A garden in winter : worthy or worthless ?

Winter has come. Plants die, days are short and gloomy, everyone is supposed to hide under blankets watching some old movie on TV. Many gardens close : after all, who would like to brave the cold to see dead flower heads and brown leaves?

I do not agree with that! Gardens might not be as colourful and lush as in summer, but they can still look spectactular.
Here’s Wisley Gardens, the flagship garden of the RHS two weeks ago.

RHS Wisley in December

Dogwoods (Cornus) are displaying their fiery orange and red stems around the Seven Acres lakes.

Cornus at RHS Wisley

Winter flowers like this Ipheion (a South American bulb that can naturalize easily) provide splashes of colour, as can fruits. These purple-black berries belong to Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ (also called Mondo grass…although it’s not really a grass!), a perennial native to Japan with the most wonderful black leaves.

IpheionOphiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'

Shrubs and trees can also bloom early and lighten up the winter months : Daphne (a small shrub with pink and very fragrant flowers), Viburnum (Arrowwood, as the long branches were once used to make arrows) and even Prunus (here, a very-early flowering cherry tree, as its name states : Prunus incisa ‘Praecox’).

DaphneViburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn'2Prunus praecox

Rhododendrons will not be flowering until spring, but already show a great variety of colours in their leaves.


In the vegetable garden, well…plenty of winter vegetables : cabbages, parnsips, leeks, lambs lettuce. I love the geometry of this red cabbage head :

Red cabbage

The traditional Brussels sprouts (ever wondered why “Brussels”? Apparently, they have been first grown in Belgium as early as the 15th century!) and a variety of chinese cabbage called ‘One Kilo’ (unsurprisingly, the heads weigh up to one kilogram).

P1000084 (Copier)Chinese cabbage

The next stop is the oh-so-lovely Alpine House. Flowering is often short in alpine plants, so every visit to Wisley guarantees new discoveries. Two closely-related bulb species native of South Africa and threatened in the wild : Massonia pustulata (see the pimples on the leaves?) and Daubenya marginata.

Massnia pustulata (2) (Copier)Daubenya marginata (Copier)

Even more bizarre, and from South Africa again : the Candycane sorrel (Oxalis versicolor), with intriguing funnel-shaped flowers striped like candy canes! The second plant is not a fake : Lachenalia viridiflora, with its striking turquoise flowers, was only discovered in the 1960s, and yet, it is already almost extinct in the wild. Such a shame…

Oxalis versicolor (Copier)Lachenalia viridiflora (Copier)

In the cool greenhouse, a colourful display of primroses, cyclamens and chrysanthemums with the sweet smell of citrus trees flowering in the background.

Primroses, Cyclamens, Chrysanthemums and Citrus trees

Christmas is now long gone, but it is still time for me to wish you all, dear readers, a

Happy New Year !

Christmas tree at RHS Wisley


  1. Happy New Year! Our garden is looking very bare at the moment, as we are digging everything up and designing a nice new layout, as the old garden was more of a weed patch….. lots of bindweed to get rid of :S I know it may have wildlife benefits, but I doubt the neighbours will be pleased about it 😛

  2. Lots of great photos Sophie. Love the spring starflower 🙂
    Did you see that there will be butterflies in the glasshouse? I think it’s from this coming weekend.

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