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!
After the last – hugely popular – blog on gardening from our own horticultural genius, head gardener Anna Chaffey, we decided it was high time she once took time out from her gardening gloves and pruners and treated us to a masterclass on everything winter gardening. From top tips to topiary and the ‘must see’ winter plants across the estate, there was so much brilliant information that we’ve actually split Anna’s winter gardening blog in two, so look out for the next installment in February…
First things first – what are the must see winter plants, trees and bushes which tenants and visitors should make an effort to see around the estate?
The flowerbeds offer some prominent perennials displaying a winter show. The finely structured and textured plumes of Miscanthus sinensis ‘purpurascens‘ become illuminated on beautiful sunny mornings.
These tall grasses contrasted with the narrow seed heads of Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ and saucer shaped like seed heads from the Sedums make beautiful winter viewing…
Silvery white Pervoskia ‘Blue Spire’ stems truly embrace the ‘look’ of winter, adding a graceful aesthetic especially on frosty mornings.
Beautiful snowdrops will be popping up around the estate so it’s worth a walk to spot them! Last year they were fantastic between the far lawns under the evergreen glaucous Cedrus atlantica tree. Bluebells form a sea carpet behind the West Wing which frame the grand ballroom windows, followed by daffodils and pretty native primroses.
Christmas has been, but what is your number one gift for the avid gardener?
A must for every keen rose grower are a pair of strong gloves, the RHS gauntlets have protected my hands from thorns for years. As a bonus, they are big and yellow so you can’t lose them either!
How does your job change in winter? Is there less to do or is it a case of shifting priorities to different jobs?
There is a myth that gardeners sit around with cups of tea in winter with nothing to do! It couldn’t be further from the truth – winter provides key opportunities to focus on the aspects of the garden that there has been no time to do during the growing season. Winter objectives can include winter pruning; of apple and pear trees, tidying, mulching, power washing, tree planting, bare root hedge planting, seed sowing, and general annual garden planning. I’ve found the more active projects you complete the warmer you keep!
If you could get every amateur gardener to do three things in the garden in winter, what would it be?
Pruning badly is a common mistake seen in a lot of amateur gardeners. Poor pruning can result in a loss of flowers, fruit, and structure. It can also increase the chances of infection, and the general health and vigour of a plant.
Before hacking back your garden plants without thought take some time to research the individual plants through books or online. The RHS offer some good and clear advice pages on what to cut back when, how and why.
I would suggest they learn how to prune back fruit trees and roses! Additionally, with any climbing plants, it’s worth checking what types you have in your garden as some require hard pruning, whilst others prefer none.
What should gardeners be thinking about in winter for coming months? Is there lots of planning to be done on the estate or is everything in place for spring?
- For keen fruit and veg gardeners, now is a great time to choose what produce you wish to grow for the year ahead. Consider crop rotations to keep yields healthy, and carry out soil preparation of vegetable gardens to replenish the nutrients in the ground. Spread organic matter (manure) to the areas except where you are planning to grow root crops. This matter can be left on the surface to break up particles from the winter frosts. Remember to rotovate this in by the spring.
- Cut back perennials when they become leggy before spring to allow for fresh new growth. Keep bases clear of leaves and debris to reduce pests and diseases harbouring amongst them.
- Winter is a good time to power-wash slippery paths from algae build up. You can also clean greenhouses and clear gutters/drains. Sterilise last years used pots ready for seed sowing to help reduce pests and diseases.
- Prune back roses. Keep secateurs sharp and use an antiseptic between cuts to reduce cross-contamination of disease.
- When the ground is dry and frost-free, edges of lawns can be sharpened up or re-aligned using edging irons/half-moons and edging shears.
- Between November – March is the best season to plan and plant any bare-root plants, such as hedges, trees or roses – make sure it’s done when the ground isn’t frosted over.
- Check tree ties, tree supports, and rabbit guards. Tree ties that are wrapped around plant stems or trunks hold tree supports in place and often need replacing annually to ensure they don’t rub and damage the bark
Winter can be seen as a rather dull month in terms of colourful plants – how can gardeners add splashes of colour to gardens through the winter months?
There is so much to choice from bulbs, perennials, shrubs, trees or climbers for colour with consideration to foliage, stems, texture, berries, shape, and scent! Make sure you do a bit of background research to ensure you have the right location and soil pH conditions for the plants you choose so they will thrive. If you want any specific recommendations, don’t hesitate to seek me out and ask!
Hellebores (Christmas Roses) offer real value to the winter scene, with long lasting beautiful flowers that grow in shaded areas. Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’ offer showy all year round foliage – this variety has a purple leaves. Bergenia is another good winter foliage that will flower towards the end of the season. Traditional winter pansies offer cheerful splashes of colour for planters. It goes without saying that bulbs like snowdrops and early varieties of daffodils and winter aconites can give rewarding impact en masse.
There are plenty of winter flowering shrubs to choose from, such as Mahonia x wagneri ‘Pinnacle’ with scented yellow flowers and architectural foliage or Chimonanthus praecox ’Grandiflorus’ which is prized for its deep yellow fragrant flowers similar to Edgewothia chrysantha. A small winter flowering evergreen, which is great in shade, is the Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna, or for a larger shrub in acidic soil Hamamelis (Witch-hazel) offer beautiful winter flowers. Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ offers a pleasant flower display, which we have in the estate gardens planted in the large clay pots, under-planted with Heathers.
Some top winter flowering climbers include Clematis cirrhosa var. balearica or Trachelospermum jasminoides ‘Variegatum’, Clematis urophylla ‘Winter Beauty’ or Lonicera x purpusii.
What are your top tips for gardening through winter?
- Buy some thermals, they make such a difference when it gets cold!
- Keep your secateurs sharp for winter pruning, and between pruning cuts use some horticultural disinfectant (such as Hortisept) on your tools to reduce the chances of cross-contamination of diseases.
- Enjoy having time to plan your garden for the year ahead, visit or research some gardens for inspiration.
Look out for part two of Anna’s winter gardening blog in February, and remember if you have any further questions about your own garden that you can add a comment here and we’ll be sure to get Anna to answer it!
Sometimes we’re so wrapped up in the constant hubbub at Bowcliffe that we fail to take a look back at all the brilliant moments the Estate has held host to over the past few months. This winter we’ve hosted the two Drivers’ Club members’ evenings, watched in awe as our Row Like a Girl team completed the ‘Row the Atlantic’ Challenge after 3,000 miles and 40 days at sea (smashing two world records as they went), enjoyed numerous corporate events, seen our beautiful bride and groom Steve and Wendy appear in Brides up North, begun work on the stunning Bowcliffe Ballroom and watched the beautiful sun set across the frost touched lawns.
Yes, we’d say there’s plenty to be proud of.
Meteorological spring officially starts today (1st March) – so in homage to the pull of longer days and warmer fingertips – we’ve put together a picture led post of our favourite winter moments from around the Estate and beyond…