Fresh air and fragrant inspiration

Gardens to visit:

Easton Walled Gardens
Open from 15th February, Wednesday to Sunday

Little Ponton Hall
Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th February, 11am-4pm

Doddington Hall
Spring Pageant
4th February – 27th March Wed, Fri, Sun, and BH Monday gardens only

Brightwater Gardens Snowdrops
Friday 16th – Sunday 24th February (every day) 11am-4pm

Sunday 24th February, 10.30am-5pm, open for NGS.
Peppin Lane, Fotherby, Louth LN11 0UW

Words by:
Steffie Shields
Featured in:
February 2024

Steffie Shields finds new delights in winter gardens open this month.

After being ‘holed up’ indoors over most of the winter period, it’s high time to venture abroad within our wonderful county (i.e. not via the airport!). Pay attention to weather forecasts. Seize the day when light seems promising and prospects clement.

As your own patch shows signs of re-awakening, there is nothing better than going for a gentle walk and finding inspiration in someone else’s garden!

Writtle College-trained gardener Chris Neave and his partner Jonathan Cartwright will be welcoming visitors this month to Brightwater Gardens at Saxby. Both fervent environmentalists, they have created a superb Winter Garden on the northern boundary enclosed by a shelter belt of trees and shrubs.

A shaded meadow area reveals carpets of snowdrops, now well established, followed later by bluebells. Then explore the grass path meandering through shrub borders to experience an unforgettable view down to the water’s edge of the ‘Pindle Pond’.

Those of you who, like me, appreciate the celebrated 18th-century landscape architect, ‘Capability’ Brown, a genius at introducing and utilising water in the landscape, will approve the sentiments in words explaining the meaning of ‘pindle’: trustworthy, travel lover, capable.

Brown would commend the elegant minimalism of Chris’s planting here – a sentinel evergreen Scots pine complementing the red-stemmed Cornus shrub beside a flawless, frosted lawn. Reflections in the oval mirror waters add a touching air of mystery as time stands still. Ever since receiving Chris’s sensational view of Brightwater Gardens at Saxby, I have been dreaming of heading up the A15 for snowdrop time!

Recharging batteries
Where do the years go? Hard to believe, looking back through my photo files, that an entire decade had gone by since I last visited Easton Walled Gardens in the depths of winter. So, one glorious bright morning last February, I headed over to this perfect place to re-charge my batteries after my second hip transplant.

I was instantly rewarded by a surprising variety of flowering plants in various decorative planters setting off the limestone stables, clocktower and gatehouse archway, including a display table laden with labelled specimen plants.

Making it easy to study the characteristics of each individual flower and leaf intimately at waist height, instead of having to stoop down low, this engaging introduction encouraged visitors to explore various winter walks circuiting the grounds to discover such gems for themselves.

The truly remarkable, innovative restoration of these once ‘lost’, historically significant, 400-year-old gardens, masterminded since 2001 by Lady Ursula Cholmeley, has been nationally recognised. She is also now the chair of the Historic Houses Association Gardens Committee and judge of the annual competition.

I much admire Lady Ursula’s creative eye for planting. She has indicated the space of the once grand old hall (long since demolished, in 1951) to great effect with a splendid stand consisting of 16 cherry trees interspersed with large terracotta pots displaying seasonal bedding and ornate ironwork frames for climbing clematis later in the year. Nearby a silver, furry-leaved shrub, Phlomis angustifolia, underplanted with a fine clump of miniature blue iris attracted my attention. Iris reticulata ‘Alida’ matched the colour of the cloudless sky.

Garden vista
Amazing to see how myriad swathes of snowdrops, once commonly known as wood anemones, had multiplied under stately conifers, beech trees and horse chestnuts on the former approach drive.

Thankfully I took advantage of an occasional pause on a well-placed garden seat to rest and take in the wide panorama – with terraces overlooking the River Witham, ornamental bridge, walled gardens beyond and veteran trees in the surrounding landscape park.

