“I want everyone to feel something as they step into this garden.” So Wakehurst Head of Landscape and Horticulture Ed Ikin tells me of the new Wakehurst Winter Garden, which opened in January.
“There’s lots of individually interesting plants – things for people to discover – but, really, it’s about the experience of being in the garden.”
The composition he describes beautifully. The framing of the white Himalayan Birch – which has been chosen for its pure white bark, and because it holds its shape beautifully over years – the dogwoods Cornus Alba Siberica providing red, and a “fringe of grasses”. He talks about “layers of colour”, and “the way the grasses glow – with light inside them”.
The sense of light’s very important. “Winter is the more challenging season”, says Ed. “We’ve chosen a design that works with this. I think when people talk about ‘botanic gardens’, they probably imagine a project where lots of individual plants have been curated. Of course, that is the case here – there are 33,000 plants in total – but the big canvas is what we start with. I want anyone to come and experience the sense of light coming through an undulating landscape. Later, there’s time to enjoy the detail.”
I ask who’s been the landscape’s architect, or is it a whole team of people?
“A whole team of very talented people”, he says. “But Garden Supervisor, Francis Annette created the detailed plan. I think he’d say he was inspired, above all, by the Downs themselves.”
The Winter Garden opened last month. It should remain for years. In 2019, we need gardens like this.
Yes, Ed is concerned about climate change, he tells me. “Very. What’s new is this concentration of extreme weather events. The English weather has always enjoyed its ups and downs and surprises. Not so often two consecutive weeks of 35 degree days, for instance – as we had last summer – nor of flash flooding.
“Let the plants tell the story,” Ed says, “not just us gardeners. All our mature, native trees are showing the signs of stress.”
Anyway, “it’s very important to give gardens time to flex and evolve,” says Ed, who’s spent his entire life outdoors, growing up on a farm, and working ever since in gardens. “We’ve made what we think is an extraordinary garden with many interesting plants; over time, it will only grow richer and deeper.”
Wakehurst Winter Garden sets out to offer all its visitors a haven. The Wakehurst team has also worked hard with scent, concentrating a lot around the paths where visitors will wander, and be beguiled, for instance, by Sweet Daphne and Witch Hazel.
“We want you to feel alive and stimulated in this space”, says Ed, “and in a way that’s tangible and real. We’re appealing to your senses – sight and smell.” And yes, of course, colour’s integral. “There’s something about subtlety and complexity”, he says. “This garden will bring people peace.”