Cheshire colours flowering bulbs garden design garden photography gardens gardens open to the public irises light light quality National Trust ornamental trees and shrubs shrubs spring bulbs The National Trust trees Winter Gardening winter gardens

Winter Wonderland at Dunham Massey – part one

We are in the habit of visiting the gardens of the National Trust property, Dunham Massey, especially since their Winter Garden has matured. We tend to visit in February. This year we made our annual pilgrimage on a sunny, mild day right at the end of the month.

The new visitors centre of glass and wood gives a fresh new welcome and these beautiful etchings in the glass feature throughout. They set the atmosphere to prepare you for the wonderful winter garden.

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On the walk to the garden we passed this dead tree now cut down and the wood used to create a wildlife habitat. Brilliant idea!

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As soon as we had taken our first steps in the garden we could see what we could expect, with this border of coloured stemmed shrubs, Cornus “Midwinter fire” and Rubus thibeticanus against a background of ilex crenata and a mixture of conifers.

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A few paces further on and the large numbers of white stemmed birches, Betula utilis “Dorenbos” appeared like a ghostly forest, with a carpet of Snowdrops adding to the atmosphere. You must know by now how much I love Betulas so you can imagine how planting them on this scale impresses me deeply. They enticed me to try out my new wide angle attachment on the Nikon. Not too sure about the vignetting on this one though!

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There was much more than white coloured plants to look at! And some lovingly selected plant partners.

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Not all the trees here in the winter garden were Birch either, there was plenty of room for others like this Prunus serrula and Acer griseum.

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As in any well-designed winter planting coloured stems are very potent, especially Cornus and Salix.

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But of course there were plenty of flowering plants to give us colour in the gloomiest of months, flowering bulbs, shrubs and even a few perennials.

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In some areas we  stopped to appreciate the beauty of an individual plant or even a single bloom but in others it was the sheer mass of planting that impressed.

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Other fresh growth provided interest without any colour other than browns and biscuits.

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Of course it is more natural to think of these lovely warm biscuits and browns when we consider the growth that was green or brightly coloured last year. And I love these colours when they are a result of decay and age as much as any other colour in the garden. Enjoy this little collage of brown and biscuit!

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Thinking about winter of course we mustn’t let the berries in their gaudy reds and oranges get missed out.

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Sometimes the beauty was hidden behind a haze. In the pictures below you need to look through the thin mist and the reflective surface of water.


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Cheshire colours flowering bulbs garden design garden photography gardening gardens gardens open to the public irises light light quality National Trust ornamental trees and shrubs outdoor sculpture shrubs spring bulbs Winter Gardening winter gardens

Three Winter Gardens – Part One Dunham Massey

Every year we visit a winter garden but this year as a special treat to make up for such a wet, windy winter we decided to indulge ourselves by enjoying three. We aimed to visit Dunham Massey in Cheshire, Cambridge Botanic Garden and Anglesey Abbey.

The first was a National Trust property in Cheshire, Dunham Massey, a fairly recent addition to the new fashion of gardens designed to be at their best in the coldest time of the year.

When you approach the entrance to the winter garden here you pass an avenue of pleached trees with the most magical silhouettes. Years of heavy pruning has produced such interesting shapes.

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We visited Dunham Massey a few years ago when the Winter Gardens were first opened so we entered with great anticipation. A couple of small mixed borders of winter interest give hints of what is to come. We remembered passing an open woodland area with native narcissi beneath the immature trees before being confronted by the two massed plantings of of Betula utilis “Doorenbos” one of the best white trunked birches. On one side of us the birches were in rows on the other they were planted randomly. What a sight it was like walking into mist. Snowdrops beneath white birches bring cheer to any cold day.

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As in any winter garden scent plays an important role. Shrubs and bulbs team up to gently seduce the visitors with their various perfumes. Winter Honeysuckle, Viburnums, Cornus, Witch Hazels and Skimmias all have a part to play.

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We were caught by surprise when we found this startlingly white sculpture amongst the shrubs and bulbs.

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Other trees had bark to delight and catkins to enthrall.

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Bulbs have to star in any winter garden and here they are planted en masse under trees and amongst shrubs.

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At this time of year shadows are long and very noticeable features of any mature garden.

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Seed heads which have overwintered and survived to add interest now seem to attract the winter light. The best must be those found on various hydrangeas, with their dried flowers like parchment.

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I shall finish this visit with a few general views of borders to help give a sense of the atmosphere created by the National Trust’s gardeners at Dunham Massey.

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For our next winter garden we will be off to Cambridge where we will be taking a look at the University Botanic Garden.

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The Survivor – Take One Tree

Whilst on a garden visit recently to the National Trust’s Dunham Massey, we came across an ancient tree just about hanging on to life. There was very little left of the main trunk and what was left was hollow and had lost its bark.

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One branch had found enough life there to grow out from one side and produced  healthy looking growth. It gave the impression of  a young tree growing on top of the remains of a dead one.

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I tried a few of the pics in black and white  to emphasise the textures.

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Photographing winter light at Dunham Massey.

The lighting on the day of our visit to Durham Massey recently was amazing for taking photographs. It was a sunny day with a bright blue sky above. The light acted light a spotlight shining just above ground level. It lit up leaves, tree trunks, flower petals. And it shone in “The Undergardener’s” eyes!

Peeling bark and Snowdrops.
Winter light reflected in the glossy bamboo foliage.
Back-lit Hydrangea seed heads.
Twiggy highlights like spiders' webs.
Long shadows of the White-stemmed Birch cross the carpet of Snowdrops.
Winter light turns Cornus mas flowers into gold along the orange peel bark.
Orange stems and yellow foliage enriched by the light
Looking out from the shadows.
Curling silhouettes of an old gnarled Rhodendron bush.
Fence shadows.
Snowdrops and moss.
Sparkling Hydrangeas.
Into the light.
Fallen rotting tree trunk looking like a huge tuning fork.
Jewel coloured Bergenia leaves.
Sparkling Lake