In the early 19th century the “winter garden” referred to the amazing glass palaces in towns such as Bath, Brighton and Harrogate where people could gather in winter to amuse themselves, dance and listen to music. By the early 20th century these had all but disappeared as they were so expensive to maintain. Gertrude Jekyll’s “Planting for Winter Colour” was published in 1908 but interest in winter gardens only became more widespread some years later. Stanley Whitehead published his “The Winter Garden” in 1948 and Graham Stuart Thomas his “Colour in the Winter Garden” in 1957. In 1951 John Gilmour, Director of the Cambridge University Botanical Garden, devoted an area specifically to a winter garden. Adrian Bloom developed his winter garden, mainly of miniature conifers and heathers, at Foggy Bottom in 1962. Peter Orriss, Director of Gardens at the University of Cambridge developed and expanded on the concept of the winter garden and broadened the range of plants used in such schemes. Other gardens followed suit and winter gardens were developed at Wakehurst Place, Rosemoor, Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, Anglesey Abbey among others. The trend also grew on the continent with Princess Greta Sturdza at Vasterival in the vanguard.


The winter garden is often very simple and effective where the use of a limited range of plants seems to work best. Plants with interesting and attractive winter bark are most valued and it can come as no surprise that birch, maple and dogwood are dominant. Winter flowering plants and those which carry berries in winter are also greatly valued. The introduction of a wide range of plants by the plant hunters who went to China and the Far East in the early 20th century was of enormous benefit and provided excellent stock for the developing winter gardens.

Cedric Pollet, whose love of the winter garden has been shown in his previous book, “Bark, An Intimate Look at the Worlds Trees”, has always been fascinated by this form of gardening. He is also an excellent photographer and allows his photographs to carry this book – “an image is often much more effective than long descriptions” – and so this is a book where photographs dominate though it must be acknowledged that the text, though short, is well written, effective and a perfect companion to the illustrations.

There are three main sections in the book: “Four Favourites” gives extended reports on the gardens of L’Etang de Launay, Jardin de Bois Marquis, Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and Bressingham Gardens. “Sources of Inspiration” gives a brief insight into sixteen other gardens while “The Plant Palette” lists plants suitable for the winter garden. All in all this is a visually very appealing book with a pleasant text to link the illustrations tastefully and effectively.

[Winter Gardens – Reinventing the Season, Cedric Pollet, Frances Lincoln, London, 2017, Hardback, £30, ISBN: 978-0-7112-3915-9]

Paddy Tobin