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Winter wonderland

PUBLISHED: 10:54 10 February 2015

The upper garden has a woodland feel and is under-planted with bulbs and shade lovers

The upper garden has a woodland feel and is under-planted with bulbs and shade lovers

Archant

It might not be the time of year when most gardens are blooming but our gardening writer GILL HEAVENS still manages to track down an oasis of colour and innovation

When someone shows me their wonderfully designed, plant-filled garden oasis and they say “it used to be a field” I am always filled with great admiration. So on a dismal winter’s day, with the storm clouds gathering, I was naturally impressed when Jo Hynes guided me around her delightful garden.

Jo and her husband Tom have lived at Higher Cherubeer, near Winkleigh, for 24 years. When they arrived what lay behind their farmhouse was little more than a sloping meadow. With a fair amount of earth-moving, and a lot of hard work, this one acre “field” has been transformed into gentle slopes and meandering paths. It is filled with a mix of native and non-native trees, shrubs and perennials and a stunning National Collection of Cyclamen.

Although having the warming benefit of being south facing, the garden has a double disadvantage of sloping to the west and also being 500ft above sea level. This makes it easy prey to the damaging prevailing winds.

One of the first things that Jo and Tom did when they arrived was to plant a mixed shelter-belt of trees and a beech hedge, which now at 2m high tempers the winds. Jo says that people often think that trees are planted for the benefit of the next generation but, as evidenced here, they can easily be appreciated in one’s own lifetime. The upper garden, which was planted first, has already all the qualities of a mature deciduous woodland and is under planted with spring flowers and shade loving plants.

The cyclamen carpet large areas of the gardenThe cyclamen carpet large areas of the garden

Initially Jo’s interest in winter gardening stemmed from her bee-keeping exploits and her desire to prolong the season when nectar is available. As inevitably happens, Jo became smitten with the stars of the short days, and now has an enviable collection not only of cyclamen but also of snowdrops and hellebores. She gained her full status for the cyclamen collection in 2007 and many of these specimens now carpet the garden. As many are grown from seed the variety of leaf markings is endless, providing interest even when the plants are not in full bloom.

To house some of the more delicate members of her collection Jo has two unheated greenhouses, one for the Greek species (including the islands) and one for the Turkish mainland and Cyprus. Jo also allows room in this five star accommodation for some rare snowdrops including several that have been bred at Cherubeer.

To supply the raw materials for another hobby, the making of wickerwork baskets, Jo planted willows around the garden. A row of pollarded Scarlet Willow, Salix alba ‘Britzensis’, marks out where water runs down from the fields and is affectionately known as The Stream. The Scarlet Willow is especially useful in basket-making as it retains its burnished colour when others tend to lose it. Full advantage is taken of this damp area and it is where the candelabra primulas will shine later in the year.

Decorative dogwoods, such as Cornus sanguinea “Midwinter Fire” and Cornus sibirica, also brighten the winter scene with their luminous orange and red stems. Several witch hazels are dotted around the garden including the striking Hamamellis “Aphrodite”.

Jo has two greenhouses to protect the more tender members of her collectionJo has two greenhouses to protect the more tender members of her collection

Although the garden is magnificent during the winter months Jo is also a maestro of succession planting. The snowdrops are followed by Anemone blanda, erythoniums, and pulmonaria which in turn are succeeded by geraniums, alliums, and dierama. Jo has shown that it is possible to have a beautiful garden in all seasons and she proves this by opening for the National Garden Scheme four times throughout the year.

As anyone afflicted with “garden fever” will understand, a garden is never finished and plans are being hatched at Higher Cherubeer to extend into the vegetable plot, building another greenhouse. This one will be kept frost free and will house the African and Asian species. This sounds to me like an excellent idea, surely a girl can never have too many greenhouses?!

Higher Cherubeer garden is open as part of the Cherubeer Garden Group 2pm-5pm on Sunday, 1 February and Friday, 20 February 2015. Please visit ngs.org.uk for more details.

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