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Making the most of the new start to the year

Highdown Gardens - Peter Keefe, Senior GardenerHello, my name is Pete and I am the Senior Gardener at Highdown Gardens.

After the dark leaden skies that to me seemed to dominate in December, it is finally a relief to be a couple of weeks into January 2022. The days are now noticeably lighter and the garden is starting to show signs of life. On the occasions when the sun shines on a cold crisp day, it is a real joy to be outside.

One plant that is making the most of the new start to the year is the Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), a member of the buttercup family with a bright yellow flower that is native to the woodlands of France, Italy and the Balkans. It was introduced to the garden by Frederick Stern and it now thrives in our alkaline soils, having naturalised into large swathes of the garden and in some places it forms a carpet of flowers. A feast for the eyes at this time of year.

Photo: Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

A plant that you might smell before you see it, while walking around the garden, is our fragrant Sweet box (Sarcococca ruscifolia). A flowering shrub and a member of the box family native to China, it is found throughout Highdown Gardens providing a lovely scent that can hang in the air when the weather conditions are right. As it is evergreen when not in flower, it also gives constant structure in the garden. It is a great plant if you have a difficult shady situation and you are looking for some all year interest in your own garden. It will also tolerate being controlled and shaped by a prune after flowering in spring.

Photo: Sweet box (Sarcococca ruscifolia)

Sweet box (Sarcococca ruscifolia)

These are just a couple of the plants that increase the interest in the garden throughout the winter season. Soon we will get to the inevitable explosion of growth and colour that the spring will bring.