Earlier this week we spent a few days down in Gloucestershire at my Mother’s home. She has a small town house with a small town garden, about 30ft by 20ft in the back and a token patch in the front. The house is the last in a row on the edge of a small town and the garden boundary is a tall rich hedge of mixed native plants with fields beyond. For centuries this hedge has fed and sheltered wildlife in its hawthorns, ivies, wild roses and the sprawling shawl of brambles. It is home to a rogue buddleja germinated from a seed dropped by a bird and now attracting butterflies, bees and hoverflies to its scented purple flowers each summer.
The ivy has spread from the hedge and along the garage wall which forms one side of a little secret garden, a shaded place for tea and cake. This ivy is now full of black berries, food for blackbirds who earlier in the year used its shelter in which to build their nest. It is a warm place for wrens to roost.
A look out from the front window into the garden shows the skeleton of silver branches of the Cercis Forest Pansy now having lost the last of its red and plum coloured leaves of autumn and a recently neatly pruned climbing rose on the porch wall. A glance at the back shows it to be dominated by a fine specimen of Arbutus unedo, the strawberry tree. There are small dots of colour from remnant flowering of earlier seasons still to be seen, but go out with camera in hand and there is so much more interest. Here the lens sees more than the eye and conjures up a garden full of textures and colours. Old terra-cotta pots spiral beneath the trunk of a malus arranged to add interest when the crab apples have been eaten by blackbirds and migrant thrushes and the yellow, orange and red of October leaves have journeyed to the ground only to be blown away by strong November winds.
Just as the clay pots were given new life, so the trunk of the conifer, outgrown its space and lopped, has been reborn as the post for a bird table. It is now visited by the birds who ignored its barren foliage when it lived.
Foliage plays a central role in small gardens in winter, both for colour and texture. Some like the Senecio, now sadly re-christened brachyglotis by the botanists, has both with its leaves surfaced in silver-grey fur.
And in sharp contrast to the delicate senecio, the bristly character of the berberis, purple in summer now turns to the red and orange tones of fire. In the shadow of the house wall a small nettle leaved plant clambers over the ground with its matt dry textured foliage shaded with silver, plum and purple. no artist could have designed these leaves.
Close by the variegated periwinkle, Vinca major, defies the season and manages two pure blue blooms.
Promises of scent and colour from late winter and early spring flowers are evidence of rapidly changing seasons, the few lonely pink-blushed blooms of Viburnum bodnantense “Dawn” remind us of the profusion there is in waiting, while the soft-furred pointed buds of magnolia hide all its promises of scent and waxy petalled blooms. Sarcococca is an amazing name for a shrub. In the summer it is quite a dull little waxy leaved evergreen but below its branches are hung with tiny buds that will open into little white gems absolutely loaded with a heavy honey scent at the most unlikely time, January and February. Such a treat, and this one is planted alongside the garden path, just where it can treat anyone passing by.
Whereas the buds of the viburnum and the magnolia are promises of future joy, other buds are remnants of the joys of summer. White buds of the annual pelargonium and the palest pink of the hardy geranium are hanging on into the cold weather. True wishful thinkers!
We access the front garden by passing under a rose arch, over which rambles a Canary Rose one of the earliest roses to come into bloom every year. Now its yellowness comes from its leaves glowing in the winter sun. Its foliage causes confusion as several visitors have thought it to be a rowan.
Beneath the arch the yellow of the Canary Rose is precisely reflected in the deep yellow of the richly variegated euonymus.
In the front the white, silver and cream variegated euphorbia is far more noticeable than at any other time of year even though it never changes.
Tubs at the front have been planted to give bursts of colour mostly from cyclamen. Why can I accept such bright colours and clashes in the winter when I would find them undesirable the rest of the year?
In the short stretch of low dry stone wall, between two levels of garden, I spied this snail-shell, providing just a hint at the many hibernating molluscs hidden in its warmth.