Sir Harold Hillier Winter Garden

I recently visited the Sir Harold Hillier Garden in Hampshire to see the Winter Garden and was lucky to have one of the very few lovely days we’ve had this winter. The garden is very impressive – not as awsome as, say, Anglesey Abbey, where there are large plantings of winter colour, but it has many more different and unusual plants and, what’s more, they were nearly all labelled! There was quite enough to keep me, and my camera, happy for some hours


You are greeted at the entrance by a planting of white-bark birches amidst a red and gold sea of Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ and Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Yelverton’.

The theme continues with various cultivars of Cornus alba, sericea and sanguinea around the garden.
Cornus sanguinea is our native common dogwood, a plant of chalk soils, with greenish, red-flushed stems and rich purple autumn colour. It grows in most of Europe and western Asia.

Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire'

Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’

Cornus sanguinea ‘Magic Flame’

Cornus sanguinea ‘Green Light’

Cornus sanguinea ‘Anny’s Winter Orange’

By far the most popular cultivar is, of course, C.s. ‘Midwinter Fire’. C.s. ‘Green Light’ is more subtle in its colouring and would appeal to those who find the bright colours a bit garish. The RHS website tells us this is an accepted name but I couldn’t find any more details. C.s. ‘Magic Flame’ is very well named for its bare winter stems coloured orange-yellow with bright red tips. It has the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. C.s. ‘Anny’s Winter Orange’ has also received this accolade and is said to be one of the best cultivars for vigour and winter colour. It has orange-red flushed stems and I certainly have never seen a brighter one.

Cornus sericea, red osier dogwood, comes from north America. It is a vigorous, suckering shrub with dark red winter stems but is rarely grown in gardens, gardeners preferring its cultivars. The one I noticed was C.s. ‘Bud’s Yellow’, which has yellow-green stems – somewhat unusual, I thought.

Cornus alba, from Asia, is also a vigorous shrub with red winter shoots. It has many cultivars and it was C.a. ‘Sibirica’, with bright red stems, that greeted me at the entrance.

Cornus sericea ‘Bud’s Yellow’

And now I have a bit of a problem. These two look very similar but had different labels. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find out much about either. Cornus alba  Red Gnome is the preferred name for this plant, described as being of compact growth to about 1.2m, which seems reasonable considering its name, with foliage that colours well in the autumn. Cornus sanguinea ‘Viridissima’ is an accepted name but I couldn’t find any other details. I like them both, for their colour and their cross-stemmed texture so will be looking out for them. Does anyone grow either or know anything more? Do please add a comment below to let me know.

Cornus alba Red Gnome (‘Regnzam’)

Cornus sanguinea ‘Viridissima’

Salix is another genus that provides winter colour and I noticed two very different cultivars. The first, Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Yelverton’, has bright gold stems – vitellina means ‘like the yolk of an egg’. The other, Salix ‘Blackskin’, a name only tentatively accepted by the RHS, has very dark stems, which look good with a light background as here againt pale grasses.

Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Yelverton’

Salix ‘Blackskin’

White can also be very striking in the garden. I saw three different species of Rubus, all from Asia, with prickly stems covered with white, waxy bloom.
R. cockburnianus is a strong-growing species with arching stems. This one is the cultivar ‘Goldenvale’, which has fern-like yellow leaves in the summer.
R. biflorus is semi-erect species with especially white stems.
R. thibetanus is another semi-erect species with purplish stems covered with white bloom.
They all have the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit and need considerable space so can be seen at their best in a large garden like the Hillier Garden.

Rubus cockburnianus ‘Goldenvale’ with Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’

Rubus cockburnianus ‘Goldenvale’ with Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’

Rubus biflorus

Rubus thibetanus

There are also many birches with white bark and I particlarly admired a fine Betula utilis var. jacquemontii ‘Jermyns’, which is a form selected and named at the Hillier Nursery.

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii ‘Jermyns’

And, if we’re thinking about white, we can’t ignore snowdrops. There weren’t many in the garden but I did notice an unusual one, Galanthus ‘Mrs. W.M. George’, which was named after the wife of the Head Gardener at the Hillier Nursery. It’s a beautiful, strong, tall and very robust-looking cultivar. 

Galanthus ‘Mrs. W.M. George’

Getting back to colour, several plants stood out because of their red colouring.

Bergenia cordifolia ‘Purpurea’

Camellia sasanqua ‘Crimson King’

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Rubin’

Nandina domestica Obsessed (‘Seika’)

Bergenia cordifolia ‘Purpurea’ is a very common plant, disliked by many, but who can argue with this beautiful red colouring picked out by the winter sunshine?
Camellia sasanqua was introduced from Japan and has many cultivars, most of which do not do very well outside in this country. However, ‘Crimson King’ bucks this trend and is one of the most reliable and prolific flowering. Small, single, fragrant flowers are scattered over a large open shrub. It has the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit and I thought it was a wonderful sight.
Most of the hamamelis were over but Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Rubin’ was still stunning so I wasn’t surprised to find it had been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. It forms a rounded shrub or small tree with leaves that colour yellow and orange in autumn but is only slightly scented so, even in the sunshine, I didn’t get a waft of perfume.
Nandina domestica is often recommended but I don’t have one. Having seen this one showing such a glorious winter colour, which could be seen from some distance, I will certainly rectify the ommision. N.d. ‘Seika’ is a compact form, reaching about 75cm, which can be grown in sun or partial shade in a well-drained border or in a pot. I look forward to finding one. 

Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’

Sarcococca hookeriana ‘Gorepani’

The other thing we look for in the winter garden is perfume and I certainly found it in these two shrubs. Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ is another plant raised at the Hillier Nursery. It has a glorious scent, which hangs in the air so you can enjoy it from some distance.
I noticed the sarcococca as i walked towards it for its fragrance and distinctive flowers. According to the Sarcococca National Collection holder, it was named after the village in Nepal where it was discovered by plantsman Christopher Grey-Wilson in 2000. It will grow to about 1m in height and needs a well-drained soil in shade. It has been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit. I think it too will have to be added to the wants list.

There were so many more plants: hellebores, bamboos, ash, conifers, magnolia, tilia, prunus, mahonia oak – the list goes on and on. I really enjoyed my visit to a very interesting garden and hope you like sharing it with me.

Find out more:

The Sir Harold Hillier Garden is near Romsey in Hampshire. Visit their website.

Anglesey Abbey is a National Trust property in Cambridgshire famous for it’s Winter Garden but well worth a visit at any time of the year. Find out more.

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1 Comment

  1. Fiona Chapman

    A very interesting article, Ginny. I have a small area that I’m thinking of developing into a winter garden (one of far too many projects on the list!), so this has given me plenty of food for though. Thank you.


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