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.