A crowd of exciting ‘new to me’ specimen snowdrops, Galanthus ‘Diggory’, an award-winning hybrid of Galanthus plicatus, encircled bare stems in the White Space Garden. Diggory’s unusual bowl-shaped, fragrant flowers show off large, puckered, snow-white outer segments wrapped around green-flushed inner segments. Emerging, as if by Harry Potter magic, from an enriching bronze mulch of decaying leaf mould, and opening in the warmth of the sun, like diminutive fairy lamp shades, glistening with diamond dew. Then, white silk parachutes came to mind, as I remembered that during World War II, Easton Hall had been requisitioned by the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment. I wondered if those brave men ever took time off from training to contemplate the momentary solace of the snowdrop drifts.

Following the winding trail, I noticed clusters of another popular miniature iris ‘Katherine Hodgkin’.

Multiple tiny, cerise Cyclamen coum buds were unfurling amongst distinctive arrow-shaped, variegated foliage of shade-loving Arum Italicum, and dotty-leaved Pulmonaria rubra. All these delicate, frost-hardy blooms would soon coalesce into an arresting red and pink carpet.

Talking of colour, now is a good time to sow Easton’s celebrated sweet pea seeds, raised and harvested in Lincolnshire, and much better suited to our climate. Check their website,

Around another bend, I came across a charming winter tableau in dappled light with hellebore, fern, ivy-leaved Cyclamen hederifolium and taller snowdrops, Galanthus Elwesii I believe.

Venturing out into the wildflower meadow, I spied the first early daffodil: Narcissus ‘W.P. Milner’, a vintage variety rarely seen, yet one of the best miniature daffodils for naturalising in short grass. Its delightful, milky-white petals leant protectively towards its long, narrow, pale yellow trumpet that would later fade to white.

Serenity and splashes of colour
I am equally determined to return to Little Ponton Hall, inherited by George and Bianca McCorquodale, with a fairy-tale winter garden open especially at snowdrop time. Here are winter aconites en masse, creating the most glorious buttercup yellow woodland carpets I have ever seen – one east on the River Witham Walk and one west of the Hall on the walk to the centuries-old church of St Guthlac.

Those living in the Lincoln area will be familiar with Doddington Hall. Owner Claire Birch continues the Spring Pageant tradition started by her grandparents in the 1950s, and carried on by her late mother, Victoria Jarvis (founding chairman of Lincolnshire Gardens Trust) and her father, architect Anthony Jarvis.

He estimates to have planted, or moved in the green, an incredible 150,000 bulbs in the last 25 years.

Sarah Moody, a visitor to the garden this time last year, is quoted on Doddington’s website: ‘Can’t recommend this enough. There’s a serenity that’s hard to find elsewhere and the splashes of colour in the sunshine lift the spirits.’

So, no excuses, leave the sofa and treat yourself to an invigorating walk in the quietude and marvel at winter’s remarkable, sweet-smelling blossoms. You will return refreshed, buzzing with ideas, and maybe with some new plants for improving your own backyard.

Better still, you will convince yourself that time marches on and days are lengthening. Spring is literally just around the corner!

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Calling all UK young artists!Doddington Young Sculptor Exhibition Doddington Hall and Gardens, Lincolnshire invites submissions from UK-based sculptors and 3D artists, aged under 30, for an exciting new open exhibition to be held this summer. Doddington is looking for pieces to be exhibited in the historic working Kitchen Garden, which complement the Garden and its surroundings. The Doddington Young Sculptor Exhibition will run alongside the main bi-annual Sculpture at Doddington exhibition and is an opportunity to exhibit alongside some of the finest contemporary sculptors selected from across the country and further afield. Prizes: 1st prize – £750, 2nd prize – £250Submission deadline: Sunday April 21st 2024Further details about eligibility, terms and conditions can be found at: apply, please email your submission as a PDF document to ... See MoreSee Less