Rebecca Smith - Garden design & consultancy

February rolls into March - what is happening in the garden?

Some gardeners hate February. I am not one of those people. I love the sudden changes in the weather - those days when the wind drops and in the sunshine it is almost warm enough to garden in a t-shirt yet in the deep shade of the hedges the frost remains all day. Those beautiful clear days are usually followed by cold nights, the stars close enough to touch, hard frosts, and then by seemingly never-ending days of wet rain. The rain that seems to be wetter than any other time of the year. But yet, in the garden, as the day rolls into March, things are stirring... 

snow drops and aconites

Here in Wyck, the south sides of the hills are covered in the fading remains of the annual display of snowdrops and winter aconites (eranthus hyemalis) creating a show of colour in an area which for much of the year is in the deep shade of the surrounding hazel trees. 

Lockyer display

The RHS Plant and Potato Show held in London last weekend highlighted those plants which will light up the garden in the dark winter days. Bulbs, flowering shrubs, perennials such as hellebores. All were to be seen and smelled for the avid gardener. One of the joys of winter flowering plants is that they are much more strongly scented than their summer friends - they need to lure those bees and flies out for pollination with their perfume. 

Winter flowering bulbs are joy of these days. Snowdrops, yellow winter aconites, pink and white cyclamen, the dusky purples and blues of the reticular irises popping up under hedges, in pots, under windows. 

Jacques Armand

Somehow in the past week, I seem to have brough home six different types of reticular irises, ranging from the larger 'George' and his clear purple blocked with black flower to the pale light blue of 'Alida'. Both 'Gordon' and 'George' came home from the RHS Show last weekend, 'Gordon' bought for me by my daughter as a Mother's Day present. But then I went to the local garden centre to buy a big bag of kindling and come home with more... 'Pixie', 'Alida' 'Clairette' and 'Sheila Ann Germaney' are now all living on the terrace, keeping the black pansys company.

Sheila Ann Germaney

Gordon and George potted

The individual bulbs potted up to cheer up the Flower Room porch, shown together with the black pansy, a winter display that is easy to replicate.

flower room porch

I fled the office on Friday afternoon- the sun was out, I had spent the entire week in front of my drawing board and I was aching to get outside with the sun on my face and the smells of spring in the air.

The garden at West Dean was calling my name... West Dean, located to the south of Midhurst in West Sussex, is an absolute must for those of you who have never been there. Thankfully it now opens the doors to the garden this time of year, when I first moved near by it closed was in the winter months, and I found out that in February is only stays open until 4pm. In March the garden stays open until 5pm. On this visit I only had time to go to the Walled Garden which contains the Orchard, Glasshouses and Vegetables. 

West Dean

Crocuses multiplying in their thousands under the boughs of the trees by the main building. And a very polite sign asking visitors not to trample the bulbs:

Dear Garden Visitor...

 The display within the Walled Garden is astonishing, the ground is simply carpeted with crocuses. I am determined to get my much smaller orchard to resemble this in 2016. Or maybe by 2026...

West Dean orchard

Is this my favourite building ever? The Apple Store is a dream of flint, brick and thatch, the Gothic windows echoing the shape of the roofline. Inside the curving shelves currently display some rather lovely pumpkins and winter squash. 

Apple Store, West DeaN


Winter Squash Sweet Lighting

Every label on the vegetables and fruit has the same beautiful cursive writing. The fruit trees have divine metal tags etched with copperplate script. Heaven is in the details. 

fruit labels

Looking across the Orchard, the ground is covered in a light purple haze. 



To see the framework for the trained fruit trees, this is the perfect time to visit. Every available wall is covered with trained fruit in many different designs and shapes:

Trained pear tree

Apples against the wall

Fruit Tunnel

Looking through


I find visiting in the winter months as inspiring as in the height of summer. Wrap up and go! There is also cake, which you can eat whilst sitting here:

Seat, West Dean


There is currently an Appeal to Restore the Victorian Glasshouses built by Foster and Pearson in the Kitchen Garden between 1891 and 1900. For more information, or to make a donation, click here


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