Why Wisley garden is a winter wonder

PUBLISHED: 18:31 14 December 2015 | UPDATED: 19:32 14 December 2015

The Chinese pagoda draws the eye

The Chinese pagoda draws the eye

Leigh Clapp

Wrap up warm for a stroll along Wisley’s winter walk to admire nature’s berried jewels, scented flowers and vibrant stems

Take time in the gardensTake time in the gardens

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine November 2015


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There is something quite magical about the garden as it progresses into winter. It’s a quieter time visually, though if you take a moment to really look around, there is so much to delight the senses. The crunch underfoot of fallen leaves, frost-dusted foliage, wafting scents of winter flowers, colour splashes from iridescent berries, vibrant stems... the list goes on.

At RHS Garden Wisley, they celebrate this enchanting time of year with a specially- designed circular walk, to and from The Glasshouse, which takes you past highlight plantings to admire. What is more, exploring it in November gives the opportunity to enjoy the last of the autumn hues as well as the emerging wintery delights, so now is the perfect time.

All-weather paths

Created in 2013, the Winter Walk takes visitors on a route around the Seven Acres area, following ten marker posts that include grasses, fragrant flowers, silver combinations and a mixed winter border. Following the all-weather paths, the walk offers the chance to look at plants in a new light during the colder months.

“It’s a breath of fresh air in the garden to see plants looking good, which is too rarely considered in the winter season,” says Matthew Pottage, deputy curator at RHS Garden Wisley. “Walking in a winter garden delivers a different flush of colours and scents than summer.”

As you wander along the trail, it’s the perfect opportunity to gather ideas for your own garden, discovering the beauty of combining jewel-like berries, gleaming leaves and burnished stems against a foil of evergreen hollies to make the colours really pop. There are some wonderfully tactile barks, too, such as peeling copper-toned Acer griseum or papery-white Betula varieties that will suit small gardens perfectly.

“The walk’s special features are the scents, vibrant colours and textures,” continues Matthew. “The route peaks from December, but November brings with it a succession of enchanting autumn tree colour right through from evergreens to yellows, oranges and reds.”

“The ever-changing leaf colour of Nyssa sylvatica ‘Wisley Bonfire’, and later Liquidambar styraciflua, result in fiery reds, contrasted by the striking yellow of Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’ AGM. Whispering grasses are complemented by the mellow autumnal light and the orange tones of deciduous conifers Taxodium distichum and the Dawn Redwood Metasequoia glyptostroboides.

Inspired ideas

Another idea I found particularly inspiring was an area with ribbons of witch hazels planted with dwarf conifers and carpets of white heather against a backdrop of golden willow stems. At the moment, the gardeners are trialling a new method for growing witch hazels, pioneered by Hamamelis expert Chris Lane, of pruning them every year after flowering to maintain a compact shape and encourage more flowering the following winter.

Along the way, you’ll also discover some rare plants to admire and consider as an addition to your garden.

“Make sure you see Acer ‘Viper’, a wonderful snakebark maple with veined white and green bark, and the striking Acer negundo ‘Winter Lightening’ with yellow-coloured stems,” adds Matthew. “Also, the Bark Trail is a fabulous accompanying route to the Winter Walk, where you can see unique trees from all over the world in one place in the garden.”

Why not round off your walk with a warming soup or meal in one of the cafés overlooking the splendours of the garden, before maybe popping into the garden centre to pick up some plants to start your own winter garden.

Need to know:

RHS Garden Wisley, Woking GU23 6QB

Open every day except Christmas Day: Monday to Friday (10am-6pm); Saturday and Sunday (9am-6pm)

Admission: Adults £13.20, children £6.60

For more information, see rhs.org.uk/gardens/wisley

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