Harlow Carr's Winter Walk is a magical part of the garden, especially when low light and frosts highlight the shapes, textures and colours – from striking stems and intricate seed heads to rich berries.
The walk runs from east to west, making the best of the morning and late afternoon sun which lights up the fiery stems and outlines the sculptural shapes of the bare trees.
'We’ve used clipped yew, evergreens and conifers to form a backbone to the Walk and lend a formal tone to the vibrant cornus and salix stems,' says Horticulturist Russell Watkins, who has looked after the Winter Walk since 2008.
The Walk gradually leads into the beautiful mature woodlands, where giant trees are outlined against the winter sky and snowdrops and winter aconites carpet the ground.
The Winter Walk through the year
As the leaves fall, tones and textures become more prominent. The striking stems of Cornus and Salix cultivars seem to pop from the ground like fireworks. Many become more vivid in colour after the first frosts and are set off by blocks of evergreens.
A favourite is fluffy Cryptomeria japonica Elegans Group, turning from zingy green to a luxurious rusty bronze, its fine branches shimmering in the sun after rain or frost.
As the season progresses, winter-flowering shrubs such as Sarcococca and Daphne lift the mood.
Six new cultivars of Daphne bholua were planted in spring 2015 to complement the original specimens of 'Jacqueline Postill'. These can now be found along the entire length of the Winter Walk.
The season comes to a grand finale as the underplanting of early-flowering bulbs such as Cyclamen, Galanthus, Eranthis and Iris bursts into life, creating stunning combinations which are best seen from late February and early March.
To celebrate 10 years of the Winter Walk in 2016 we've planted 5,000 iris bulbs, mainly cultivars of Iris reticulata - come and see them lighting up the garden from mid-February (depending on seasonal conditions).
Like the rest of the garden, the Winter Walk is always evolving. In recent years we have expanded the Winter Walk and added to the vast collection of plants.
New additions include:
- Acers for their interesting bark, such as Acer davidii ‘Serpentine’, an almost purple and white snakebark.
- Shrubs with beautiful berries, including lesser-known Callicarpa japonica ‘Leucocarpa’ which has brilliant white berries.
- More Galanthus (snowdrops). We are building up a collection of more unusual snowdrops, including one that starts to flower in late November.
Cultivated for their vibrant winter stems, Cornus are renowned for fabulous colour during the darkest winter months and are a great way to add lift and sparkle to your garden.
'Our Winter Walk features some beautiful dogwoods which appear to glow in the winter light. Regular pruning really helps to enhance their colour,' says horticulturist Russell Watkins.
Salix irrorata (blue-stem willow)
Young growth is deep purple and takes on a delicate white bloom in the winter, making it a particularly good feature plant. The leaves are glossy green with grey undersides and the catkins a vibrant silvery white.
Parrotia persica (Persian ironwood)
The beautiful Persian ironwood at the beginning of the walk has tiny spider-like red flowers set against peeling grey bark – a combination that looks stunning on a frosty morning.
Some of the most strongly scented plants flower in winter - try to visit on a mild sunny day when their perfume floats on the air. The fragrances catch your attention before you even notice the flowers!
Star scented plants include daphnes, hamamelis, Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Charles Lamont’ (right), and various Sarcococca (sweet box).
One of the best seedheads for winter interest is delicate, papery Lunaria annua (honesty) which is allowed to seed among the supporting stems of cornus. The seedheads are illuminated like paper lanterns in the early morning light.
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