Gardens are perhaps not the first thing that a visitor to London thinks of during the winter months, but if you manage to catch some mild or sunny weather while here, then there are some wonderful winter gardens to see, gardens that have been designed specifically to produce colour, texture, shape and perfume.
January ought to be the bleakest of months, but within easy reach of London there are four very fine examples of winter gardens. Two are to the south west, not so far from Winchester, or en route to Stonehenge. The second two are north, close to or in Cambridge.
Sir Harold Hillier Gardens
After inheriting a successful nursery business built up by his father and grandfather, Sir Harold Hillier established an arboretum that is internationally renowned for its National Collections and Champion Trees, and gardens that are worth visiting at any time of year. The Winter Garden covers four acres, and encompasses a huge variety of shape, colours and textures. Paths wind between lawns and beds, giving an open and expansive feeling to this beautifully designed garden. It always makes me smile!
Mottisfont Winter Garden
The Winter Garden at Mottisfont is relatively new. It’s in a hollow, giving occasional glimpses out towards the great house in the distance, but it feels quite enclosed, enabling you to forget that there is anything to winter but the colours and textures around you. This is a National Trust property that is perhaps more famous for its walled rose garden, but the Winter Garden is a worthy newcomer.
Cambridge University Botanic Garden
The winter garden here is just one part of the larger Botanic Garden, which offers year round interest in a variety of garden types & environments, as well as support for the University’s teaching and research programme. Over 40 years ago, Cambridge Botanic Garden was the first in this country to devote an area to plants that provided winter interest, an idea that seemed quite novel at the time, but it wasn’t long before other gardens and gardeners were following their lead.
The winter garden at Anglesey Abbey follows a path that winds across the estate, past Lode Mill and along the river banks. The wider estate has magnificent avenues of trees that were planted to commemorate the coronation of King George VI, and the Temple Lawn, created to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Lambourn Valley is an area where snowdrops grow abundantly, and the beech woods of the Welford Park estate are carpeted with them. I can think of nothing more wonderful on a cold winter day than to enjoy a bracing walk through the woods, followed by lunch in a pub beside a roaring fire. Opening dates differ each year, according to the weather, from late January onwards.
Chelsea Physic Garden
Chelsea Physic Garden was established beside the River Thames in 1673 to grow medicinal plants for London’s apothecaries. Among its unique collection of plants and trees are some rare and unusual snowdrops, including some that were named after female characters in Shakespeare’s plays. This is the garden to visit during the late winter months if you don’t want to venture out of London.