Following the coldest December on record (since 1885) – you might suppose little would be in flower in the garden, but the lengthening days of January start the cycle of flowering and growth for the hardiest of plants. Some might be delayed by the cold, but buds will break in a mild week. The indoor displays in the glasshouses also offer scent and flower and a chance to warm up!
Begin your tour in the sub-tropical house where the colourful bracts of the Bougainvillea are still in flower, the focus of the exotic picture is the bird of paradise flower (Strelitzia reginae) (1) with its blue and orange contrasting, bird pollinated flowers. Walk through to the Mediterranean house to enjoy the heady scent of the citrus collection and the subtler perfume of the yellow flowered Micky Mouse plant (Ochna serrulata). Be sure to come back in February to see the pairs of berries which are supposed to resemble Walt Disney’s rodent! You can travel to Australia here this month with yellow wattles (Acacia species), Banksia ericifolia and Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’ (2) all in flower.
From the terrace you can see on the far side of the lawn a display of coloured stems of dogwood, the importance of evergreen plants in the winter garden is also obvious. Turn left and leave the terrace past the restaurant, in the raised beds left of the Lawn Aviary is Daphne bholua ‘Gurkha’ (3), possibly the hardiest of the winter flowering daphnes, bearing pink flowers of the richest scent. Walk onto the lawn behind the aviary where you will see a large semi-deciduous shrub with pale yellow flowers. This is the hardy and deliciously scented wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) (4).
Continue on the lawn around the aviary and take a closer look at the colourful stems of the Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ (5) appropriately close to the striking young stems of Acer x conspicuum ‘Phoenix’ (6). Walk down the grass slope back to the main path heading back to the fountain, there turn sharp left down Wilson walk above the rock garden. Here are early flowering daphnes and the equally well scented witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) (7) with its spidery yellow flowers. Follow the tarmac path all round the rhododendron garden and eventually you will come to the west face of the rock garden. Here under the trees are masses of the delicate looking but tough Cyclamen coum (8) displaying their warm pink flowers close to ground level.
Return to the terrace by turning right at the end of the rock garden. The planting to your left behind the low beech hedge is the winter border, with more winter stems, hellebores and early bulbs. There may be a few early snowdrops on display under the cedar tree.
Coming next month early spring garden display in the Lawn Aviary and – snowdrops, crocuses, winter aconites and hybrid hellebores in the garden!
The guide book, tree guide and a range of interpretation sheets can be viewed in the front entrance and purchased from Reception.