea was to wake up next morning to find an artistic covering of snow or a hard frost – the added winter garden ingredients only nature can provide.

The forecast had been an exaggeration but, luckily, it turns out that a winter wonderland doesn’t need snow: it can cloak itself just as wonderfully in reds, oranges, browns and greens.

Snowdrops in a winter garden with a sprinkling of snow

Early bulbs are starting to appear, including these snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii ‘Mrs Macnamara’).

We were too early to see the thousands of snowdrops, cyclamen, irises and eranthis hyemalis that will be at their peak in February and March. A small number of the advance guard could be spotted in flower in the woods, along the Winter Walk or sheltered in the glasshouse, giving a hint of the pleasure to come. But if you find yourself wondering whether a winter garden really has anything much of interest to offer in January, other than peace, you’ll find plant after plant lining up as if to say: ‘You misjudged me. You doubted there would be colour.’

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