Spotting the first snowdrop opening its nodding head amidst the wintery weather of late January or early February is always a landmark in the turning year for me. I know we are on the first stage of an inevitable journey towards the riches of spring and summer. So each year I try to visit a different garden which specialises in Snowdrops, to celebrate their brief glory. This year it was the Chelsea Physic Garden in London. There were lots of beautiful varieties of Snowdrops threading through the borders, under shrubs and trees, in the shady conditions they love.But someone on the staff had also come up with a rather more unique way of displaying the tiny flowers, so we could look right up into the pretty bells. Hanging like christmas baubles from one of the trees by the entrance to the garden were snowdrop spheres, covered in moss and twisting gently in the breeze.
Great fun for children…and adults too actually!
My grandson was intrigued! We were also impressed by the novel (I use that word intentionally!) ‘bug hotels’ that were hanging from another tree.
The roof was made from an old gardening book covered in plastic, with lots of canes slotted below to give ladybirds, solitary bees and other beneficial mini-beasts a place to see out the winter.As an ex-librarian this appealed to both the literary and the horticultural aspects of my nature! I am going to search for a battered copy of Francis Hodgson Burnett’s ‘Secret Garden’ and make one myself next winter. Chelsea Physic is a real ‘secret garden’ of London, tucked away behind old brick walls in Chelsea, full of interesting treasures whatever the time of year.
Enjoying your garden in winter is an acquired skill. It is easy to scan the garden from the warmth of the house and miss out on all beauty that is emerging from the cold earth. You will need to wrap up warm and go out into your garden and really take a close up view . Tiny gems like Hellebores, Snowdrops, Aconites and Scilla would hardly be noticed if they flowered in May or June. They would be mobbed by the blowsy beauty of Peonies and Roses and pushed right out of view by lush foliage. At this time of year though, they shine like stars against the bare soil.
Once you adjust to focusing on the smaller picture; flashes of colour rather than broad brushstrokes, texture and form rather than flower power and architectural drama rather than luxuriant fullness provide the interest.
There does need to be a little planning and forethought for this to happen in your garden, otherwise you may well end up with wide sweeps of dull soil and sad bunches of twigs! All gardens need structure. This can be provided by paths, walls and pergolas; but should also be complemented by structural planting. A backbone of evergreens holds the garden together in winter. Evergreen hedging , topiary, shrubs and perennials will gradually emerge as the party that was summer in the garden slowly runs out of steam and autumn’s quieter beauty takes over.
Even if you don’t like the idea of having to go out into the winter garden , you can create a joyful winter border in view of a window or beside the front door. Plant Snowdrops and Scilla bulbs together with Helleborus orientalis beneath a Daphne odora ‘Marginata’ the latter providing evergreen structure and sweet scent sometimes as early as January. Concentrate the show in one area for real impact.