By Jennifer Daniel

The winter garden at Dunham Massey is one of the most extensive in Britain and, even during the colder months, there are more than a thousand hibernal plants to admire, including hardy shrubs, evergreen trees and winter blooms. As well as offering glorious wintry walks and festive trails for all the family, the National Trust gardens at Dunham Massey and Quarry Bank are wonderful locations to discover rare and unusual plants. While the parks are renowned for stunning gardens and picturesque landscapes, they also offer the opportunity for gardening enthusiasts and nature lovers to encounter rare plants in their natural habitat. From carefully curated and brightly coloured blooms in walled gardens to rare plants growing wild in surrounding woodland, there are plenty of botanical treasures to be discovered all year round.    

Enjoying Vibrant Flowers All Year Round

Whether they are used to enhance a commercial landscape setting or decorate a pretty walled garden, bold flowering plants are always eye-catching and stand out from their surroundings. At Dunham Massey, borders are richly planted with azaleas in various shades of red pink and orange, bluish purple hydrangeas that thrive in the acidic soil, and unusual Himalayan blue poppies, a rare treasure in any garden. While sunflowers are more common, the stunning sight of a whole field of the bright yellow flowers during the summer months is still quite extraordinary. Accessed via the Dunham Massey estate, a huge field of sunflowers first planted in 2020 covers over four acres of land and is in season from May to October. For a splash of colour earlier in the year, older trees are interspersed with carpets of vibrant daffodils that add welcome colour in the more formal winter gardens. In Autumn at Quarry Bank, the walled garden is still full of plants with vivid flowers and stems including Daliah’s, Crimson Flag Lilies and Dogwood.

Moss Lawns and Meadows Reveal Unexpected Finds

Away from the cultivated formal gardens, the meadows at Quarry Bank will delight plant enthusiasts with unexpected botanical finds including rare orchids and unusual grasses.  While most gardeners strive to keep their beautifully manicured lawns free of moss, in the former Edwardian Rose Garden at Dunham Massey, it has been left to grow into an unusual and dedicated moss garden that provides a welcoming natural habitat. The moss garden is surrounded by trees, and other more unusual trees flourish in extensive lawns. Japanese Katsura trees grow along the canal border and, during the autumn, this is the place to smell their unique scent of burnt sugar similar to candy floss that is emitted by their decaying leaves.

Discovering Rare Orchids in Woodland

Some of the most notable areas for plant exploration are found in the woodlands that lie beyond the formal gardens. At Quarry Mill, footpaths lead through 400 acres of woodland and open countryside where a variety of plants can be spotted amongst the ornamental bridges, caves and gorges. There are a number of different trails to be enjoyed and on the Kingfisher Walk, a meander through fields and woodland will reveal enormous redwoods, and rare varieties of vibrant rhododendron. The Ancient Woodland at Dunham Massey provides a rich and diverse habitat for a wide array of plant species such as unusual wildflowers and distinctive varieties of tree. These include the rare and enigmatic lady’s slipper orchid and elusive bird’s nest orchid. On the ground can be found the distinctive foliage of uncommon woodland plants like the herb Paris, also known as True Lover’s Knot, with delicate yellow-green flowers centred on a cross of oval leaves. 

All year round, a variety of rare and unusual plants can be found in both the gardens and surrounding woodland of Dunham Massey and Quarry Mill. While strolling around the gardens in summer, gardening enthusiasts and nature lovers can spot the bright blue of rare Himalayan blue poppies cultivated in a curated garden or look out for beautiful but elusive wild orchids found on forest floors. In the winter months, swathes of yellow daffodils provide interest while an unusual mossy lawn continues to provide a unique habitat for other wildlife. 

Find out more

Nestled between the vibrant city of Manchester and the beginnings of rural Cheshire, Dunham Massey includes a 300-acre deer park, a historic house and buildings, and all-season gardens. Outdoors, accessible paths pass roaming fallow deer and ancient trees in the parkland, while the Winter and Rose…

When Samuel Greg built Quarry Bank at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, he founded not only a cotton mill but a whole community.  Visitors to this National Trust property can gain a fascinating insight to life at this pivotal time in history. The mill itself, provides a unique…

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