‘…frosty winds may moan’, but there are still a few hardy plants that are bold enough to flower and delight us in the coldest and bleakest time of the year. And on a mild winter’s day you may even remember that spring is not so far away. Here are a few plants that are doing their ‘thing’ right now at Sissinghurst, we hope they give you some winter cheer.
Witch hazels have been grown at Sissinghurst since Vita planted the garden in the 1930s. Their spidery flowers brighten the garden all through January and into February giving a shot of colour on dreary winter days.
Vita was particularly taken with them and wrote about their merits in her Observer column on Jan 29th 1956 saying: “On winter mornings you can see the crinkled gold coming through the rime like sugared crystallised fruits. If I add to this that in the autumn the leaves turn as yellow as a quince, perhaps I shall have said enough to encourage a wider use of this strangely neglected treasure”.
In fact, Vita wished she had planted a whole grove of the two asiatics (meaning H. mollis and H. arborea) 20 years earlier so that she could cut more of it when in flower. She did plant a group of Hamamelis mollis in the Orchard and it is most likely that she was was referring to these in her article. Unfortunately, these have succumbed to old age and there are no longer any witch hazels there but we do have three lovely specimens of Hamamelis x intermedia in Delos. The first is H x intermedia ‘Barmstedt Gold’ which is in flower right now and has been since early January. If you are walking on the estate you can clearly see it if you look over the garden gate by the shop. As its name suggests the flowers are a wonderful golden colour. The other two witch hazels are H. x intermedia ‘Arnhem’ (with deep amber flowers) and H. x intermedia ‘Fire Blaze’ (with cherry red flowers). These were a present from Kalmthout Arboretum in Belgium and were planted about 3 years ago (2010) although they still look rather small. If you do plant a witch hazel in your garden, patience is definitely required! These two are yet to flower so maintain your observation over the garden gate and you will soon be rewarded with some more little beacons of flaming colour.
In contrast to the Hamamelis, Ribes laurifolium is an evergreen shrub with cool green-yellow pendant flowers which are sweetly scented. At Sissinghurst, the flowers are not yet fully open but the pale green flower buds already look attractive sitting amongst the dark green leaves like little fairy lights.
Vita particularly liked scented flowers and she also liked green flowers; growing Helleborus argutifolius and Rosa chinensis viridiflora as well as Ixia viridiflora and many euphorbias. It’s not known when this Ribes was introduced to the garden but it was originally grown in the top courtyard but now grows in a bed known as ‘the triangle’ (for obvious reasons) at the top end of the Nuttery surrounded by white hellebores. Unusual and beautiful!
Snowdrops are a ‘must’ in any garden if you want to survive winter in good spirits! We don’t have masses of snowdrops at Sissinghurst and we’re certainly not in the same league as Hodsock Priory or Colesbourne Park, but there are some very pretty cultivars grown here including the two below which I particularly like:
G. ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’ was originally found in the garden of the aforementioned lady at Sibbertoft Manor in Northamptonshire and began to be distributed after the second world war. It’s actually a hybrid between G. nivalis and G. elwesii and is a double with the three outer white sepals containing a tutu of inner petals each one marked with a spot of lime green. It will increase year on year and because it is an hybrid it has an inherent vigour giving it longevity in the garden. At Sissinghurst it’s grown in the Rose Garden close to the Powys Wall and is just starting to flower now.
G.’ Clare Blakeway-Phillips’
Introduced by the Rev. Richard Blakeway-Phillips who found it in his garden at Clun and named it after his daughter, Clare. We grow it in Delos and its large, white single flowers stand out against the freshly barked soil, mingling happily with the carpet of bright yellow winter aconites and hellebores. It makes you think that Spring can’t be far away!
We will be opening next month on March 1st so there will be an opportunity to see some of these flowers and of course, many more that will be doing their ‘thing’ in March.