The Winter Walk at RHS Harlow Carr

The Winter Walk at RHS Harlow Carr

Treat your senses to a walk around this dazzling winter garden, says Louise Curley

We all need a pick me up in winter, and after months of being cooped up indoors a lovely winter garden offers the perfect tonic. Harlow Carr’s Winter Walk is one of the best examples in the country, offering a bold fix of colour, texture and structure that’s a treat for all the senses.

Lying on the outskirts of Harrogate in North Yorkshire, Harlow Carr is the Royal Horticultural Society’s most northerly garden. The charity acquired the 68 acres in 2001 when it merged with the Northern Horticultural Society, which had created a botanic garden on the site in 1950, primarily as a place to trial plants in a northern climate.

The garden sits in a valley on acidic clay soil and has high levels of rainfall and cold winters, but despite this there’s plenty to see throughout the year. There are leafy woodland glades and a streamside garden – one of the longest in the country, annual meadows, large herbaceous borders and a well-stocked kitchen garden.

In spring the gardens are awash with vibrant unfurling leaves, colourful rhododendrons and a profusion of bulbs. There’s also a spectacular collection of alpines in a purpose-built alpine house. Summer sees perennials and annuals take over, mingling with grasses. The grasses fade as autumn approaches, their bleached-blond blades joining the fiery tones of acers and late-flowering asters.

At this time of year, though, it’s the turn of the Winter Walk to wow visitors. The clever combination of colourful bark, berries, stems and fragrant flowers offers a fillip for any gardener’s soul. The main walk consists of two long borders running either side of a path that snakes through a central part of the garden. It lies in an open area on an east-west axis that maximises the low angle of the winter sun, which lights up colourful stems and trunks and makes the glistening seedheads of honesty positively glow like  discs of silver.

Dogwoods are especially prized in a winter garden. At Harlow Carr the orange-red ‘Midwinter Fire’, yellow-green ‘Flaviramea’ and vibrant red ‘Baton Rouge’ are planted in bold drifts and blocks to create dramatic pockets of colour.

Punctuating the planting are trees chosen for their fabulous bark. There’s the mahogany-coloured, polished trunks of Prunus serrula; the purple-and-white striped bark of snakebark maple Acer davidii ‘Serpentine’ and crisp white silver birches. Evergreens add structure in the form of clipped yews, sarcococcas, pines and conifers, such as Japanese cedar Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans’, which has branches covered in masses of tiny, narrow needles that give the tree a lovely soft, tactile quality. It also adds colour with the green foliage turning to burgundy in autumn, then rusty-red in winter.

Scent is crucial in any winter garden and Harlow Carr’s Winter Walk doesn’t disappoint. There are fragrant sarcococcas, spicy-perfumed witch hazel and yellow mahonia flowers, with their lily-of-the-valley aroma. But perhaps most potent of all are the daphnes, planted close to the path for maximum sensory impact.

Late winter is the Walk’s peak, when early-flowering winter aconites, cyclamen, iris and snowdrops join the winter throng to form carpets of colour around the base of trees, shrubs and evergreen perennials. The unusual deep red flowers of Parrotia perisca start to burst from their buds, and there are the striking black catkins of pussy willow, Salix melanostachys.

It’s easy to retreat indoors when it’s cold and grey outside, but tear yourself away from the fire, wrap up warm and you’ll be inspired by a walk through this winter wonderland of plants. *

Fact File

LOCATION RHS Harlow Carr, Crag Lane, Beckwithshaw, Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG3 1QB
OPEN All year except Christmas Day. 31 Oct-28 Feb 9.30am-4pm, 1 Mar-30 Oct 9.30am-6pm
CONTACT 01423 565418; www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/harlow-carr

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