We’ve now had the first of the winter’s snow and although it is cursed for disrupting life’s daily patter, it is incredible what a beautiful effect snow can have on a garden. At this time of year the garden is relaxing, safe in the knowledge that it has pulled out all the stops, shown itself off in all its summer glory and can now have some much needed down time, letting leaves and stems sag and giving in to the ravages of wind, rain and snow. As we creep into winter, it is not the time of year that necessarily inspires and draws you out to admire your creation…that is until it snows.
Snow has that amazing effect of smoothing out all the wrinkles and presenting the garden to you again, as if for the first time. That pile of leaves that laid waiting to be lifted and those shrubs that were crying to be pruned are suddenly hushed and the garden is revealed as a collection of shapes, spaces and contrasts of brilliant light and absorbing dark. This is when the design of a garden is brought to the attention and carefully planted structural plants such as yew, box and other evergreens repay the years of patience invested in them by pulling the garden together and contrasting magnificently with the pristine snow.
I have a Helleborus argutifolius which not only shines in early summer with its opulent lime green flowers but in the recent snow its dinosaur claw-like leaves cupped the snow and created a sculptural pattern of jagged leaves in a gorgeous hummock of soft powder snow. It was almost edible. Other surprising plants came into their own, my Deschampsia cespitosa which I grew from local seed (it is prolific along my local hedgerows) still has all its seedheads in tact and these became delicate umbrellas, catching the snow and emphasising the incredible strength of their stems as they precariously balanced their heavy load.
As the snow retreated in the sunnier parts, a Rhododendron luteum’s scarlet leaves shone like a fire above the white blanket in front of it and brought a splash of colour and riot to the otherwise hush of the wintery scene. It was an inspiring sight and I resolved to plant several more of these shrubs in priority spots as not only do they shine in winter but in spring the scent that literally hangs around them is one of the most intoxicating possible.
So, I hope the snow stays for a while, perhaps not a matter of weeks or months but just long enough for me to really appreciate my garden paired down to a minimum and shown off in all it’s skeletal glory for just a few more days.