It may still be cold in the garden, the wind can still penetrate us to the core – and frost, snow and ice continue to be very real possibilities. But the days are getting longer and the quality of the light is changing, it’s stronger, clearer – penetrating the shadows and lifting the gloom of a long winter.
The plants, struggling through the deep-chilled and waterlogged earth, are responding on cue to the subtle shift in the hours of daylight. Snowdrops, crocuses and the first daffodils can now be seen – and it’s a great time to visit one of the increasing number of gardens that are open throughout the winter.
This month I travelled to three popular garden destinations close to my home. Dunham Massey and Rode Hall in Cheshire, and Erddig Hall near Wrexham, North Wales.
Dunham Massey, owned by the National Trust, boasts the largest winter garden in the UK. Covering seven acres it is planted with hundreds of thousands of bulbs, herbaceous perennials, shrubs and trees. When I visited at the beginning of February, the gardens were buffeted by freezing winds that had blown all the way from Canada. But this did not stop me enjoying and photographing the lavish seasonal display, including snowdrops and an impressive grouping of silver birches, their bark a perfect, crisp white.
Responding to milder weather, last week I visited Rode Hall, near Alsager in south east Cheshire. Along with Dunham Massey it has been voted as one of Britain’s top 20 best gardens for snowdrops. First planted in the 1830s in the grounds of the beautiful Georgian country house, the delicate early spring plants are now everywhere, creating carpets of white. Visitors can enjoy the display by following meandering paths through the Humphrey Repton designed landscaped gardens. There were ample opportunities for me to get in close with my macro lens, to capture details of the snowdrops, as well as crocuses, daffodils and cyclamen.
Yesterday was the turn of Erddig Hall, near Wrexham – again a National Trust property. To be honest, I visited not to photograph but to enjoy one of my favourite and conveniently located gardens in beautiful spring-like weather. However the formal areas of the garden, with their conical yews, pleached limes and geometric box hedging looked great in the clear light. In fact they were too good to ignore, so I photographed them using my Canon 100mm f/2.8L macro, a beautifully sharp, image stabilised lens which I also use frequently for general garden views as well as close-ups.
So, having had a taste of warmer weather and sunshine, I’m sure we will revert, for a few more weeks, to cold and damp conditions. But at least, having visited these beautiful gardens, I am reassured spring is not too far away and all its colours will soon dispel the grey bleakness we have endured so long.
For more photos of Erddig, Dunham Massey and Rode Hall visit the Gardens galleries on my main website. Images of snowdrops and other spring plants can be found in the website’s Plants and Flowers gallery.