When non-gardening friends ask me if I have anything to do in the winter, they’re surprised when I reply that I’m as busy at this time of year as I am in spring and summer. Doing what? Tidying, pruning and mulching mainly. And surely there are no flowers to see in a garden in winter? Quite the contrary, this is the season when shrubs that take a back seat for the rest of the year bloom their socks off to attract early flying pollinators, often flowering on bare wood as well as pumping out sweet perfume. Early bulbs too are a welcome sight in January and February gardens, flashes of brightness against the newly mulched soil.
There’s now an area of Kew Gardens dedicated to this season. The Winter Mound has been created on Flagstaff Mound*, one of the few ‘hills’ in Kew’s otherwise flat 330 acres. Whilst winter flowering shrubs abound in the Gardens, notably around the Ice House, it is a joy to see them centre stage in a new garden. A new path curves elegantly around the mound towards the summit, where vestiges of the flagstaff’s concrete base and fixings remain apparent. This vantage point gives a good view of The Temperate House’s eastern facade and a bench has been installed from which to enjoy it.
Snowdrops are now in flower on the lower slopes, in one section gleaming brightly amidst a mass planting of black mondo grass (Ophiopogon plansicapus Nigrescens). All the plant combinations are inspiring: the fern Polypodium vulgare nestles beneath white stemmed birches, Betula utilis subs. jacquemontii Doorenbos. The paper bush, Edgeworthia chrysantha Grandiflora is underplanted with Anna’s Red hellebores; the crimson stems of the Westonbirt dogwood, Cornus alba Sibirica contrast with fountains of a grass which I believe is Pennisetum.
The bare stems of dogwoods are used to great effect: yellow-stemmed dogwood Cornus stolonifera Flaviramea and orange Cornus sanguinea ‘Anny’s Winter Orange’. The latter provides a fiery haze towards the top of the mound. So far I’ve counted at lease two cultivars of witch hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia, to my mind one of the most striking winter flowering shrubs: scarlet Diane and sunset-toned Jelena. Like the paperbushes, these are planted more sparingly across the scheme, as are two further winter flowerers: Viburnum bodnantense Dawn with its sweetly scented pale pink flowers and Prunus incisa Praecox, a midwinter flowering cherry. I read that the latter will achieve a height of 4-8 metres in 20 years. Helleborus Ice Breaker is used extensively in the lower reaches of the garden as lower storey ground cover. Sarcococca hookeriana Winter Gem is another source of sweetness in this garden. Its rather insignificant shaggy cream flowers emit a powerful scent.
When the bare branches of the dogwoods, birches and Viburnums green over in spring, the Winter Mound will undergo another transformation and I’m really looking forward to seeing it evolve over the coming months.
See below for more photos of the Winter Mound, taken on a freezing day in early December. Next time I’ll take you to the Winter Garden at Osterley House and Gardens, a well established garden for this season.
Kew Gardens 5 February 2023
*When it was erected in 1959, a gift from the provincial government of British Columbia, the flagstaff was, at 225 feet long, entered in the Guinness Book of Records as the tallest in the world. It was the third flagstaff to be erected on the site and stood until 2007 when it had to be dismantled because deemed unsafe. Artist Edward Bawden has included the flagstaff in this charming image.
3 thoughts on “Wintergreen”
It still makes no sense to me, even for climates with long winters. I realize that our winters are relatively brief, but nonetheless, there is too much dormant pruning to do during winter. For many, it is the busiest season of the year. For the old orchards, pruning started as early as possible, when trees just started to go dormant during autumn.
Great article and beautiful photos!
Thanks Tina it’s a lovely new part of the Gardens- fun to see it develop.