For Jo’s birthday the other week we both took the day off work and made a tram-and-bus trip down to the National Trust’s Dunham Massey to see their winter garden and maybe pick up a few tips and ideas for enhancing our own patch at this time of year.
It was a glorious day, sun-drenched but with enough of a chill still in the air to remind you that it’s not Spring just yet, not quite. The car park was packed and the gardens likewise – it was the last Friday of half term for one of the Manchester local authorities and maybe Cheshire as well – but somehow I managed to shoot forty-odd pics without too many surplus bodies wandering into frame.
The winter garden at Dunham is a woodland glade writ large: huge mature trees surround an area of planted smaller specimens – more of those later – and the ground, at this time of year, is a stardust-scatter of snowdrop, aconite and crocus, with larger clumps of hellebore and iris clustering beneath the shrubs and winter-interest trees.
Here’s a run-through of the sights we saw. I’m afraid you’ll have to imagine the scents and the sounds of the early foraging bees buzzing in the Spring flowers for yourself. (Likewise the ice cream we enjoyed on the way back to the bus…)
Hamamelis (witch hazel)
Jo and I both love a witch hazel. We have a specimen in our back garden – Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’, young but developing nicely – and seeing the trees at Dunham in their prime, allowed to grow low and wide and festooned with flowers, was a real treat.
Late winter and early spring flowers are always such a wonderfully uplifting and encouraging sight, especially the more subtle, paler species – Galanthophiles are in for a real treat at Dunham at the moment – that grab their chance to shine at the centre of attention for a while before the larger, showier Naricssi and friends rock up and hog the limelight.
There’s a superb mix of trees at Dunham Massey, from massively mature woodland species to the smaller, more delicately apportioned Magonlias, Cornus and Hamamelis that dwell happily in the dappled shade of their much larger cousins. Plus a feature Sorbus with bright white fruits and red-pink stems that stands beside the house and is well worth seeing.
Single-Stem Silver Birches
One of the feature-planting sections in the winter garden is this stand of Betula pendula. There’s another section just over the path of trees that have been allowed to grow multi-stemmed, but they don’t have quite the same visual impact as these ones do:
Form, Texture and Contrast
As a gardener and a (very) amateur photographer, I’m always interested in form, shape, shadow and especially contrast, particularly between the man-made and the natural. I love to see a wall or canal bank that was clearly laid out straight, true and pristine, but over the years has gradually been reclaimed, re-greened and softened by encroaching plant life.
There you go, a few picto-memories of our hugely enjoyable visit to one of the finest winter gardens in the North West. It’s not too late to go see the same seasonal delights for yourself. See the Dunham Massey website for details of opening times.
If you’ve enjoyed a trip to Dunham recently, or can recommend any excellent winter gardens, please feel free to share your thoughts, via the comments.