A Favourite Winter Garden – Dunham Massey

This will be our third visit to the relatively new winter garden at Dunham Massey, a National Trust property in Cheshire, our neighbouring county to the north of our home county, Shropshire. The leaflets concerning the garden refer to it as a “Curiosity Garden”, while inside is written, “Forget hibernating until spring, Dunham Massey’s Winter Garden is wide awake with colour.”


The leaflet then invites us to “Take a refreshing walk in the Winter Garden along meandering paths with shocking red cornus and brilliant white birch trees trees glittering in the winter sun. Discover bright winter berries, late flowering scented shrubs and thousands of snowdrops and iris in the new year.”

We approached the winter garden by meandering along gravel paths across a shallow valley, when upon passing through the first red-bricked outbuildings we discovered some of the best pleaching we had ever seen. It stops us in our tracks on every visit.

The pleached limes look a few decades old and possess the ubiquitous knobbles from where the new wands of growth spurt in the spring after their annual pollarding.

Shrubs come into their own in the winter season with their coloured stems, their scent and beautiful hanging flower clusters.


Early flowering bulbs add much of the colour in the garden in February. Sunlight catches them and highlights their bright colours.


All winter gardens open to the public make strong features of trees with coloured, textured bark, Betulas, Acers and Prunus.


Shrubs with coloured stems provide effective partner planting for these trees, especially Cornus and Salix varieties. The gardeners at Dunham Massey are adept at transparency pruning, effectively lifting the akirts of shrubs and small trees to expose their trunks and lower branches.


The one plantingcategory that sorts out the best winter gardens from the average is the good creative use of ground cover. It is all too easy to use bark mulch but there are good interesting plants that can cover the ground and add new dimensions to planting schemes. Dunham Massey is on the way to sorting this well, using Carex, Bergenia, Ophiopogon, ferns and Pachysandra.

So there we have it, a thoroughly inspiring visit to one of our favourite winter gardens.







Posted in flowering bulbs, garden design, garden photography, gardening, gardens, gardens open to the public, hardy perennials, irises, light quality, National Trust, ornamental grasses, ornamental trees and shrubs, shrubs, spring bulbs, The National Trust, trees, Winter Gardening, winter gardens | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A canal-side garden in winter – John’s Garden Part 1

We have visited “John’s Garden” before in the height of summer and really enjoyed it, so much so that we were determined to re-visit at different times of the year. We imagined it would be an effective all-year garden. Mid-February and John opened his garden on a cold and wet winters day, so we went along with garden-loving friends Pete and Sherlie.

We started with a hot mug of coffee in the nursery coffee shop to warm us up, so with added warmth and lots of excitement and anticipation we wandered down the drive from Ashwood Nurseries to his own 3 acre-garden.

The garden has the advantage of boasting a canal, the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, running along its length – not many gardeners could say that about their patch!

An unusual hedge greeted us as we entered the garden, a long cloud pruned hedge, beautifully sculpted. A slate pathway at its end took us into a colourful area full of winter interest. Hamamelis and small deciduous trees were the stars, supported ably by ferns, bergenias, snowdrops and a variety of small-leaved shrubs trained as spheres.


We left this little garden behind and crossed an open lawned area dotted with topiary specimens and trees with interesting bark, coloured, textured or peeling. We joined up with the gardens bordering the canal, the sort of background gardeners can only dream of.


After a close up look at these trees and touching their bark, we followed the canal-side borders into the main gardens. Here grasses mingled with dogwoods and Willows, both pollarded and coppiced to enhanced their stem colours. Conifers of all sorts of shapes, colours and sizes began to appear here becoming strong features of this garden during the winter months. John is a master at transparency pruning which brings out the trees attributes. Interestingly he prunes both deciduous trees and shrubs and coniferous specimens too, which makes them look so much more interesting and they add so much to borders.

John is also a master of topiarising shrubs to emphasise their beauty and give structural elements throughout the garden. All sorts of conifers and evergreen shrubs have been given this treatment.


In part two of my post all about our winter visit to John’s Garden, we will move along the canal borders before returning along the opposite side of the patch, while along the way discovering a pool, sculpture and a terrace and lots more exciting plants and plant pairings.


Posted in colours, flowering bulbs, garden design, garden furniture, garden photography, garden ponds, garden pools, garden seat, garden seating, gardening, gardens, gardens open to the public, grasses, hardy perennials, light, light quality, NGS, ornamental grasses, ornamental trees and shrubs, photography, sculpture, shrubs, spring bulbs, trees, water in the garden, Winter Gardening, winter gardens, Yellow Book Gardens | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Dingle Garden in Welshpool – February

Back to Welshpool to explore The Dingle Gardens for February, we expected little change since our January visit as the weather had remained very similar.

We were greeted by a stunning wooden owl sculpture! Soon we noticed there were lots of signs of new growth, buds forming on trees and shrubs and a few beginning to burst into leaf.


Rhodendrons and Azaleas have strong looking buds both leaves and flowers showing well.


