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  • katyelton8

January – the bare bones

Updated: Jan 20

When there’s a perma-blanket of grey clouds and what feels like nonstop rain, it’s easy to dismiss the garden during this hard-to-love month as something to be enjoyed in better times. When the weather breaks, however, we’re reminded of the unique beauty it has to offer at this stark time of year.

From crisp, clear skies, low sunlight pours into the garden, creating shadows that accentuate the stark, skeletal winter forms. This is particularly apparent in the orchard, though look a little closer and it can be seen all over. The bold, geometric lines of the pergola, the delicate reach of the unfailingly upstanding Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, and the parched seedheads of hollyhocks and fennel projected onto the barn. You’ll notice the limewashing of the bricks makes for particularly striking shadows – just one of the many thoughtful, artistic touches found throughout.

As well as creating shadows, the light floods through bare stems and branches, offering views that are non-existent during times of growth. As a result, the shape of the land is more apparent now than in any other season – take, for example, this Rosa rugosa. A dense, impenetrable mass for most of the year, in its bare form it gives tantalising glimpses of the landscape beyond.

The way the garden relates to the surrounding landscape changes throughout the year. Right now is the moment for an almost seamless blending of colour and texture, the dominant browns, buffs, and greens of the planting closely matching the surrounding pastureland and woods.

Boundaries are further blurred by reflections of neighbouring ancient oaks in the pond. With its vegetation cut back, this glassy expanse of water becomes a larger and more prominent feature now than at any other time of the year, its crystal-clear mirroring of the borrowed landscape suddenly impossible to miss.  

Heightened too are the small flashes of colour to be found from berries, colourful stems, and winter-flowering plants. These are used sparingly – just enough to punctuate the bleached out hues of dormancy, though not so much that they disrupt the overall aesthetic of muted, seasonal slumber.

Where possible, herbaceous perennials are left intact to provide both visual structure and a habitat for overwintering wildlife, with grasses, sedum, and honesty usually the last plants standing. Particularly charming is miscanthus with its mood-matching seedheads – sad and bedraggled in the rain; perky and fluffy on dry days.

This midwinter moment is when the presence of the evergreen structure and its sensitivity to the buildings is perhaps felt most keenly. The dense yew hedges seem almost an extension of the walls, matching them in form and function, while the curved, finely textured, clipped box and osmanthus relate strongly to the thatched roofs.

Also pulled into focus by the starkness of the month are examples of a skilful touch which become hidden in more bounteous times. Whereas pollarded willows trained to create a criss-cross screen may go unnoticed in summer, they currently demand attention. The same goes for many of the climbing roses, pruned and painstakingly looped every year to ensure maximum flower coverage later on.  

The pale trunks of the birch copse lift an east facing pocket of the garden, glowing luminously in the dim light of the afternoon. Patches of milky green lichen cling to their papery bark all year, though it is only the nakedness of winter that prompts close inspection of their intricate beauty.

Of course, all this isn’t lost on Kevin. Here he is contemplating the delicate interplay between cultivated and natural landscapes. What this cat doesn’t know about garden design simply isn’t worth knowing.

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