We visited the Winter Garden at the National Trust’s Dunham Massey just after it opened, so we returned this week to see how things had developed. Wow! This is some Winter Garden. The National Trust enlisted Roy Lancaster, one of my gardening heroes, to help with its design so there is some interesting planting. We wandered around it for hours trying different routes through it which afforded us the opportunity of seeing each bit of planting in a different light. This is a garden for all the senses, our eyes, noses, fingers and ears enjoyed every moment. It was busy but the design and quality of planting seemed to make everyone remain quiet. Quiet enough to hear the birds, bees and insects at work.
A winding path lead us through an area of mature trees underplanted with miniature daffodils, an area where the trees’ long shadows cut across the Daffodils, beautifully lit by the low sun and shining like gold, and soon we glimpsed the massed planting of white barked Birches.
There were two distinct areas of Birch trees, single stemmed specimens one side of a path and multi-stemmed on the other. Betula utilis “Doorenbos” was the chosen variety and their trunks were a clear crisp white.
As well as the usual winter flowering bulbs such as crocus, snowdrops and daffodils there were several different coloured varieties of Iris reticulata those tiny bulbous plants with over-sized flowers in shades of purple and blue, all with yellow beards.
In some areas of lawn these diminutive Irises have been naturalised under trees. We had never seen this done before and have to say it was very effective.
It was so heartening to see and hear bees, hoverflies and other insects at work around the flowering shrubs, Lonicera fragrans, Cornus mas, Daphne mezereum “Alba”, Viburnum bodnantense and Viburnum tinus.
Lovely as the flowers of winter are, sometimes the colours, textures and shapes of leaves can be just as impressive – Bergenias, Liriope and variegated Ilex for example in their many colours.
We cannot ignore the snowdrops though, and here at Dunham Massey they have been so thoughtfully placed, at the bases of trees or shrubs.
The textures and colours of bark add another dimension to this winter garden, peeling bark, shining bark, bark like snake-skin, red stems, contorted stems, curling stems, shimmering stems.
In the photo below the ginger-coloured shining bark of Prunus serrula shoot upwards from the golden leaves of Liriope.
With all the new season’s flowers, the colourful stems and bark, and the scents it would be too easy to miss the effect the winter light can have as it plays across the seed heads of last year’s flowers and stems. Giant lilly stems with their huge seed pods towering up above a sea of desiccated flower heads of a variety of Hydrangeas stopped us in our tracks.
When the wind blew these seed heads rustled gently, temporarily drowning out the sound of the Blackbirds turning over the mulch of bark and throwing the dried leaves fallen from trees last Autumn over their shoulders. The gentlest breeze set the bamboos swaying and rustling but it took a stronger wind to move the conifers overhead and start their music making. Over our heads in the mature tree canopy we could hear the calls and songs of Goldcrests, Nuthatches, Coal Tits and Blue Tits occasionally drowned out by the drumming of Great Spotted Woodpecker, all proclaiming their territorial rights in their own unique way.
There was so much to appreciate in the Winter Garden at Dunham Massey that it is hard to leave. But it had another surprise around another corner, a beautifully woven willow den, created from many coloured stems. Jude, the Undergardener, as usual could not resist, so a quick exploration was called for before coffee and cakes called even louder from the restaurant!