I find myself today writing this while staring out the window an increasingly deepening blanket of snow whilst sat in front of a blazing (gas) fire, wondering when exactly weathermen decided that they would pull their socks up and actually predict the weather than just pull random forecasts out of an old hat.
Some people may consider the blazing hot days of summer to be the pinnacle of weather conditions but for me, a cold bracing frosty day bathed in sunlight is the day to venture out into the countryside and enjoy the surroundings.
Which luckily is what the conditions were like on a bright December day at Hillier Gardens in Ampfield.
To start was a visit to the Winter Gardens, conveniently accessed via a left turn once through the entrance gates. A quick walk about and the sudden realisation that technology had failed me again (camera battery failure) led to a slow circular walk around the garden and a detailed look around peering at plant tags and poking at leaves while scribbling incomprehensible notes in a notebook.
So onto the plants, the usual suspects were evident with a few less likely candidates. Unsurprisingly the structural plants won the day with evergreen shrubs and groundcover just coming a close second. The stars were the Box balls underplanted with Bergenia ‘Ballaway, the bright green box leaves contrasting with the massive darker purple tinged leaves of the Bergenia set off by the frost glinting in the mid morning sun.
Next encountered were the ubiquitous Cornus, all are invaluable in winter with the best, in descending order, being ‘Mid Winter Fire’ with red/orange and yellow stems, ‘Sibirica’ with its dark red stems, and the dark purple almost black stemmed ‘Kesselringii’ and a runner up of ‘Annys Winter Orange’ a mix of red & orange stems.
Surprisingly, the next species of plants to really stand out were the euphorbias, which all looked stunning in the sunlight and due to the mild weather they looked as good as they did back in spring, Euphorbia characias ‘Goldbrook’ looking especially good as did the slightly larger ‘Wulfenii’. With Euphorbia x pasteurii good for a sunny sheltered spot in the garden, preferably against a suitable warm wall. The euphorbia previously know as ‘Blackbird’, now renamed ‘Nothowlee’ stood out as did the small ‘Copton Ash’.
The big surprise, or maybe an often over looked species, is the grasses. The tall Miscanthus ‘Silberfeder’, mid sized ‘Yakushima Dwarf’ all looked good with their yellowing stems and feathery top catching the sun, the Stipa arundicea still green in early winter and the big surprise was the Ophiopogon densely planted in huge swathes as groundcover planting below flowering deciduous shrubs.
As for trees the ones that stood out were the trees with distinctive bark patterns or colour, notably Betula ‘Schilling’ with its silver/pink bark and ‘Greywoods Ghost’ with its pure silver bark, the bright yellow multi-stemmed Acer rufinerve ‘Erythrocladum’ with bright pink buds.
The rest of the garden looked stunning as ever and with few visitors there was time to enjoy the gardens without the crowds, especially as the Millennium Walk has been completed and is now looking great, a definite improvement to my last visit when it resembled a WWI battlefield.
Finally with all this white about at the moment I have plans for a contrasting garden, maybe it is time for black to come back with Euphorbia ‘Nothowlee’ teamed up with Ophiopogon and Heuchera ‘Obsidian’.
Other plants of note were:
- Viburnum ‘Deben’
- Viburnum ‘Farreri’
- Daphne bhoula ‘Jacqueline Postill’
- Hebe ‘Sutherlandii’
- Mahonia ‘Apollo’ and ‘Winter Glow’ – a multi stem maple with yellow bark and pink buds
- Cistus ‘Silver Pink’
- Bergenia ciliate – hairy leaves
- Heuchera ‘Abba’
- Hydrangea quercifolia
- Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘ Sasaba’ – false holly