9 enchanting winter gardens to visit
There's still plenty to admire in our gardens through the winter months - if you know where to look. Bright winter berries, ancient trees, late-flowering shrubs, dramatic topiary and carpets of snowdrops are all waiting to be discovered.
Here's our pick of the best gardens to visit this winter, with their seasonal highlights. Wrap up and blow away the festive cobwebs with a refreshing walk through one of our enchanting gardens.
1. Audley End House and Gardens
It's all about shape and structure at Audley End House and Gardens in the winter months. The house is set in a landscape designed by Capability Brown, there are the evergreen shrubberies to explore, and - in the kitchen gardens - the structure and shapes of the fruit trees are most evident. The branches are shaped into fans or espaliers, and frame the views across the garden to the glasshouses.
Close to the house, the form of the cloud hedge, is often accentuated with a covering of frost or snow, highlighting the intricate shapes of the yew and box plants. In late winter, snowdrops carpet the Lime Tree Walk and early daffodils appear as yellow jewels around the parkland.Visit Audley End
2. Belsay Hall, Castle and gardens
The formal beds on the terraces below Belsay Hall look their sharpest in winter, and the air is filled with the strongly-scented flowering Christmas box (Sarcococca confusa). In milder spells, viburnums and winter flowering iris add a dash of colour. In the Winter Garden, heathers and conifers provide structure and colour around the edge of the croquet lawn. A 92ft Douglas fir planted in the 1830s towers above.
In early spring, there's the chance to see a family custom in flower. Lady Anne Middleton began a tradition in the early 18th century for the ladies of the house to plant snowdrops. Come February, they create vast white carpets in the garden, fields and woodland surrounding Belsay Hall.Visit Belsay Hall
3. Brodsworth Hall
The garden at Brodsworth Hall was designed for year-round interest.
The evergreens of the formal garden look their most dramatic during the winter, having been clipped through the summer. Their sharp lines and sweeping curves catch the eye at every turn and the holly berries provide dimples of red, yellow and orange amongst the many shades of green.
Over half a million snowdrops and 200,000 aconites force their way through the frosty ground in late January, casting a haze of white and yellow across the lawns and throughout the woodland.
4. Down House
While most of the garden at Down House is quietly resting in preparation for spring, in late January and into February the orchids put on a show in the glasshouses. The air is scented by Osmoglossum pulchellum, a powerfully fragrant orchid from Central America which was studied by Charles Darwin.
Back outside, snowdrops and native daffodils provide colour and interest through the garden in the winter months. And if you're feeling energetic, a walk around the wider garden and estate has many rewards. The gentle slope of Great Pucklands Meadow catches the winter sun, and many of the trees planted by Darwin on the Sandwalk are now mature specimens.Visit Down House
5. Kenilworth Castle
In winter, the intricate geometrical patterns of beds within the Elizabethan Garden are most pronounced. This draws attention to the scale of the 4.6m high obelisks within each of the quarters. Obelisks were ancient symbols of power and immortality. While it was claimed that they were carved from porphyry (a rare purple marble from Egypt) they were more likely to have been painted timber - which is how they have been recreated.
When the sun shines, the birds can be heard calling to each other in the aviary. Along its top cornice, the 'great diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires' described by household official Robert Langham in 1575 (you can read extracts from his letter describing the gardens here) brighten a winter's day.Visit Kenilworth
Winter is a time to experience the Kenwood estate in all its austere beauty. Sweeping pasture and woodlands, designed by Sir Humphry Repton on the edge of Hampstead Heath, provide idyllic places to explore, and views to the south over central London.
Of particular note are the many veteran trees dotted about the estate - including a majestic London Plane tree which towers over the Service Wing at an estimated 250-300 years old.
Snowdrops grow in generous drifts along the house drive, daffodils shoot up on the steep bank of the Terrace, and as winter slowly turns to spring, crocuses pop up near the Dairy and Farm Cottages.Visit Kenwood
Winters on the Isle of Wight are (usually) quite mild, and on clear sunny days, the garden and historic landscape at Osborne really shine.
The avenues and vistas are often best seen in winter, as they have an underlying beauty of form and structure. Your eyes are drawn around the landscape and towards the many historic trees, which were planted under the direction of Prince Albert.
Tucked away in the Walled Garden, the glasshouses continue to provide a fine display of flowers and foliage, along with a warm place to rest.
8. Walmer Castle
With its proximity to the coast and sheltered microclimate, Walmer Castle and Gardens has one of the longest growing seasons, and shortest winters.
The yew of the cloud hedge will start growing early in the new year, though for a few months over winter the crisp flowing lines of the hedge provide structure to the sleeping Broadwalk.
The structural formality of the Queen Mother's Garden is clear to see in the middle of winter, with the topiary shaped as E's for Elizabeth, and pillars standing guard. Keep an eye out for the early bulbs planted in pots around the garden, which will start to flower as the days lengthen.
For those needing to keep warm, the glasshouses provide colour and interest all year round.
9. Witley Court
The two halves of the landscape at Witley Court are at their most distinct during winter, and the Cascade can be at its most spectacular at this time of year, particularly after heavy rain.
The Wilderness Garden is dotted with many winter flowering shrubs, including hazel (Corylus), witch hazel (Hamamelis) and viburnums, and some of the early flowering rhododendrons can surprise with a flash of colour along the Ornamental Walks.
The Parterre Gardens is equally dramatic with clipped evergreen shapes from the mature topiary, and outlines of the formal beds standing out on bright clear days.
Don't miss the camellias growing in the ruins of the Orangery, and a small winter garden containing the brightly coloured stems of dogwoods (Cornus), and many scented winter-flowering shrubs.