27 January 2021

Best things to do at Wakehurst this winter

Our roundup of the seasonal highlights at Wakehurst this winter.

By Katie Avis-Riordan and Ellen McHale

It may be winter but there are still so many great things to do and see in our wild botanic garden here in Sussex.

Explore our wintry woodlands, immerse yourself in our stunning Winter Garden and warm up with tasty treats. 

Wander in our Winter Garden

Bursting with seasonal colour, our Winter Garden is the perfect place to take a stroll during the colder months at Wakehurst.

Notice the rich fragrances, dazzling blooms and beautiful tree barks as you walk along the winding garden path.

It’s home to Himalayan silver birch trees (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii) with their gleaming white trunks, witch hazel (Hamamelis) oozing an enticing perfume, dainty white snowdrops (Galanthus) and Siberian dogwood (Cornus alba 'Sibirica') with its striking fiery hues.

The garden looks particularly enchanting with a dusting of frost on chilly mornings.

The Mansion Gardens in frost
The Mansion Gardens in frost © Clive Nichols
Cornus alba Sibirica
Cornus alba Sibirica, Chris Clennett © RBG Kew
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Orange Peel’
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Orange Peel’ © RBG Kew

Treat yourself

Grab a take-away hot drink and snack from our Stables Pantry to warm up as you walk. 

Enjoy a cup of hot chocolate or savour a scrumptious slice of cake.

Cakes at Wakehurst
Cakes at Wakehurst © RBG Kew

Spot wildlife 

The gardens are alive with wildlife, even during the colder months. Trees that are bare of leaves mean birds and animals are easier to spot. 

Listen for the drumming sound of great spotted woodpeckers (Dendrocopos major) marking their territory. You can also spot roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) who like to hunt for nutritious bramble shoots. 

Did you know that our Loder Valley Nature Reserve is home to a tiny, endangered mammal?

The hazel or common dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) is a tiny, fluffy mouse that hibernates during winter. 

They curl up in nests on the ground during this season to keep warm. In the warmer months they spend most of their time up trees. 

As part of a conservation effort to save this rare species, we have been part of the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme (NDMP) since it began in the early 1990s.

Resting dormice in the Loder Valley Nature Reserve
Dormice, Steve Robinson ©RBG Kew

Admire the trees

Winter is a brilliant season to see the magnificent natural architecture of leafless deciduous trees.

Head down to Bethlehem Wood to see the stark beauty of Wakehurst’s National Collection of birch trees (Betula).

Their peeling bark and multi-coloured trunks are a spectrum of shades, from dark brown to silvery white.

For evergreen colour, journey through the beautiful conifers in the secluded Pinetum.

The majestic Apache pine (Pinus engelmanii), Taiwania and plum pine (Podocarpus) are some of the treasures living here.

Can you find the sika deer stag carving in the trunk of a Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica)?

Artist Masa Suzuki carved the design into the tree's storm-damaged trunk in 2013 as part of a Japanese-British collaboration.

In this traditional Japanese style of carving, known as Tachigi-bori, the trunk of a living tree is engraved but the bark is allowed to slowly grow back over the design to reflect the passing of time.

Venture to Coates Wood to spot the beautiful evergreen Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis) and Eucalyptus.

Wollemi pines growing in Coates wood, Wakehurst
Wollemi pines growing in Coates wood, Ellen McHale © RBG Kew

Get winter walking

Prefer a wilder adventure? Then set out to explore our quieter and more untamed areas. Pick up a winter guide on arrival and spot seasonal highlights on your walk. 

Trek down the valley through Himalayan Glade to Westwood Lake.

Breathe in the fresh air. Raise your heart rate on the hilly terrain. And soak up the silence.

Look out for the fantastic panoramic views as you go. The bare trees open up the landscape so you can really appreciate the undulating hills and deep valleys of the breathtaking Sussex scenery.

View over Loder Valley at Wakehurst in winter
View over Loder Valley, Jim Holden © RBG Kew
Children playing at Wakehurst

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