Jodie Jones looks into the creation of a new space at Kew’s Sussex site
When the new Winter Garden opened at Wakehurst in Sussex in January, it was the culmination of a process that started nearly three years ago, when LDA Design was commissioned to come up with a plan for the botanic gardens.
“We identified 25 different character areas within our 535 acres,” says Ed Ikin, Head of Landscape and Horticulture. “Some needed intensifying, some decluttering, and others needed a new, clearly defined theme.” There was already a collection of winter-interest plants, but the design was dated. Gardens Supervisor Francis Annette, who won a scholarship in 2016 to study at London College of Garden Design, was charged with producing a new plan.
The site was almost completely cleared before the comprehensive replanting, although a number of significant birches, mahonias (pruned hard to create pleasing architectural impact) and one majestic copper beech were retained.
“Our arboricultural team insisted on following the highest British Standard recommendation (BS 5837:2012) for root protection areas,” says Ikin. “This meant we couldn’t have any mechanical interference – no excavators, not even a petrol rotavator – within an area at least 12 times the diameter of each tree’s trunk. It had a big impact on labour requirements, but it was worth it because those trees have sailed through the surrounding upheaval.” The copper beech now has a mass of Cyclamen hederifolium carpeting the area around its trunk that was so carefully protected.
When developing his design, Annette was inspired by winter walks on the South Downs, where he saw the visual impact of large numbers of just a few varieties of trees and shrubs. “We did have to learn to be confident about repetition,” says Ikin. “Across the eight large beds within this garden we have 30 Betula utilis var. jacquemontii, and these are the framework that links it all together.
“We also have about 45 box balls in a series of groups, which intersect and connect the beds, masses of Cornus to give a strong upward structure, and Rhododendron yakushimanum grown for its architectural form.” Grasses, bergenias, heathers and hellebores add textural interest, and generous groups of Daphne bholua and Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Orange Peel’ and ‘Pallida’ introduce a fragrant element.
As a botanic garden, it can be tricky to balance expectations of scientific rigour with the more general requirement to create an aesthetically pleasing environment. “The challenge was to avoid it feeling too municipal,” says Ikin. “We set out to create a garden that anyone would be entranced by, with additional layers for those with more botanical knowledge.”
The hardscaping was carried out by PHB Ltd through the winter of 2017, with an all-weather path network of Cedec self-binding gravel edged in Horsham stone. The 33,000 plants (all supplied by Bernhards of Rugby) went in between January and April 2018, following Annette’s planting schedule exported from Vectorworks.
“We were able to call on up to 15 staff on any one day,” says Ikin, though he found the real challenge came over the hot summer, when they had to water constantly. “Thankfully, we hardly lost a thing, and the planting has knitted together nicely.”