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Cornucopia - The Winter Garden

The Winter Garden
Janet Cropley

If I’m spared, I have one more garden left in me and it will be a winter garden. During summer I shall enjoy everybody else’s garden and tend bright pots, but in winter every little thing will hold my undivided attention. I don’t suffer from galanthophilia, though initial symptoms of the infection are becoming apparent and, when visiting ‘Woodchippings’ at Juniper Hill where so many snowdrops are grown in close proximity, comparison is easy and covetousness rears its head. I do suffer from Helleborean Psychosis and shall take all my best ones with me (‘excluded’, in the particulars of sale).

There are so many woody delights. Parrotia, if there is space, Abeliophyllum with its buff-pink flowers. (I swore I’d call my first born Abeliophyllum till a classicist pointed out that it would be a hermaphrodite, and must have the suffix -us or -a according to gender.) Who could live without Winter Cherry and sugar-pink Prunus mume? The lime-green grape clusters of Ribes laurifolium are life-enhancing and what of the wafts of winter viburnum and Daphne laureola, which grows wild as pheasant cover in adjacent woodland. I’ve always thought Edgeworthia an acid subject and hard to please but it grows successfully at ‘Woodchippings’. Sarcococcas will carpet dry shade under Acer griseum and Prunus serrula for their tattered and mahogany bark respectively, and my birch will be Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis, which is not white, and dogwoods and willows to stool for strong growth and vibrant stems. Hamamelis can be stuffy on lime, lots of leaf-mould needed, but Wintersweet, Mahonia and Lonicera x purpusii will fill a room with scent. Daphne mezereum comes in white as well as carmine, though that’s a snob’s plant really. It has lemon-yellow berries which are different and Daphne bholua is intoxicating if you can give it some shelter.

Then there are the catkins on hazels and Garrya and the subtle yellow clusters of Cornus mas. The variegated form will give you much more pleasure in summer. If we include berries on cotoneasters, yellow as well as red, and amethyst on Callicarpa, we’ve already collected half an acre’s worth and I haven’t fitted in Azara microphylla on a north wall or the curious dioecious Oemleria with tassels of greenish-white plentiful on the male and less showy on his wife (but she makes up by bearing red berries later).

By definition there’s not much herbaceous choice but I can’t live without hepaticas, pulmonarias, bergenias with mahogany foliage, Erica carnea in variety, the foliage of heucheras, Stinking Iris (startling red berries) and watching Iris unguicularis unfold in a glass of water in a warm room - you can almost see it move. Evergold Carex elata 'Aurea' and C. morrowii will brighten the dullest day. Do you know Petasites paradoxus? Related to that noxious wilding winter heliotrope, but this doesn’t run and the big leaves are backed with pure white flocking. Or Chloranthus, another little composite, whose charming flowers repay close inspection but would be quite overlooked in summer.

The bulbs and corms which bedizen the ground beneath this little lot will be another story.

First published in the Bucks & Oxon Group Newsletter, Spring 2011
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 30.
© Copyright for this article: Janet Cropley

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2012. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.

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