In The Garden with Liz Thwaite: Getting ready for Christmas at Harlow Carr

Theres lots to enjoy ahead of Christmas at Harlow Carrs Plant Centre and Gift Shop.

Theres lots to enjoy ahead of Christmas at Harlow Carrs Plant Centre and Gift Shop.

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You may imagine that the winter months are a quieter time of year for the team at Harlow Carr. But in reality, there’s a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes to prepare for Christmas and the year ahead.

The garden looks particularly magical at this time of year as low light levels and frosts highlight its natural shapes and textures.

Liz Thwaite of RHS Harlow Carr.

Liz Thwaite of RHS Harlow Carr.

We’re adding to its natural beauty with a sprinkling of festive cheer: much-loved trees and garden shelters are being decorated with beautiful baubles and mirrored stars, and wreaths and strings of icicle lights are being strung.

The Bath House is a hive of activity as the event elves transform it from exhibition space to Santa’s Grotto in readiness for his arrival tomorrow (Friday, December 2).

As well as our Christmas prep, now is the ideal time for the garden team to carry out all those essential maintenance tasks including removing damaged or diseased trees and repairing paths.

This sometimes means we need to cordon-off parts of the garden to keep visitors safe, but we work as quickly as we can and try to keep disruption to a minimum.

Winter is also the perfect time to make structural changes to the garden.

If you’ve visited in recent weeks you may have noticed that we’ve brought out the big guns: heavy machinery including an eight-tonne digger and telehandler have been in action, helping to carve out and re-shape stretches of the Streamside to open it up and enable visitors to get even closer to the water.

More than 100 tonnes of soil has been removed and 60 tonnes of sandstone rock brought in from other parts of the garden to shore up the banks.

Top soil has been added and grass seed sown so the area blends in seamlessly with the rest of the garden and ensures the Streamside can be viewed and enjoyed.

Another area that has received a lot of attention in recent weeks is the Peat Terrace, the sloping area immediately behind the Bath House.

A new path has been created to allow visitors to move more freely around the building and up to the arboretum. It’s completely changed the look and feel of the area.

During the transformation we were very excited to unearth some unexpected treasure – broken glass and pottery pieces. Was it Saxon, perhaps Roman?

On closer inspection, however, we realised that our find was perhaps not as historic or valuable as we had first hoped and in fact dates from the 1950s!

That said, it’s very attractive in its own right so we’ve cleaned it up and it will soon be on display in the Harlow Carr library – pop along and see it for yourself.

Our main borders are a well-known summer highlight but play their part during the winter months too, adding structure and colour to one of the best-loved parts of the garden and providing much-needed food for birds and wildlife; many of the seed heads on plants such as achilleas and heleniums are left untouched for that purpose.

Small sections of the borders have been cleared to make way for bulb planting: this year an extra 1,000 alliums – the striking single-stemmed, round pom-poms that stand tall above the rest of the planting – have been added to the lower part of the main borders.

Watch out for a spectacular display of purple and white in June.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Winter Walk, we’ve also planted 5,000 irises which will put on a beautiful show as spring approaches.

In the meantime, visitors can enjoy the amazing array of colour and scent offered by the vibrant cornus stems, coloured barks, berries and winter flowering shrubs that line the walk.

Diary dates

l December 2 at 1pm: Meet the Artist – Emma Ball.

l December 2-4, 9-11 and 16-24: The Magic of Christmas event.

l Selected dates from Friday, December 2: Stories with Santa sessions. Tickets are still available for some events but must be booked in advance by visiting www.rhs.org.uk/harlowcarr.

l December 3 at 2pm: Book signing by Common Ground author, Rob Cowen.

l December 3 at 11am - 3pm and every Monday from 1pm - 3pm: RHS Advisory Service.

l December 9: Garden Walk – Harlow Carr in Winter. Call 020 3176 5830 to book.

l December 10-11: Yorkshire Christmas Shopping Showcase, including book signing by Julian Norton, The Yorkshire Vet.

l December 18 at 2.30pm and 3.15pm: White Rosettes female barbershop singers.