Up close and personal in the winter garden

A winter's stroll is full of a surprises: gaudy colour, heady scent and some cunning ways of getting pollinated

Sunrise over RHS Garden Harlow CarrThis week I was walking up the garden path, the day was just beginning and the most wonderful sunrise appeared before my eyes. I just had to capture it, good job I had my phone on me or the moment would have been lost. The trees in winter have a beauty of their own - I thought you’d like to see it too.

I was walking around, preparing the route for my winter walk workshop which takes place later this week, and it gave me the opportunity to study plants that you sometimes whizz past on the way somewhere else. I spent quite some considerable time studying the tiny flower on the Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica, see photo below) which is a vivid red; but so small you need to eye the tree branches carefully to spot it. Small but perfectly formed I thought.

The tiny flowers of the Persian ironwood are vivid redA bit further on one of the mahonias:  Mahonia ‘Bealei’ - flowering merrily - had a scent that I could only describe as ‘lily of the valley’. It was positively heady and very pleasant. Another show stopper in the scent parade was Lonicera purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’.

Often these things are so small you can just miss them. Get your noses on ‘scent alert’ in your gardens, flowering shrubs often have heady scents at this time of year to attract what insects they can for pollinating purposes. Mahonias for example have ‘contractile stamens’ so that when an insect lands in the flower head the tiny stamens are triggered to close over the back of the insect enabling pollen to stick to it. Try triggering one sometime by gently placing a with a ball point pen tip inside the flower, nature is truly fascinating.

Back in the arboretum we are starting to prepare the area to reinforce the shelter belt: the trees up here protecting the site from the prevailing winds have taken a battering over the years, and so some strengthening is required. Because it is so rooty up there we will never get a spade in the ground easily until some pre-preparation takes place first. A little mini digger has been disturbing the soil so we can then get a rotavator in for further aeration so we can carry out planting in January. The team are going to be busy, there are lot of trees to put in, and I will keep you posted when we do carry out this task.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.