Some of the many small evergreen shrubs are showing off new fresh growth with Hebes sporting new coloured foliage along with some conifers who show off new coloured needles.

We spotted one Buddleja which was holding onto seed heads from last autumn alongside fairly advanced fresh silver foliage. We wondered what would happen to this growth if a frost suddenly covered it.

A few plants had splashes of green showing where leaf buds were beginning to burst, especially Hydrangeas


We didn’t expect to come across many flowers but there were a few to delight the eye and sometimes the nose too.




The bracts and tiny flowers of Euphorbias were brightening up showing glaucous and lime green colours.


So February proved to be more interesting than we had predicted. We hope to see the first signs of spring on our next visit in March.



Posted in garden photography, gardening, gardens, ornamental trees and shrubs, outdoor sculpture, spring bulbs, trees, Wales, Winter Gardening, winter gardens, woodland, woodlands | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Garden Journal 2018 – February

Part two of my 2018 Garden Journal sees us still freezing cold and struggling to get time in the garden.

I opened my February entries by noting, “February is the month when we feel that the quality of the light improves and makes us feel better and there are definite signs of the days lengthening. Early bulbs begin flowering and others are showing strong leaf growth.”


I next sought out another quote from Dan Pearson’s book, “Natural Selection” and was pleased to find this one, “Making room for the winter garden is every bit as important as managing a garden that draws your attention in the dark months.”


Turning over to the next double page spread I write about newly acquired plants.


“It is always an enjoyable time planting newly acquired plants but it is an extra-special experience doing so in February. We were delighted to find good healthy specimens of two fastigiate plants, a Taxus baccata “Fastigiata Robusta” and an Ilex crenata “Fastigiata”. The only two fastigiate plants we have already established at Avocet are a Berberis and an Oak, Berberis thunbergia fastigiata atropurpurea “Helmond Pillar” , (a tall thin shrub  with a long thin name!” and Quercus palustris “Green Pillar” which despite its name is grown for its deep red autumn colour.”


We also recently planted a Viburnum with a very different growth habit to our fastigiate purchases. It is a low growing shrub with a very open, airy growth and sweetly scented flowers in April. It is also described as “almost evergreen”, so we will wait and see exactly how ours behaves. We already have a good collection of Viburnums around our Avocet patch.”


Some of my watercolour sketches of Hellebores and details of their petals feature on the next page.


“Hellebores peak in February adding a richness with the deep reds and purples as well as cheeriness with their yellow flowers.”

“I love turning up each flower to reveal its beauty, its colours and markings of spots and streaks.”


On the opposite page I looked at some of our grasses with winter interest and share some photos of them.

“In late February we begin to cut down “deciduous” grasses, choosing the right time to avoid cutting through this year’s new growth. Evergreen grasses especially varieties of Carex  come into their own especially when partnered with evergreen foliage plants such as ferns, bergenias and arums.”


Moving on to the final double page spread for February, I considered coloured stemmed Dogwoods and a look at roses as they give their final points of interest before they are pruned and begin to grow anew for this year.

“The coloured stems of Dogwoods add so much colour to the winter borders. We use them to catch the rays of the low sun which helps them to glow and liven up our garden.”


I finished off my February journal entries by featuring roses and a very special plant, special because it is a dogwood that occurred in our garden as a chance seedling of Midwinter Fire crossed with one of our other Cornus plants. We have grown it on and now take lots of cuttings hoping to bulk it up. We hope to be able then to sell them at our open days. Very exciting!

I wrote, “Our Cornus Midwinter Fire throws up new plants from runners and occasionally a few from seed. The runners are identical to the parent plant but the seedlings can vary a lot. We pot the seedlings on and then plant them out on our allotment plot to allow us to identify “star plants”. We have one which is far redder than its parents and has better autumn colour. We are propagating these (see below). We have named it Cornus “Arabella’s Crimson” after our granddaughter.”

My final page is about roses and yellow flowers of the February garden. The yellow flowers are Jasminum nudiflorum, Cornus mas and a pale yellow rose bud. I wrote “Sparkling spots of yellow flowers brighten up the February weather, fighting against this month’s greys.”

“Late February is the time when we begin  pruning our bush roses in readiness for the new growing season. We always find wrinkled rose hips and even the odd flower bud.


“Next month is one we really look forward to. Already by mid-February light values have improved, but soon Spring may begin to creep in!”



Posted in colours, flowering bulbs, garden design, garden photography, gardening, gardens, grasses, hardy perennials, irises, light, light quality, ornamental grasses, ornamental trees and shrubs, roses, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, shrubs, South Shropshire, spring bulbs, Winter Gardening, winter gardens | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Wonderful Welsh Winter Walk – Erddig Hall

We took a short one hour drive out into Wales today to visit a National Trust property, Erddig which we hoped would afford us the opportunity of exploring a garden with winter interest, interest found in its formal structure, its topiary and imaginative pruning as well as planting. We knew that it holds the National Collection of Hedera (Ivies), so we had something specific and extra to look for too.

