In the Winter Garden

Primroses Croft Garden Cottage

I always dreamed of having a winter garden – delicate snowdrops and aconites in perfect drifts beneath the tracery of the bare branches of elegant Japanese acers and the ghostly stems of birches. A contrasting backdrop of glossy green Mahonia and air laden with the delicate scent of winter jasmine, Osmanthus and Daphne. The reality is a cottage garden which looks as if it has a monumental Hogmanay hangover – jaded and definitely rough around the edges.

The garden always looks shabby and unkempt in the winter, a tangle of brown shredded leaves, flowering stems and seed heads. I will not tidy them away as they are the winter refuge of hibernating wee bugs and beasties and give the plants a little protection from the wind. Generally our winters are mild, so many of the herbaceous plants do not go dormant, often producing a new flush of leaves in the late autumn susceptible to the wind and salt spray.

There is very little I can do when storm force winds come thundering through the garden stripping twigs, stems and leaves and scouring the earth. So it is a case of restoration and damage limitation – mulching the bare earth around the plants, firming rocking stems and carefully pruning broken and shattered branches. There will be some losses, but it is amazing how resistant some plants are to frequent battering. A little poking around in a sheltered corner reveals a patch of primroses and the dark purple spears of Trillium chloropetalum. Sheltering at the base of a wall a dense patch of early Narcissus shoots mingles with the red tinted emergent leaves of Amaryllis belladonna . The snowdrops and other spring bulbs slumber on – perhaps they heard the wind.

It is not a prefect day for winter gardening, the sky is unremitting grey and the air lies heavy, damp and chill. The compost is wet and heavy, sticking to the trowel and my fingers are cold. As the drizzle increases I start thinking about afternoon tea, but then a wren appears and scolds me for Sassenach irresolution so I continue and dream about perfect winter gardens.

15 thoughts on “In the Winter Garden

  1. I miss the delicate acers, helibores and snowdrops from my last garden in much more hospitable central Scotland. Good effort for trying to get out today, horizontal rain forced me back inside. The best word to decribe my garden today would be blackened, after the Christmas gales. My poor garlic has decided to poke shoots tentatively through the soil this week, but I have confidence in it, at least!

    • On balance I think I’ll settle for life on the island even if gardening is challenging. Not much hope of an acer, but hellebores on are my trial list. Always the optimist, but some plants can take you by surprise. My galic is still in the packet, even my soil is too wet for planting! Maybe next week.

  2. I am also constantly surprised at how hardy the most delicate-looking plants can be… the first snowdrop shoots are showing here, but they are so often slowed up by a cold spell… let’s see what January brings! (And wrap up warm!)

    • I too am surprised by the toughness of some of the small bulbs especially in our wet and windy coastal climate. A walk round the garden after a storm can be depressing but in an odd corner there is also something which raises a smile.

  3. I’m working on a winter garden, too, but like you say, it always looks a bit unkept and untidy. Maybe one day we’ll both have our dreams come true.

    • Thank you for dropping-in your garden looks lovely. Creating a winter garden may be an impossible dream, but I love the idea of having part of the garden which looks lovely in the winter. I can not grow beautiful acers or trees or shrubs, so I am thinking of using grasses to add structure and shelter. gardenin would not be gardening without its challenges.

  4. My garden is mostly asleep and that’s fine with me. I have a few pops of green here and there to sustain me, but everything else is dormant. I love the primroses in your picture. Here we also call them cowslip. 🙂

    • Unless were have an usually cold winter the garden refuses to go to sleep, so it still some care and attention after a big storm. In reality I could probably just leave it to nature and stop meddling.

  5. When you move to a location like yours out of choice there will be so many things that will outweigh the plants that you have left behind, but it will be interesting to see which plants DO respond to thhe challenge if you give them a try. It’s lovely to see the primroses though, Christine – I assume they are self-seeded? On Luing there are usually some in flower all the year round.

    • The primroses came with me with the old garden and although it took them a while too adjust they have self-seeded and I’m slowly spreading them around the garden. I was surprised they tolerated the alkaline sandy soil but they flower for most of the year. Primroses are native here but usually found on the wetter east coast.

      • That’s interesting about the primroses – my Mum faces west (seaward) and the primroses are happily native there, although I am not sure about the eastern side of the island .Mind you, it’s always pretty wet there although theoretically the east side should be drier – I’ll ask her about the primroses.

  6. I don’t think it matters where we live – we all wish we could have things that wouldn’t thrive in our gardens. Wouldn’t it be great to have a garden of our dreams, but then what would we wish for?
    Love your little group of primulas – I wish mine would bulk up!

    • I think all gardeners are dreamers it is part of the drive to achieve the impossible. Primulas can take a while to settle, but once established you will probably have more seedlings than you know what to do with.

  7. I guess one of the advantages of gardening in a snowy climate is that all the ugly winter garden mess is buried under a neat-looking blanket of snow for most of the winter. If we’re lucky, we’ll have reliable snow cover until March, when the snow will melt to reveal the miracle of new green shoots.

    • Hi Jean, the mainland is getting the snow, but here on the coast we have rain, although with a strong northerly wind it feels very cold due to the wind chill. So No protecting blanket of snow for my garden to hide the mess.

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