Design Expert: A winter garden

Kathy Brown takes us through the creation of her incredible Winter Garden at Stevington, which opens to the public this month.

A photographer once phoned me up in January and asked whether it would be worth his while coming to visit. I was forced to say ‘NO’. I was shocked by my answer, never having considered ‘Winter’ as a time of great interest. How wrong could I have been! A visit the next February to Anglesey Abbey’s excellent Winter Walk was one of those life changing moments. We decided to create a smaller version here. In just five years it has become a real joy.

Think of it in three levels. At ground level cheery gold and white bulbs line the path. Top of the list are snowdrops, the early Galanthus elwesii or slightly later G. nivalis; like beautiful pearl drops, so white, so simple and yet so elegant; there are a great many forms available. I particularly love the doubles. Winter flowering aconites Eranthis hyemalis never get quite the same press but their golden cups spread out with ease beneath deciduous shrubs or trees, just like a golden carpet.

At Stevington we have lots of early daffodils, including Narcissus ‘January Gold’ syn. ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ and ‘New Dawn’, flowering from January onwards. In between these clumps of bulbs are ground hugging sedums and beautiful hellebores. I know everyone loves all the variations of Helleborus orientalis and I am no exception, but I also really enjoy the simple felty green cups of Helleborus foetidus. Why not go native if the plant gives a three month display?

The middle tier is made up of warm coloured cornus stems on the sunny side. Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’, lives up to its name and is my favourite with salmon-orange tints while C. alba ‘Sibirica’ is also a must with its deep red stems. Fragrant viburnums and evergreen sarcococca balance out on the shadier side.

Higher still an avenue of weeping birches, provide the framework overhead; the latter so fine and delicate in their winter tracery. A twisted willow Salix ‘Erythroflexuosa’, with its sinuous stems, shiny and burnished bronze, makes a wonderful punctuation mark at the end of a path.

This winter walk leads down to an ornamental grass garden where the bleached stems look fantastic at this time of year. The flower heads of the miscanthus are sensational with the glowing sun behind them while the seadheads of the echinaceas and sedums are a true delight with frost or snow. This in turn leads on to an avenue of white-stemmed birches Betula utilis var. jacquemontii ‘Grayswood Ghost’ from China. Not as dainty as our native weeping birch, but their ghostly stems are truly sensational in the low light of winter. Even if you only have room for one, and it could be multi-stemmed, is well worth it if you plant it where it will catch the winter sunlight.

We are open on February 14th for the National Gardens Scheme Charities (mainly supporting Cancer Care with help for Macmillan and Marie Curie Nurses). Make a date in your diary and bring a friend along; Refreshments will be on offer as well.
The Manor House Garden, Church Rd,
Stevington, Bedford
MK43 7QB
is 5 mls NW of Bedford off A428.

Open to the public on Sunday 14th February from 12-4pm;
Entrance £4.50, children free. Proceeds to NGS

Kathy Brown is a garden designer, please see her website for further information or phone 01234 822064.

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