February can be a cruel month and it’s easy to fall into the trap of avoiding the garden in winter and then taking a frenzied approach at the beginning of summer. January and February are the best months to plan for the year ahead and the more time that you can give new plants to settle in before the summer months the better.
However, sometimes planning requires inspiration. I’ve always wanted to visit the Winter Walk at Anglesey Abbey since college days. I set off with an old friend from South London and it soon became apparent that we should have left much earlier as it’s a two hour drive from London. The horizontal rain didn’t inspire much optimism but it miraculously lifted on our arrival and the sun started softly shining over the busy carpark.
Like all National Trust properties it is immaculately kept and February is a special time of the year to visit. They have an extensive collection of snowdrops which were just emerging and they really bring the Winter Garden to life and promise spring. It’s always busy here so it's advisable to go in a weekday - particularly during snowdrop season.
We spent over an hour wandering through the Winter Garden. It is really refreshing to see a garden that has been designed to be glorious in the winter. Winter gardens have two secrets - colourful bark or stems and delicious scents. This garden makes use of both and there are some beautiful and subtle bark colour combinations. My favourite was the combination of a grove of Prunus serrula trees (Tibetan cherry) with the dogwood Cornus sanguinea Midwinter Fire. But the white stemmed bramble Rubus cockburnianus (surely the rudest name in horticulture) also stood out when planted with red dogwoods.
Sarcoccoca ruscifolia (Sweet box) has an overpowering scent and fantastic glossy green leaves and is somehow much more appealing than it’s relative Sarcococca hookeriana var dignya. Viburnum x bodnantense has a subtle scent and it’s pretty pink flowers were combined unusually and effectively with clouds of silver grey Euonymus fortunei ‘Silver Queen’ at the base.
There are also little bulbs and cyclamen that really come into their own when the leaves of the shrubs fall away to reveal them. We saw Cyclamen coum in flower - and beautiful clumps of the ivy-leaved cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) - not flowering but surely the most appealing groundcover there is.
Do buy “The Winter Garden Plant Guide" before you start. There are over 200 plants and I would have been infuriated not to have been able to look them all up. At 50p it is well worth it.
Anglesey Abbey itself has huge grounds with plenty to see including a watermill from the eighteenth century - still producing flour for locals to collect from chute. Other corners of the garden come alive at different times of the year but for now the Winter Walk is the star of the show.