Come winter and most gardeners crawl indoors for a hard-earned rest. Not so the team at Anglesey Abbey, who this week will head down to their winter garden with jet-washers and scrubbing brushes. Washing the trees keeps the extraordinary display of colourful and ornamental barks pristine in preparation for the busiest season.
The Winter Garden is a recent addition to the Abbey’s 120 acre site. It was designed by John Sales for the centenary of the first Lord Fairhaven, and created by the then-head gardener, Richard Ayres. Over the following 12 years, his successor Richard Todd developed the garden, along with seven gardeners and 25 volunteers.
Now, as the leaves drop off the trees, the garden comes alight, with coloured dogwoods, willows and rubus (brambles). These coloured stems are pruned to the ground each year, as the new growth displahyed is far brighter and cheerier. Texture is another important element – Prunus serrula, snakebark acers, paperbark acers and silver birch all decorate the garden, along with variegated and black grasses and turfs striking strong contrasts.
But as you walk through the garden on a clear winter day, you’ll find another assault on your senses. The gardeners have also planted winter-flowering shrubs such as mahonia, viburnum, winter honeysuckle, winter sweet and sarcococca.
‘We’ve got a very beautiful Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postil’, which flowers in late February,’ says Richard Todd. ‘It’s probably the most spectactular and sweetest scented plant throughout the whole garden.’
And while February is surely one of the more gloomy months of the year, the garden reaches its peak as early bulbs inclusing snowdrops, narcissus, tulip, chionodoxa, crocus, cyclamen and aconites push their way out. And more are on their way: ‘Last year we planted some species tulips – Tulipa ‘Little Beauty’ – under the Himalayan Silver Birches,’ says Richard. ‘These will multiply, so in 5-10 years’ time, the whole patch will be a pink haze under the beautiful white trees. I can’t wait to see it.’
The garden also makes the very most of the slim sunlight it receives in the winter months. ‘It’s important to be able to see the sunlight coming through certain plants. The Tibetan Cherry has slightly flaking bark. When the low sun shines through, it picks out orange jewels of light.
‘The Japanese Wine Berry, you might think is a very ugly bramble,’ he adds. ‘But the many thin hairy thorns down its stems glow orange in the sun.’
If you had any reason to doubt Richard’s enthusiasm, he adds: ‘The Winter Garden is one of the most exciting elements of gardening that I’ve encountered, and I’ve been gardening for over 30 years. it does things at a time of year when nothing else is going on. It’s breathtaking: just amazing.’
Anglesey Abbey’s Winter Garden is open from 10.30am to 4.30pm, Wednesdays to Sundays. Snowdrop season at Anglesey Abbey runs from Monday 18 January to Sunday 21 February. Gates open at 10.30am to 4.30pm. Last entry is at 4pm, with weekday tours at 2pm. Booking is advisable, contact 01223 810080 or visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/angleseyabbey