Although the garden was ‘put to bed’ by November, there is a hive of activity during these winter days. Leaf clearing, compost spreading and pruning has begun and will carry on until spring arrives. Bulbs have been planted and plants and seeds have been ordered.
Whilst the abundance of herbaceous flowers is gone for the time being there is plenty to see: lichens and mosses often look best in the winter; seed heads bear scrutiny and bark patterns are more obvious.
The shrub I always look for at the beginning of the year, hidden away in the Yew Borders, is the witch hazel Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’. Its orange tassels seem to cope well with winter weather. It appears in late December and, going by previous years, will hold its own into February. It doesn’t carry the same scent as the species Hamamelis mollis.
When the frosts are hard I keep an eye on are the grevilleas from Australia. Grevillea rosmarifolia was planted a few years ago in the Upper Pool Garden and appears to be very much at home. There are lots of flower buds with even a touch of the pink flowers in evidence. Nearby in the Croquet Lawn bank Grevillea lanigera ‘Mount Tamboritha’, a low-growing plant, is rather more tender and said to be vulnerable below minus 5 degrees. Mindful of this, the plants have been covered with protective shelters. Newly planted in 2019, I have not yet seen it flower. Both these evergreen grevilleas are planted in the shelter of the west wall. Also in the Upper Pool Garden is a Fremontodendron californicum ‘California Glory’, again newly planted and on the west wall. It has been in the glasshouse for a year or two. Sir James grew these tender fremontias in the garden but they have not been seen outside for some time.
Many of the tender plants overwinter in the glasshouses: pelargoniums and a row of banana plants crowd into one of the glasshouses and summer cuttings fill another.
Unless they are needing cleaned or repaired, the first two glasshouses are open as show houses. During the summer visitors can usually walk right through the glasshouses and see some of the ongoing work behind the scenes.
The hollies always look good in the winter. In the Walled Garden they are mostly of the variegated cultivars, and, curiously, there are few berries to be seen. The holly is dioecious (separate male and female plants) and so I had assumed that all the bushes were male. However, on closer inspection I discover a few berries and need to revise my opinion. To my mind the Golden Garden is at its best in winter and the hollies play an important role. Even in the grounds it’s difficult to find berries. There is a group of unusual species and cultivars on the emergency drive, but only one appears to be female: the chestnut leaf holly, Ilex x koehneana ‘Chestnut Leaf’. Jo used rosehips to add brightness to the Christmas wreath on the glasshouse door.
I especially enjoy seeing the bullfinches gorging on the enkianthus seeds during the winter months. They never fail to turn up for the feast (provided early frosts haven’t damaged the flowers). Whilst I can’t get a good photograph of them, I am sometimes lucky enough to get close up if I stand very still. They are perfectly groomed – the males with their black heads and tails, their pink breasts, grey backs and white rumps could win any beauty contest. The white rumps are especially noticeable when they fly away. Robins are easier to photograph and always around. This cheeky chappy looks good in front of the autumn colours of the Eucryphia glutinosa.