Harlow Carr celebrates the 10th anniversary of its winter walk

Two women on the Winter Walk in Winter at RHS Garden Harlow Carr.

Two women on the Winter Walk in Winter at RHS Garden Harlow Carr. - Credit: RHS / Georgi Mabee

Winter wonderland walk was originally designed to provide inspiration for gardens.

The Winter Walk in snow with Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' in the foreground at RHS Garden Harlo

The Winter Walk in snow with Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' in the foreground at RHS Garden Harlow Carr - Credit: RHS / Lee Beel

Don’t forget to say hello to Daphne and Iris and wish them a happy anniversary next time you lace up your boots and bob on your bobble hat for a stroll around Harlow Carr in Harrogate.

As Harlow Carr is one of Yorkshire’s premier green spaces, you’ve probably already guessed that the Daphne and Iris we’re referring to are actually beautiful, intensely fragrant blooms that sit amongst one of the largest (and oldest) concentrations of winter horticultural interest in the north of England.

The first bed was planted a decade ago by former curator Mathew Wilson – a regular on Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time and winner of the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show – to showcase the potential and magical beauty of winter plants.

His creativity, and the beauty of the winter wonderland walk he designed, initially inspired people to create their own gardens specifically for the coldest season. And, after the mantle was picked up eight years ago by RHS gardener Russell Watkins, the display has developed and deepened as many of the established plants have come to maturity, allowing the fantastic combinations to be fully appreciated.

‘There is something incredibly special about winter gardens,’ said Russell. ‘In the colder months, low light levels and frosts highlight plants’ natural shapes, textures and colours – from tall ornamental grasses and intricate seed heads to rich berries and textured barks.

‘There’s something miraculous about the appearance of blooms at this time of year, from hellebores to irises, crocuses to daphnes, offset against wintry scenes. These flowers feel like special and delicate little treasures (although intrinsically they will be hardy) and more people need to experience the joy that growing and enjoying these plants brings.’

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To celebrate the milestone 10th anniversary of the winter walk, 5,000 irises have been planted. Other recent additions include acers for their interesting bark, and shrubs featuring beautiful berries, like the lesser-known leucocarpa which has starkly beautiful white berries.

The winter walk season actually kicks off in autumn with an array of seasonal tones, colours and textures coming to prominence as the leaves fall, revealing the striking stems of cornus and salix cultivars.

Many become even more vivid in colour after the first frosts when they are set against blocks of evergreens. A real favourite among visitors to Harlow Carr is the fine and fluffy cryptomeria japonica elegans, which gradually turns from zingy green to a luxurious rusty bronze, its fine branches catching water droplets on damp days and shimmering in the sun.

As the season progresses, winter flowering shrubs such as sarcococca and daphne lift the mood as their intoxicating scents are carried far and wide in the air (visitors often smell them before they spot them). Six new varieties of daphne bholua have been planted along the entire length of the winter walk to compliment the original specimen ‘Jacqueline Postill’.

If you leave your winter walk until the very end of the season, you’ll be greeted by the vivid colours and scents of cyclamen, galanthus, eranthis and iris as they burst into life, creating stunning combinations which are best seen from late February through to early March.

‘Like many areas of the garden, our winter walk is constantly evolving,’ said Russell. ‘Our planting schemes are designed to make the best of the morning and late afternoon sun, which lights up the fiery stems and outlines the sculptural shapes of the bare trees.

‘We’ve made use of clipped yew, evergreens and conifers to form the backbone of the walk and to lend a formal tone to the vibrant cornus and salix stems.

‘The walk eventually leads you into beautiful mature woodlands, where giant trees are outlined against the winter sky and snowdrops and winter aconite cluster below and around boulders which are cloaked in moss and lichens.’

For full details, and to find out about all the events and activities on offer at Harlow Carr in the coming months, visit rhs.org.uk/HarlowCarr

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