Winter wonderland

Striking white birch trees and vivid-stemmed dogwoods light up winter at RHS Garden Harlow Carr
Striking white birch trees and vivid-stemmed dogwoods light up winter at RHS Garden Harlow Carr
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In need of inspiration for your garden? Take a walk through Harlow Carr says David Overend.

A winter walk can be an invigorating affair; plenty of fresh air, enough exercise to work off the pub lunch, enjoying the green and pleasant land of a countryside still sleeping but preparing to awake in spring.

Sounds good, but there is more than one way to take a walk in winter, and a lot more to see other than tired green fields and naked trees. It’s time to open your eyes to the true beauty of the land in winter – all the colours of the rainbow, seductive scents to soothe the troubled mind, the chance to pinch a few good ideas and put them into practice when you get back home.

Which is where the seemingly ever-expanding winter walk at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Harlow Carr garden enters the picture. The term winter is a bit misleading because there is always something of interest to be see, but in the dark, cold months, it’s a place of colour, fragrance and beauty.

Harlow Carr may have nearly 60 acres in which to grow all things bright and beautiful, but it uses only a small fraction of those to show that winter need never again be a dispiriting, colourless time of year – it can be a revelation.

Paul Cook the curator at RHS Harlow Carr Garden, aims to make the walk an even more colourful and exciting experience, but even now, this March, the walk has much to offer – not only to delight the senses but also to provide the amateur gardener with a wealth of ideas for creating their own, small but perfectly formed winter wonderland.

From well-known and widely-grown bulbs like snowdrops, crocus and aconites and cyclamen, right through to the ghostly white ramrod-straight trunks of slender birch trees; from ground-hugging bronzed heuchera to the many forms and hues of hellebores; from tiny, in-you-eye iris to the blazingly-bright stems of dogwoods and coppiced willows – this is a show worth emulating, if only on a fraction of the scale.

Throw in the heavenly scent of the blooms of the daphne, heathers, and the contorted spider flowers of witch hazel (hamamelis) and perhaps even a small, deciduous Stachyurus and stiffly pendent racemes of small bell-shaped pale yellow flowers in late winter and early spring, and you’ll have a garden to make your mouth water.