The Original Garden Visitor's Guide

Sue's Garden - February 2017 Jottings

Hello, how are you, have you had a good winter? I really cannot believe we are once again at the start of another gardening year, where has the time gone?!

Well I wonder what 2017 holds in store for us all on the gardening front? In my last 2016 garden jottings for Gardens to Visit, (which was just before Christmas) I was talking about the relatively gentle start to winter and those final jobs to do before the cold really began to set in. Here, on the south coast of England and it appears over much of the UK, it has not been a particularly hard winter, a little snow in places and a few hard frosts, but certainly not weeks and weeks of bitter cold to keep us all indoors.

So, what are the jobs we should be getting on with in the garden now that spring is just about here? Well, many of us grow Cornus (Dogwood) for their coloured stems in winter and they certainly brighten up a border during the bare winter months. These should be pruned back hard at the end of February each year. This is also known as coppicing. If your Cornus are growing in poor ground and in a shaded area, only prune every two to three years.

Cornus - Winter Colour

cornus (dogwoods) winter colour
cornus (dogwoods) winter colour

Plant of the Month - Aconite


Also, start to think about pruning winter-flowering shrubs when they have finished flowering and you are sure there will be no more hard frosts.

Evergreen hedges can also be pruned back now and this is also the time to renovate your overgrown deciduous hedges too.

If you have ornamental grasses in your garden, now is the time to cut down the deciduous ones and with your evergreen grasses, remove any dead pieces.

One final job, which I always find so enjoyable and satisfying, is when snowdrops have finished flowering, you can lift well-established clumps and divide them into two or four; this will give yourself some free plants to put elsewhere in your garden or to give away.

So, that's the work done and now to my plant of the month. Well, it has to be the beautiful aconite, with its bright yellow petals and little green skirts of foliage. It just lights up a garden in the early stages of spring. These looked so lovely on my recent visit to Waterperry  and you couldn't possibly walk by without noticing them ... such show offs and why not!

I recently managed a delightful winter garden visit to Waterperry Gardens near Oxford. Waterperry has a fascinating history which includes being the first 'garden college' for ladies. The garden college was founded by Beatrix Havergal and Avice Sanders in 1927. Before establishing the school at Waterperry they had established a gardening school in the grounds of Pusey House near Faringdon. The prospectus stated that 'the training will consist of a theoretical and thoroughly practical training in the various branches of horticulture, including soils and manures, glasshouse management, pruning and garden construction'.

By all accounts Miss Havergal was a formidable lady, who with determination and common sense not only saw her early work establish into the successful Waterperry Horticultural School for Ladies, but also, through her excellent high standards, saw it rewarded with gold medals for several exhibits at the Chelsea Flower Show.

During the war years, Waterperry was turned into a market garden, providing food which was in short supply. Miss Havergal and Miss Sanders kept the school going throughout this time.

As Miss Havergal was advancing in years she needed to ensure a continuity for Waterperry. So, she decided to put the estate on the market for sale to someone who could continue her good works. The School of Economic Science purchased the estate in 1971. They retained all staff and continued with the courses Miss Havergal had set up and even now the horticultural teaching continues and it is a fantastic place to come and learn horticulture and gardening skills.

Today, Waterperry offers many varied and interesting courses including RHS certificate courses. If you are interested in any of the courses, workshops or events featuring guest speakers, visit their website or ring 01844 339254 to find out more.

So, what about the gardens themselves? Well, the entrance to the garden is through a series of delightful 'barn shops' full of lovely gifts and garden 'must haves', beyond which it opens to an amphitheatre, which is used during the summer for outdoor plays and concerts. Surrounding the amphitheatre are several attractive sculptures, which sets the scene for a whole lot more carefully positioned around the garden.

What really impressed me about Waterperry was the amount of colour, flower and interest the gardeners had managed to achieve in the garden despite it being the very beginning of February. Beyond the amphitheatre is the aptly named 'Virgin's Walk' which refers to the original lady students themselves and the route they took from the classrooms to the gardens.

Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn'



Hamamelis mollis
Hamamelis mollis

Its linear borders, sheltering beneath red-brick garden walls, were clothed in snowy-white groupings of Galanthus (snowdrops) and Leucojum (snowflakes) interspersed with bright yellow patches of winter aconites. Varieties included Galanthus 'Ophellia', Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Plena', Galanthus atkinsii and Leucojum vernum. Also, here was a Cornus controversa 'Variegata' with its bright red buds beginning to swell, a sure sign that spring could not be too far away.

Further into the garden I came upon the heavy sweet fragrance of a Sarcococca (Sweet box) and the equally heady scent of Hamamelis mollis (Witch Hazel). I also found another beautiful shrub (and one of my favourites) that is such a joy to have in the garden at this time of year and that is Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn' ... it has the most delicate clusters of flowers which are made up of tiny pale pink beautiful. All of these shrubs really hold a garden together in the winter months, providing not only dashes of colour but heavenly scents too.

Throughout the garden I was most impressed with the high standard of maintenance and particularly with the pruning of the fruit in the orchards. The espaliered apple and pears looked stunning, with their architectural shapes bare of foliage for all to see, laid out in long lines stretching away towards the River Thame.

There is also a lot of beautiful yew topiary at Waterperry, which again, is excellently maintained. I am a huge fan of topiarised shrubs and hedges and Waterperry's topiary looked so crisp and clean, as if someone was out there each day, snipping off stray pieces that dared to pop out of those clean lines.

I must say that even on a very cold day, walking around these delightful gardens, with their high standard of maintenance and thoughtful plantings was an absolute joy.

My final port of call at Waterperry was to visit the greenhouse where the famous Waterperry Orange is housed. It is a Seville bitter orange (Citrus aurantium) and a majestic tree believed to be around 100 years old.

Sadly, it is currently suffering due to lack of artificial heat and so there is an ongoing campaign to get heating back into the greenhouse to save the orange tree and donations are being asked for. If you would like to help raise the necessary funds please contact Rob Jacobs Horticultural Manager, Telephone 01844 337265 or email

Waterperry orange in unheated greenhouse
Waterperry orange in unheated greenhouse
Cornus controversa 'Variegata'
Cornus controversa 'Variegata'

You can purchase Waterperry orange marmalade from the shop and also delicious fruit from their orchards, apples, pears and plums according to the season.

Waterperry gardens is a truly beautiful and inspiring place to visit, from the gardens to the orchards and the shops to the restaurant, there is something to delight all the senses. I thoroughly recommend that you take some time out to will love it.

Other late winter/early spring gardens to visit include Chiswick House and its Camellia Festival, the Orchid Festival at Kew Gardens and Sir Harold Hillier Gardens.

For snowdrop displays try Coton Manor, Dorothy Clive Gardens and Evenley Wood Gardens and for early magnolia displays visit Pencarrow and Trebah in Cornwall, RHS Rosemoor in Devon and Borde Hill in Sussex.

Happy gardening everyone and I look forward to talking to you again next time.

Sue x

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