After too many wet weeks the day dawned bright and we were to be treated to a day of bright winter sunshine, which would play with shadows and light throughout our walk. We were surprised to discover that the whole place, buildings and gardens were in a state of disrepair bordering on dereliction in the 1960’s when a new owner decided to rescue it and awaken a real jewel of a property.

Two welcome signs greeted us as we entered, a rustic overhead design and another with a beautiful quote which read, “Where fragrance, peace and beauty reign ….”. We would soon see if this were true.


The garden is Grade 1 listed and is based around the 18th Century design. Amazingly it works well today! Even the car park and courtyards on the way in had points of interest to us gardeners, some of the Ivy cultivars, ancient wall-trained fruit, a beautifully carved wooden seat featuring carved horse heads and a vintage garden watering cart. We soon met our first Hederas (Ivy) in the collection, an unlabelled specimen which grew to frame a window, and one with beautiful foliage, Hedera hiburnicum variegata.


A feature we were looking forward to at Erddig was the huge variety of creatively pruned trees, both fruit trees and conifers. Some of these fruit trees must be decades old but are still skillfully pruned. Really well pruned and trained fruit trees are really beautiful. It felt good to see these age old gardening skills carrying on so professionally.


We discovered this double row of pleached limes after spotting an orange glow as the winter sun caught the new twigs and buds.


Beautifully topiarised conifers were presented in neat rows and as hedges throughout the formal garden area.


Not all the conifers were trimmed and controlled though, some were left to mature and become tall proud specimens.


We loved this tall double row of pollarded Poplar trees towering above our path, their network of silhouettes highlighted against the blue sky. This added to the strong structure of the garden.


We love to see a touch of humour in gardens and points of interest for children and we enjoyed a few here as we wandered around Erddig.


Erddig holds the National collection of Ivies, growing a huge selection of Hedera, but it took us along time to find the organised and well-labelled display of them growing along an old brick-built wall. We were amazed by the sheer variety, from plants with plain green typical leaves to those with the most beautiful and subtle variegation.


Don’t you just love to see what gardeners are up to when you visit a garden? Here hedge cutting and mulching borders with rich well-matured farmyard manure were keeping the gardeners on their toes. We were very impressed with the quality of their work and the evidence of a sense of pride in everything they did.

From the front of the house itself we found some wide views over the surrounding countryside.


I have only briefly mentioned the Ivy collection at Erddig so far but I will change all that by sharing a collection of my pics of the Ivies as a gallery. Please enjoy by clicking on the first photo and using the arrows to navigate.

Hollies feature too with a lovely varied collection sadly with no labels but here are some to enjoy anyway.

Each photo of an Ilex tree is matched with a close up of its foliage.

So you can appreciate just how impressed we were with the gardens at Erddig on our return visit after many years. We will be returning more often in the future!

Posted in Flintshire, fruit and veg, garden design, garden photography, gardening, gardens, gardens open to the public, National Trust, ornamental trees and shrubs, The National Trust, Wales, Winter Gardening, winter gardens | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Simply Beautiful – No 18 in an occasional series

For my eighteenth post in this occasional series concerning thing that are “simply beautiful” I want to share some photographs of a small vase of flowers cut from our November garden and displayed in our bathroom window.

Posted in grasses, hardy perennials, light, light quality | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Two RHS Gardens – Part 2 Harlow Carr

To visit the second of the RHS gardens we visited during 2017 we had to travel north up to Yorkshire and we stayed near Harrogate, a beautiful spa town. This is the RHS garden we probably visit the most as it is our favourite and we love the area it is situated in. We chose to go up in late summer. We particularly enjoy the Winter Garden and the new perennial gardens and as we had already visited to see the Winter Garden so we needed to see the perennials borders too.

The RHS are excellent at giving a warm welcome to its visitors and we certainly felt that at their most northerly garden, beautiful planters, great breakfast at the famous “Betty’s Tearooms” and cheerful plants as we entered the main gardens, including bright, cheerful meadow planting.

A recent children’s competition involving creating miniature gardens in old boots provided some entertainment at the bottom of the main steps into the garden.

Next we will share moments we enjoyed as we made our way towards the educational centre with its new buildings, glasshouse and plantings.

The gardens around the education centre provide a fine example of contemporary plant choice and plant combinations, starring grasses and tall airy perennials, growing beautifully among gravel, a wildlife pond and a contemporary styled vegetable garden alongside. Even the seating has been carefully chosen to look just right. Nothing has been left to chance!


As mentioned at the beginning of this post we were looking forward in particular to wandering around the borders of “new perennial planting” especially as we were visiting when it should be its prime time. So please enjoy this wander with us by following the gallery. Click on the first picture then navigate with the arrows.


When we were finishing our visit to this wonderful RHS garden we made our way back for a final coffee before finding our car and returning to our hotel, and noticed a large and very beautiful insect hotel alongside the path. It was an heartening end to our exploration.

Posted in garden design, garden photography, gardening, gardens, gardens open to the public, grasses, hardy perennials, meadows, ornamental grasses, ornamental trees and shrubs, RHS, Yorkshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment