I have driven past the turn-off for Anglesey Abbey on the A14 too many times. I decided the time had come to make a determined effort to drive to this garden and experience for myself the famed 'Winter Walk'. It is a bit of a hike from where I live but travelling at non-rush hour meant it was reasonably easy to get to. From the direction I was driving I had to go through the delightfully named village of Stow cum Quy.
The house is partly built on and around a former abbey and it was given to the National Trust by the First Lord Fairhaven who is responsible for much of how the gardens look today. The property has extensive grounds and I have to admit I ran out of steam before I managed to see everything I wanted to.
Up close to the house there are the formal gardens. These were immaculately laid out and ready for planting up. I loved the dark of the mulched beds against the bright green of the lawns.
There are many statues around the grounds.
I loved this chap, he is one of a pair, there was something a bit 'Muppet bald eagle' about them I thought.
I am not sure what this had done to offend, but they put a horses head in it. I am, however, digressing and prevaricating because at this time of year the Winter Walk is the star attraction and the focus of this post.....
....and rightly so, this is the view that opens up in front of you as you start the walk. It was not the sunniest of days when I visited and the colours were shining nonetheless. Yes it is a moment where the word 'wow' flicks across the brain. I visit a lot of gardens, the ability to make me say wow is getting harder (which is probably a shame, but hey) but this sight made me stop and pause, much to the annoyance of the couple who were clearly walking too close behind me.
The use of colour, foliage and stems is fantastic. This is so simple and it works so well. It is not actually that big a space, like most gardens the Winter Walk is made up of linked spaces and it changes character and style as you walk along it.
I particularly liked how when you were looking at one element you could see the tops of the next element. There was good foregrounding and backgrounding. I also loved the scent from these banks of mahonias. I kept pausing and sniffing.
I'm thinking that these white stems are Rubus cockburnianus, one of my favourite plant names guaranteed to make me snigger in a very childish way.
It does have fantastic stems. Just look at the colour, how the light works with the dark. Even on a grey day the contrasts work.
Shape was very much on my mind as I walked along. These cornus make a great statement as single specimens. They are pruned hard each year to keep the whips of coloured new branches forming. They look a bit like their hair is standing on end, it reminded me of the eponymous character from the book my grandmother used to have called 'Struwwelpeter',
I am going to say though that I was not so keen on this part with a variegated something providing the ground cover. It just felt a bit too much somehow, the groundcover was taking attention away from the trees and shrubs. I suppose it depends on what you are focussing on, but to me it looked liked the trees had been wrapped in mashed cabbage.
Then I suddenly realised I could see the tops of the silver birches, which I was really looking forward to seeing. These birches are often photographed and feature in many articles, is it wrong to say I was excited about seeing a bunch of trees? No of course not.
It is not the biggest space you will ever see but it is impressive. It never ceases to surprise me that famours bits of gardens that you see over and over again are often quite a small part of the garden. Even in terms of the Winter Walk this is one turn of the path and not a huge amount of space. It is bigger than your average back garden, don't get me wrong, but it is not massive. The trees are beautiful and the space has that cathedral quality that trees take on when they arch over you, framing the sky. They make their impact quickly and effectively and that shows great skill in planting.
In the next turn of the path there seemed to be some more being planted. I have to wonder if less is more and maybe adding more will not in reality add more.
The path continues through trees where snowdrops and cyclamens could be seen emerging. When I arrived the lady at the entrance explained the different highlights at different points in the year and I can imagine that it is a good place to visit at different times.
This is part of the dahlia walk. Nothing planted yet as it is too cold and all that is left of last year's planting is but a discarded flower pot telling the tale of last year's blooms.
Quite a lot of the grounds were roped off to enable the paths to recover for the start of the season, but there were glimpses of great lawns and ponds and places just begging to be explored.
Because I am old I struggle to walk past trees like this without humming the theme song from FollyFoot. Apparently this tree has been struck twice by lightning in fairly recent years, this did not help me stop humming the theme tune.
I have seen many photographs and articles about Anglesey Abbey's winter planting, I was a little anxious in case it was not as good as it is made out to be. What Anglesey has that most urban gardens do not have is space. They can create a winter walk because there is room for a rose garden and a dahlia garden and a narcissus garden and so on. Most of us cannot plant in the same quantities to make the same effects as we just do not have the space. But this is not a reason not to learn how wonderful these plants can look, either used singularly against a dark backdrop or planting several together. I came away from Anglesey thinking about stem colour and foliage, shape and form, scent and winter flowers. I think I will have to wander out that way again soon.