Anglesey Abbey is a country house, formerly a priory, in the village of Lode, just northeast of Cambridge. The gardens were created by Huttleston Broughton, 1st Lord Fairhaven (1896-1966) between 1930 and 1966, when the estate passed to the National Trust. Seeking horticultural guidance from his close friend Major Vernon Daniels and working with three successive head gardeners to realise his vision, Lord Fairhaven took inspiration from early 18th century formal gardens in Britain and Europe Full of colour in spring and summer, winter is a good time to admire the structure of this 46 hectare garden on the edge of the flat Cambridgeshire Fens. Immaculately trimmed hedges of yew (Taxus baccata) and beech (Fagus sylvatica) provide winter interest and divide the formal garden into a number of smaller gardens, each with their own character – roses, dahlias, lawns and herbaceous perennials all have their own dedicated compartments, and there are many others beside. Statuary abounds in the formal gardens, often providing attractive vistas at the end of avenues or within the compartmentalised gardens. A shelter belt surrounds and protects the gardens from the strong Fenland winds, with wilder garden areas adjoining this to the central formal gardens.
My real purpose for visiting Anglesey Abbey this cold and frosty December was to visit the Fairhaven Centenary Walk Winter Garden. Created to commemorate the centenary of Lord Fairhaven’s birth, the Winter Garden was opened in November 1998 and is arguably the most spectacular winter garden in the National Trust’s repertoire. It is my favourite in any case!
Situated on the eastern boundary of the estate the Winter Garden is 2.5 acres in size and is bisected by a 450 metre long meandering path; the path takes each visitor on a colourful journey through the garden which culminates in a stunning whiter than white grove of Himalayan Silver Birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii). Beside the path mass plantings of Cornus (C. alba ‘Westonbirt’ and C. sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’), Salix and Acer negundo provide a blaze of colour, with winter flowering shrubs including Sarcococca, Chimonanthus, Viburnum, Lonicera and Mahonia perfuming the air. Prunus serrula and many Acer species (A. griseum, A. pensylvaticum, A. davidii, A. tegmentosum) illuminate the garden higher up with their colourful, often papery bark, while at ground level are smaller evergreen plants (including Luzula, Ophiopogon, Euonymus and Bergenia) and many, many winter-flowering bulbs. Anglesey Abbey is of course famous for its snowdrop collection and while I was too early to see the bulk of it I was surprised to see that many of the snowdrops in the Winter Garden were already coming into flower – and the odd daffodil too!