Crunching across frost-covered grass on a crisp, clear winter day can inspire even the sun-worshippers amongst us to enjoy our gardens in winter, but on grey days it’s easy to only notice the many flowers and plants which have been battered by the hard British winter.
To our Bowcliffe head gardener Anna Chaffey though, February is the perfect time to appreciate and prepare for warmer days ahead – signs of the approaching spring, with bulbs appearing and wildlife waking up as light levels and temperatures increase are all indicators that we should be paying more attention to our gardens, not less. Here, we chat to her about protecting our plants from the continued frost, how to secure your boundaries and the beautiful seasonal flowers she chose for her own big day…
How should gardeners encourage and help sustain positive garden wildlife throughout winter?
Feeding birds a combination of seed mixes, suet balls and fruit on trees is always a good start. Leave some perennials with seed heads in the garden. If possible, allow some untouched areas of the garden to develop for more natural habitats for example for hedgehogs.
Consider planting more wildlife friendly plants in the year ahead, hedges, trees or flowers for garden pollinators. The RHS have produced a scientifically analysed list of plants, perfect for pollinators.
If possible, check for empty nest boxes that are worth cleaning and rinsing out.
Frost and snow are clearly challenging to many plants – is there anything gardeners should be doing to try and protect them?
Either consider growing plants that will tolerate the types of microclimates you have at home with the ‘right plant, right place approach’, or tending to more tender plants, winter protection will be needed. If they are in pots, bring them into the greenhouse.
For tree ferns or banana plants, you can wrap them up with fleece, straw and hessian with a plastic membrane to keep winter wet out. With outdoor tender succulent plants such as Agave, make a small tent over them to keep winter wet off them.
When it’s snowy in the garden, it is worth getting a big stick or brush and carefully clearing snow off the tops of box hedging, topiary, shrubs and small trees. This will help reduce the weight on the branches to reduce the chances of them snapping off from snow damage.
What are your favourite three winter plants, trees or shrubs?
- Hellebores in shaded woodland areas because they have such a long flowering season from winter through spring and offer beautiful shades of white, plum, greens and pink shades as well as yellows. They also add beauty to winter planters.
- Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ – a plant which bears fragrant pink flowers before leaf growth.
- Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ – following autumnal leaves, the winter flowers are strongly scented and bright.
Are you currently producing any micro herbs from the Potting Shed?
We slowed down on that front so that we could have a deep clean in there, but towards the end of February we will be seed-sowing again. What we grow will depend on an annual discussion with the chefs.
Would you advise checking boundaries and structures such as fences at this time of year?
Winter will certainly test your boundaries, it’s often when you find out how strong they are, so be prepared to fix some old ones once gales start. It is a good time to improve rabbit fences and fix any broken panels. I often have my annual holiday in the winter and come back to find the gales have blown down another part of the fence, I plan to plant more tough hedging at home!
For those planning a winter wedding – what are the best seasonal flowers available?
I would suggest hellebores, evergreen foliage and dried seed heads, such as hydrangeas.
You’ve recently got married – congratulations! What flowers did you choose, and why?
Thank you, we had a fantastic day and the flowers were stunning! For the central table arrangements, we went with a combination of floating hellebores flowers (my favourite) with floating candles and wreaths with tall church candles.
Along with the hellebores, the main flowers in the bouquets and wreaths were subtle antique shades of hydrangeas, Astrantia, and deep velvet red roses. Soft evergreen foliage added a garden style and snippets of mistletoe offered a touch of Christmas. The flower arranger grew the majority of the flowers in her own patch back in Shropshire where we got married, which was also why I chose these flowers as the majority were British grown!
Anything else you want to add that is relevant to winter gardening?
If you are looking for inspiration for winter or simply want to wrap up and enjoy a day out and visit some gardens, some top ones for winter gardens across the UK include:
- Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge which has a pathway meandering through winter plants followed by a grove of Himalayan silver birch
- Bodnant Garden, North Wales, with a colour-packed winter garden planted in 2013.
- Sir Harold Hiller Gardens, Hampshire, A 4-acre section offers winter garden splendour amongst beautiful views.
- The RHS gardens all boast winter walks the nearest at Harlow Carr, Harrogate, also at Rosemoor, Devon, Wisley in Surrey and Hyde Hall in Essex
- Cambo Gardens, nr St. Andrews, Fife, A 70-acre woodland wonderland filled with Aconites and snowdrops
- Osterley Park and House, Isleworth, London demonstrates bold winter colours planted 5 years ago
What can we look forward to in spring on the Estate?
We are keenly awaiting the anticipation of spring! This winter our garden team had a busy time planting thousands of tulips and Muscari armeniacum (grape hyacinth) bulbs. Unique varieties have been specially selected to offer statement blocks of colour for spring interest!
Got a gardening question? Comment below and Anna will come back to you!