Visiting Gardens in Winter by Becky
It’s nearing the end of Christmas festivities and 2023 is upon us, at a time full of leftovers and visiting relatives it can all get a bit much, but visiting a garden is the perfect way to get some fresh air and explore in a change of scenery. The first weeks of January and the transition to February can seem a time of nothing in the garden – perhaps a few winter berries cling on, but the silhouettes of last year’s glory is seemingly the only thing that elevates gardens during the colder months. Yet taking the time to go to a garden, be it somewhere new or a familiar favourite, can ensure that you truly embrace the beauty and serenity of winter.
Firstly, if possible, choose a day when the weather is bearable. Sunshine glinting through frosty branches is considerably more preferable to drizzle and grey skies! Your own garden is undoubtably invaluable for grabbing moments of fresh air and sitting in (briefly and with a hot drink!) during the winter, but the amount of time spent outdoors in winter is never comparable to the hazy evenings of summer. Instead, visiting a garden (be it public, private, National Trust, RHS or even a friend’s) will give you much needed clarity and space.
Wrapping up warm and taking a drive, walk, or public transport to see a garden in winter will be a valuable experience for a myriad of ways. Firstly, that post-Christmas-New-Years fog clouding your brain will be dissipated instantly – a much needed detox from the busyness of life will occur when succumbing to the wonders of nature and fresh air. Secondly, exercise is hard to come by in Winter, and while a jog might seem a good idea in principle a trip to a garden is a much more appealing prospect for most; a long walk around a forest, orchard or formal garden is sure to get your heart racing! Finally, visiting a garden can be sociable too. Gardens can be the perfect location to meet friends and relatives, not to mention they can be perfect mid-points to meet with those who live further away.
But for many it is unfathomable why one would wish to visit a garden in the depths of winter… surely the displays on offer are much inferior to those at their peak in June? Yet the gardener would smile and say that winter offers a completely different and just as beautiful dimension to an outside space, seeing herbaceous perennials in their dormancy gives rise to smaller stars that light up the short winter days.
Not only are evergreens suddenly in the spotlight, they gleam and delight in winter with often unusually variegated foliage or dynamic shapes and structures. Unmissable are the jewels which make up the winter carpet: aconites, snowdrops, cyclamen and dwarf irises will soon be with us as January transitions to February. In the meantime, hellebores never fail to disappoint, with the umbrella-like leaves providing a canopy above the bright stars of its flowers. If mulched, particularly with mushroom compost, the surface of the soil will provide a perfect canvas on which these colours will gleam. And trees… no winter garden is complete without trees. Often heralded as the stars of autumn due to their fiery foliage, trees are just as beautiful in winter if viewed from another aspect. Peeling bark, gnarled trunks and twisting branches may seem to the ignorant onlooked the shadow of the trees former selves, but they couldn’t be more wrong. In winter, the skeletal outlines of these trees are at their most beautiful and powerful, showing potently that the branches are the skeleton and backbone - the foundation for the year’s performance, if you like. Just think of the silver birch – the iridescent trunk of which at its most gleaming in the colder months.
And all this would be missed if you bypassed visiting a garden this winter, not to mention a trip to another outside space could give way to numerous ideas to make your own garden shine between December and February. So instead of buying that gym membership you are definitely going to use this new year, maybe think of putting that towards a garden membership or entry fee, be it RHS or similar – I promise you will use it more! But visiting gardens doesn’t have to cost the world, in fact, it doesn’t have to cost anything at all; even visiting a public park or woodland will have the same effect: immersing you in nature and giving you some fresh air and peace of mind!