Winter can be a challenging time for the garden, and gardeners. Trees shed their leaves, herbaceous plants die back and we lose the vibrant colours which so effortlessly lift our hearts from spring to autumn – and then there’s the weather! There’s much to inspire and enjoy at this time of year though – it may take a little more imagination to see and hard work to achieve, but a winter garden under crisp, blue, sunlit skies is a joy to behold; add a bit of sparkling frost and it can be pure magic.
Bodnant’s Winter Garden is now one year old. It opened last New Year to great public interest and lots of press attention. Twelve months on our new baby is showing every sign of living up to this early promise; plants are bulking up and beds filling out (despite the best efforts of rabbits and mice.)
Our winter garden was four years in the planning and two years in the making. It is the jewel in the crown of our new winter season – this year we have remained open throughout the year for the first time so that visitors can enjoy the garden as never seen before, along with refreshments in the Pavilion tearoom and The Dell plus a programme of seasonal events such as talks, workshops and snowdrop planting.
The area chosen for the Winter Garden lies at the south-east fringes of The Terraces. It is believed to have been an Edwardian rockery but in recent memory it had become a densely overgrown forest of azaleas and rhododendrons which remained closed to the public. In the course of renovation work, shrubs were cut hard back and some removed, revealing the remains of alpine plants and stone beds.
Viburnum bodnantense, Iris reticulata and Callicarpa bodinieri
In redesigning the area former head gardener Troy Smith made the most of the light, which at midday shines from the south across the Old Park backlighting many of the plants to dramatic effect. The design of the garden followed the former layout of stone beds, but paths have been slightly altered to give a more sinuous sweep around the area and give a better view of some plantings.
Tall Lawson Cypress were retained to give structure and height to the planting scheme. Many of the old shrubs such as rhododendrons were retained, and some such as the garrya and camellia and many struggling and overgrown were azaleas cut back – allowing them to rejuvenate and at the same time revealing other plants, such as the stunningly gnarled old Acer palmatum, in their full glory. Other taller structural plants were added such as the white birches Betula utlis and the silky red cherry Prunus serrula, whose bark are stunning when lit by the sun in winter.
Hamamelis x intermedia and Helleborus orientalis
Forming the middle level of the planting scheme are shrubs such as hamamelis, daphne and sarcococca for scent, viburnum and camellia for flower, cornus and rubus for glowing stems and skimmia for berries. A lower layer of small shrubs and herbaceous plants include red leaved bergenia and pittosporum, arching grasses and ferns, heathers and a particularly lovely collection of hellebores. A colourful understory to all this are bulbs such as snowdrops, iris, cyclamen and crocus.
Where possible we used propagated plants from our own nursery but many were also bought in – in all there are around 350 varieties of plants in the winter garden, and 10,000 new plants in total. As far as possible we also used our own mulch on the beds – 120 cubic metres were dug into the beds last year and 80 cubic metres to mulch them. All the stone in the beds and paths was reused in situ and sourced from the rest of the garden and surrounding estate.
At a cost of £35,000, the Winter Garden has been a major investment in the future. It attracted 10,000 visitors in its opening three months and was so polular that, instead of closing it to the public in March as originally planned, we kept the ropes down all year. Come and see for yourselves…we hope it will give you ideas and inspiration and maybe, instead of ‘putting the garden to bed’ next December, you can create a winter wonderland of your own.
Sarcococca confusa and Skimmia japonica