Winter Delights

Travel writer Pat Richardson shares the pleasure of her own little corner of heaven to come home to

Like most gardens, mine is not at its best in mid-winter, but it does look good. There’s colour – and it’s not all green. There are flowers – although admittedly not many. There are buds galore. There are wonderful shapes to be seen: some are silhouetted reminders of lusher seasons; others, which come into their own at this time of year, define the winter garden’s profile. As well, there’s the hard-landscaping outline (which I wrote about last time) which yesterday’s dusting of snow enhanced pleasingly.

And there’s fragrance – which, for me, is an essential garden ingredient. Wondering where to find it in winter? Treat yourself to a Christmas Box (Sarcococca humilis or confusa). This bushy shrub’s tiny creamy or white flowers pack a powerfully perfumed punch – and the green leaves and glossy black fruits that follow the flowers add more winter interest. Get a Winter Honeysuckle, too (Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’). Its clustered white flowers appear on bare branches, and their heady fragrance will fill the air. I grow both close to the house so I can enjoy them as soon as I step outside.

The snowdrops haven’t yet appeared, but the winter jasmine has been flowering for months, and its waterfall of tiny yellow blooms lights the garden like a shaft of sunlight. It and its close neighbour, a luminous ‘Emerald and Gold’ Euonymus fortunei, are planted just out of the shadow of the Portuguese laurel, and present a perfect contrast to that tree’s dark foliage. It and the bay are two largest trees in the garden, both are green year-round.

The other two trees are much smaller and bare of leaf now, but both add immensely to the garden’s winter charm. The Rhus typhina or stag’s horn sumach, is a showstopper whatever the season. Its winter feature looks like Christmas decorations which have escaped outdoors: crimson, upright, cone-like fruits, borne on the velvety branches which give this small specimen tree its popular name.

The Magnolia soulangeana is laden with fat buds, each in a fur coat. At its foot, is another burst of sunshine, providing yet another sensational shape – this time a wide-spreading fountain of yellow-flashed, bright green, strap-shaped leaves. It’s a New Zealand flax – Phormium cookianum subspecies hooker ‘Cream Delight’.

Elsewhere, the ivies thrive; Mexican Orange Blossom (Choisya ‘Aztec Gold’) flourishes and hundreds of bulbs are pushing green spikes through the soil. Asleep in winter? Not my garden!

Pat Richardson has many years experience as a travel writer including 16 years as Travel Editor on Best Magazine. She has since turned freelance and writes mainly for the Daily Telegraph’s Escorted Travel and Cruise Supplements. As well as tending her own delightful Kew garden, she runs, a writing and editing service and consultancy, and, a website showcasing properties with a past.