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.