The winter garden of Anglesey Abbey

 In Bulbs, Evergreens, Gardens Visited, Ornamental trees, Seasonal Gardening, Trees and Shrubs, Visit Britain, Winter colour

The winter garden at Anglesey Abbey had long been on my wish list to visit.

I’d visited the excellent winter garden at Cambridge Botanic Garden many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was hoping that Anglesey Abbey would be at least as good if not better!

My first attempt to get into the garden was thwarted as I arrived after a long drive to find that no new visitors were allowed in an hour before the garden closed at 4 pm.

Undeterred, I found a nearby Travelodge and an excellent local pub in Babraham. The George has been a public house since 1778! It proved to be a great choice with friendly staff and excellent reasonably priced food.

My Second Attempt

rows of birch trees, winter garden

Avenue of birch trees under planted with evergreen shrubs

Arriving as the garden opened at 9.30 am I found plenty of visitors arriving. Most were just stretching their legs by walking the very well established grounds.

Before entering the garden my attention was drawn to a winter garden of sorts close to the car park. This comprised an avenue of birch trees flanking a pathway. The trees were under-planted with low growing evergreen shrubs such as Sarcococca confusa and box.

There are a lot of evergreen hedges and shrubs at this garden and in mid-winter it demonstrated how important evergreens are to a garden’s design. There’s even a small pinetum where you can admire a fine range of mature conifers.







Garden Plan

Garden plan

Anglesey Abbey plan

Just beyond the modern visitor reception and excellent cafe I found the garden plan prominently displayed and discovered that the Winter Garden at Anglesey Abbey was nearby.

The visitor reception is in the lower right hand corner and the winter garden is clearly marked in blue. It’s confined to the right hand side of the plan.

I was pleased to find that all paths had hard surfaces with very few muddy patches which were easily avoided.

Nb. during winter considerable areas of the garden are roped off to protect the grass. In some cases this was also to protect emerging bulb shoots from being trampled.



Sequoia Grove

Before I entered the winter garden I walked through a grove of young conifer trees.

conifers in a garden

Sequoiadendron grove

It suddenly occurred to me how appropriate the choice of conifer was.

With a changing climate and being located on the drier side of England Sequoiadendron giganteum aka Giant Redwood could prove to be the perfect choice!

These trees are tiny compared to those in California and southern Oregon but one day these too may become giants!






Winter Garden

The main planting flanks a winding path. It is planted with shrubs with coloured stems and under-planted with grasses and bulbs. But there are also evergreen shrubs and deciduous ones too!

All have been selected to provide winter interest.

shrubs in a garden

Hamamelis and dogwoods

Some, such as the winter flowering shrubby Lonicera x purpusii and Hamamelis, filled the air with their spicy scent.

Others, such as Viburnum farreri Candidissimum, filled the air with a much heavier and richer scent.

Viburnum is not widely planted and is more compact and upright than the more frequently planted varieties.






In my opinion no winter garden is complete without Daphne bholua and this one has it

a hand and dead stick

Frosted shoots of Daphne bholua


But sadly the warm autumn followed by very low temperatures and then warm again wasn’t to this Himalayan native’s liking.

Large shrubs looked very sad and had been very badly damaged.

Scratching the bark revealed not healthy yellow tissue but soft brown dead wood.

Hopefully these key plants will recover by shooting from older wood low down.






Stems and Bark

coloured stems in a winter garden

Cornus Anny’s Winter Orange

Several shrubs have been chosen to provide colour not from flowers but from wood and bark.

The dogwood Cornus sanguinea ‘Anny’s Winter Orange’ is a real star of the winter garden at Anglesey Abbey. Many debate whether it is better than the more popular ‘Midwinter Fire’ or ‘Winter Beauty’. I’m convinced that it is better!

Some of the trees in the winter garden had glossy coloured bark and of those I noticed Prunus serrula. This Chinese cherry has mahogany-like bark when young but the ones that I saw had lost their sheen with age.




Not so the birch trees!

white stem birch trees

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii

Walking the main path you suddenly are among lots of snow white birch trees! There are two groups of these Himalayan/Chinese birch trees.

The first group are Betula utilis var. jacquemontii and the second and younger group Betula utilis ‘Doorembos’ .

With the soil under these trees covered with a dark brown organic mulch they looked absolutely stunning!

These reminded me of a similar white stem birch grove at Yeo Valley Organic Garden in North Somerset. Indeed, that is another great garden well worth visiting.






white snowdrops flowers

Galanthus nivalis Anglesey Abbey

I had expected to see lots of snowdrops in the winter garden at Anglesey Abbey. However, my visit in late January was too early to see many in flower.

I did spot a clump of one called “Anglesey Abbey”! Apparently it is variable in the shape and length of its petals.

There are clear markers to guide you to areas where [later in the year] you will find plenty of snowdrops.

snowdrop hot spot sign

Clear markers!

I’m sure that this is a good garden to visit when the snowdrops are fully flowering.

Other gardens that I can recommend for snowdrops are Elworthy Cottage, Exmoor and East Lambrook Garden in South Somerset.

Every February Shepton Mallet has a snowdrop festival that celebrates the life of  snowdrop breeder James Allen. I’ve written more about that here.


I can also recommend a visit to the winter garden at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Hampshire. I’ve written about it here.



This garden has many fine statues. At this time of the year these really added interest to my visit.

However I was unsure about the horse head in a lead planter!

horse head in a trough

Horse head in lead trough

garden statue

The Faun statue











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Showing 2 comments
  • Candace Mack

    Simply wish to say your article is as amazing. The clearness in your post is just nice and i could assume you’re an expert on this subject. Well with your permission let me to grab your feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please carry on the gratifying work.

    • Alan Down

      That’s very kind Candace and yes I am an expert gardener and horticulturist.

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