Achieving a planting scheme with year-round interest can feel like the epitome of successful garden design. Sustaining this balance through the colder, wetter and darker months is often the biggest challenge. The Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Hampshire are famed for their Winter Garden, so I set off last weekend to see how it was looking in the middle of January.
January in the rain is often the moment when a garden can start to look its most forlorn. The lovely skeletons of last year's perennials and ornamental grasses are beginning to buckle, and will need to be cut back soon. However there are many beautiful evergreens that come into their own at this time of year.
One of my favourite evergreen plants is Mediterranean Spurge, Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii. With glaucous grey-green leaves arranged in fulsome whorls on pinkish stems, it provides colour, structure and textural interest all year round.
All over the world, for thousands of years, people of all cultures and races have celebrated the Winter solstice and the passing of the longest night. Festivities usually included the decorating of dwelling places with evergreens, a tradition which many of us still take part in today.
To grow gracefully, live gracefully and die gracefully: nurseryman and garden designer Piet Oudolf expects nothing less from the plants that he puts to work in his extraordinary landscapes.
One of the most influential plantsmen and designers of the last few decades, Piet Oudolf's name is synonymous with the 'New Perennial' movement. This planting style focuses predominantly on herbaceous perennials and ornamental grasses, favouring those which offer year-round form and texture over colour.
In early November 2016 I visited Oudolf Field at the Hauser & Wirth Gallery in Bruton, Somerset. The garden has been open only for two years, but the planting is already successfully well-established. In the low light of a late Autumn, with blue skies, intermittent clouds and long shadows, it looked nothing short of magnificent.