The Dillon Garden, Ranelagh

For those of us with only a Winter Corner, Viburnum farreri is essential. A sprig in a warm room invites the nose to a swooning scent of heliotrope. A native of China, apparently common in Chinese gardens, it has clusters of light pink flowers, appearing in succession from November on. Soil and aspect are of little concern.
Rubus thibetanus, a type of bramble, has prickly stems around five foot tall, which have an almost opalescent, silvery-white bloom, very pronounced in winter. I have it underplanted with a carpet of black-leaved Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'. Rather sophisticated, don't you think? R. cockburnianus is similar, the stems just as decorative, but a plant better used by country landowners for pheasants to hid in - it's too invasive for the small garden.


But hellebores of the H. orientalis type, ravishing plants to the last, are easier to please. The flowers, the first in bloom now, coen heavenly colours, including smokey purple-black, crimson, yellow, pink, white, and numerous different shades of purple. Every December, I cut off all the old leaves, an important part of preventing the spread of fungus disease, which distorts the flowers and leaves with blackish spots.
Winter gardens have a magic all of their own. Ordinary things, when illuminated by a low winter sun, are suddenly transformed. A withered herbaceous stem, fallen leaf or even a stray pebble suddenly becomes a thing of mystery when attached to a long dark shadow.


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