During the height of the chilly British winter there is often no greater pleasure than curling up on the sofa with a warm blanket and hot drink, but venturing outside has its rewards. Countryfile Magazine presents ten of the best winter wonderlands that you can visit this festive season.
1.) Stourhead, Wiltshire
This large estate is home to a spectacular landscape garden, which contains a number of interesting temple-style buildings and a man-made lake. The garden was designed by owner Henry Hoare II in the 1740’s and since then has been altered and added to by subsequent landlords, most notably Sir Richard Colt Hoare who introduced rhododendrons and pelargoniums. The striking features of this garden have caught the eye of many a film crew in recent history, and can be glimpsed in both the 2005 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice and Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 feature Barry Lyndon.
If the day promises to be sunny and frosty then an early morning visit is recommended in order to see the estate in its true winter glory.
Further information on Stourhead can be found here.
2.) Mottisfont Winter Garden, Hampshire
The village of Mottisfont is home to the magnificent Mottisfont Abbey and it’s surrounding gardens. Since the estate housed an Augustinian priory in the 13th Century, the gardens have been a key feature of the property, and were shaped by Georgian landowners into the charming pleasure grounds that they are today.
As winter looms, the garden becomes a haven of late-flowering shrubs and sweet-smelling winter honeysuckle. If you wish to visit Mottisfont, then more details can be found here
3.) Flatford Wildlife Garden, Suffolk
A lovely garden brimming with wildlife, Flatford Wildlife Garden offers a number of interesting autumnal activities that you can get involved with before the frost kicks in. The head gardener will be on hand for a chat on how to extend the flowering season in your garden, or you can explore the wide variety of toadstools growing in the grounds.
Once winter truly begins, Flatford is still worth a visit if you are a keen birdwatcher, as flocks of long-tailed tits and siskins can be found in the trees. For further information on Flatford, click here
4.) Belsay Hall Gardens, Northumberland
Since the 13th Century, Belsay Hall has been owned by just one family, the Middleton’s, several of whom were gardening enthusiasts. As a result, Belsay is home to several beautiful formal gardens, including the Winter Garden.
As temperatures drop winter plants begin to flourish in the gardens. These include:
- Flowering Christmas box (Sarcococca confuse)
- Pink and red rhododendrons
- Yellow-berried hollies and cloud shaped box
Additionally, three varieties of snowdrop can also be seen. These are: the common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) and the double flowered species of Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno' can be seen. The taller Galanthus 'Sam Arnott' can be found in the Winter Garden.
For more information on Belsay Hall Garden’s click here
5.) Stowe Gardens, Buckinghamshire
Designed and built in the 18th Century, Stowe is a garden with a difference. Although there may be a limited amount of foliage and flowers in season during the winter months, the many trails and temples scattered across the grounds will be more than enough to keep you entertained.
If you fancy a good walk around Stowe, then there are three different routes to choose from: vice, virtue and liberty. Each contains various structural and horticultural delights for you to discover, and if you manage to complete all three and have time to spare then there is also a newly completed lakeside walk for you to enjoy.
If the trails don’t entice you then perhaps the wildlife will. Stowe and the surrounding woods and fields are home to an assortment of different creatures, including badgers, bats, longhorn cattle, barn owls and muntjac deer.
For more information on visiting Stowe, click here.
6.) The Winter Garden at Dunham Massey, Trafford
This splendid seasonal garden at Dunham Massey may only be four years old, but with 1,600 shrubs and over 700 different species of plants this seven acre wonderland is well worth braving the cold for this winter.
The flora on offer includes:
· White-stemmed silver birches
· Dogwood barks
· A wide variety of berries and flowers
Guided walks are also available, if you wish to discover more about the history of Dunham and the surrounding area. For more details on visiting the Winter Garden at Dunham Massey, click here.
7.) The London Wetland Centre, London
If you’re more interested in fauna than flora, then the London Wetland Centre is the place for you this festive period. As the cold sets in several different species of duck begin to arrive, including teal, wigeon and shovelers, which will be easy to spot on the main lake. Bitterns can also be glimpsed in reed beds, along with a species of bird named the water rail which can be recognized by it’s distinctive squealing call.
Although migrating birds are the primary attraction at this time of year, if you pay a visit before the end of November you may be able to spy common darter and migrant hawker dragonflies. Red admiral butterflies might also be seen, but most of these will leave for warmer climes by the end of October.
To discover more about the rich variety of winter wildlife that The London Wetland Centre has to offer, click here
8.) Brodsworth Hall Gardens, near Doncaster
Built in the 1860’s and occupied by the Thellusson family for over 120 years, Brodsworth Hall is a grand and dramatic manor which boasts equally impressive gardens. As the family occupied the house all year round, the gardens were designed in a way that would make them interesting throughout the four seasons.
In winter lush evergreens can be seen in the formal garden alongside holly berries, while in the Flower Garden the late-planted spring bedding provides a splash of colour. When January arrives so do snowdrops, aconites and coum, dotting the woodland with lovely little patches of white, yellow and magenta.
To learn more about the gardens at Bordsworth Hall, click here
9.) Audley End Garden, Essex
Adapted from medieval Benedictine monastery Walden Abbey in the 16th Century, Audley End is a house of enormous proportions with a garden to match. Designed by the two famous 18th Century landscapers Richard Woods and Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, this is a sumptuous garden which offers plenty to see and do during the winter.
A trail of snowdrops planted in 2004 twist through the scenery, while winter aconites can be seen, along with hellebores and a variety of oriental and London plane trees that can be identified by their distinctive grey and cream mottled markings. Large mature evergreen trees can also be seen looming over everything, and in January potted strawberry plants can be spied starting to grow in the Vinery.
For a more detailed account of the many delights on offer at Audley End this festive season, click here
10.) Witley Court and Gardens, Worcestershire
In 1937 a fire ravaged both the house and gardens at Witley Court, and although it has now been over sixty years since the incident restoration is still ongoing. Yet despite this Witley Court has a lot to offer, especially the brand new East Parterre garden and a Woodland Walks section of forest which includes species of tree and shrub from all over the world.
Additionally, an area named ‘The Ornamental Walks’ is planted with numerous large trees, mostly North American conifers densely under planted with rhododendrons and other evergreens. Other highlights include winter flowering shrubs, snowdrops and a section of evergreen topiary.
As for wildlife, the many pools at Witley attract a variety of birds including coots, moorhens, grebes, swans and kingfishers, and Witley Court itself is used as a roost by various species of bat such as Pipistrelle and Brown Long-Eared.
For more information on Witley Court and Gardens, click here