On a crisp December morning, when the sun is shining and the frost is sparkling, or (more likely this winter) when snow lies gracefully over every twig, winter gardens are magical places to be.
In the off-peak season some of our best-known gardens change character entirely, taking on a newly sparse, pared-back alter ego. Richly-coloured bark and sculptural seedheads delicately rimed in ice become the stars: heavy scents float tantalisingly on clear winter air and background structure of clipped box, topiary or elegantly-judged landscaping emerges to reveal its satisfying geometry.
So this winter, get outside and discover a whole new side to the gardens you thought you knew. To get you started, the gardeners behind some of Britain's finest winter gardens reveal what makes them so special at this time of year.
NB in view of the current snowy weather it's advisable to ring ahead before you visit to make sure the garden is still able to open!
Richard Todd, Head Gardener: Winter may seem like the time to put your feet up and sit by the fire with a warming tipple - but not at Anglesey Abbey!
We've been braving blizzards (well, the chill fen winds) to pressure-wash the Himalayan silver birches, removing algae to enhance the beauty of the stark-white trunk. The birch grove always stops visitors in their tracks.
Along the 450m serpentine pathway coloured stems and barks come into their own. Prunus serrula is like polished mahogany, and low winter sun behind the peeling bark looks like burnished copper lights - breathtaking.
Making a winter garden is great fun - you can play with design and plants with much more freedom. Create layers by using early flowering bulbs and position plants to make the most of that low sun angle.
The Winter Garden at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, is open every day, 10am-4pm: tel 01223 810080
Harvey Stephens, Head Gardener: 'The Savill Garden to me is a quite magical place to explore during the winter months, particularly when there's been a hard frost or some snow.
I find the bold drifts of colourful willows and vibrant dogwoods weaving their way through the winter beds and along the streamside very inspiring, particularly when the low winter sun catches them. One of my real favourites are the witch hazels (Hamamelis spp) whose spider-like fragrant flowers brave the snow and cold temperatures never fail to raise my spirits through January and February.
The Savill Garden has a tremendously varied collection of colour and patterned bark trees that look particularly good through the winter. Whilst the white stemmed birches are great, coral bark maples, snake bark maples and paper bark maples all provide inspiring colour in the winter garden. Among the cherries, Prunus serrula and Prunus rufa both provide magnificent colour and interest.
The Savill Garden, Windsor Great Park, Berkshire, is open every day, 10am-4.30pm: tel 01784 435544
Jon Webster, Curator: Rosemoor is a very special place during the winter months, abundant with flowering shrubs, architectural evergreens and colourful bark and stems. The Winter Garden demonstrates how all of these features can be combined to create an exciting space during the dreary months before the onset of spring.
On frosty mornings, the coloured stems of Cornus, Salix and Prunus sparkle against a background of dark evergreen foliage in the low winter sun. Heady fragrances from Hamamelis, Daphne and Viburnum cultivars fill the air and a patchwork of pink and white heathers border the meandering pathways.
Here's a picture of one of my favourite winter combinations in the garden: red-stemmed Cornus alba 'Sibirica' AGM, orange-and-yellow Cornus sanguinea 'Winter Beauty' and yellow Salix alba var. vitellina 'Britzensis' AGM, punctuated by the white trunk of Betula 'Fetisowii' and the shiny red bark of Prunus serrula AGM. In the background a froth of yellow fragrant flowers clothe the Hamamelis × intermedia 'Pallida' AGM.'
RHS Garden Rosemoor, Great Torrington, Devon, is open every day, 10am-5pm: tel 01805 624067
Michael Walker, Gardens and Estates Manager: There's just something about winter that gives gardens a truly magical feel.
It's one of my favourite times of the year. The 'Oudolf' gardens along the banks of the River Trent offer a picturesque wintry scene of soft elegant grass heads against the architectural remains of tall robust stems, creating a display similar to a pen and ink drawing. Clever Piet.
The Italian Garden takes on a whole new look this time of year. Seven chilly, splashing fountains provide a centrepiece, embracing the formal structure of the historic garden, normally hidden behind the vast perennials in Tom Stuart-Smith's superb planting but now fully revealed.
Personally, I suggest a warming cup of hot chocolate before heading off through the western woodland. Winter walks around the mile-long lake let you slush your wellingtons through the snow or frost, surrounded by majestic oaks, well over 200 years old, and towering giant cedars and redwoods.
Trentham Gardens, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, is open every day except Christmas Day, 10am-4pm: tel 01782 646646
Alan Bennell, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh: When winter bites, the Glasshouses at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh offer a haven from the cold and an opportunity to travel through time and around the globe.
Welcoming visitors is the iconic Temperate Palm House, the tallest traditional glasshouse in Britain. Entering through the hot and humid atmosphere of the Tropical Palm House, visitors experience opposing ends of the evolutionary scale in the Orchids and Cycads House: the cool shades of the Fossils and Ferns House offer a peaceful contrast.
The sweet smells and exuberant colours of the Rainforest Riches House give way to the clear, dry, air of the Arid Lands House. And then there are two final houses, set behind the main Glass range. The Montane Tropics and Wet Tropics houses showcase the Garden's international research projects, with the world's richest collection of Vireya rhododendrons. Many flower almost continuously with vibrant colours and beautiful scents, providing a special treat in winter and early spring.
The Glasshouses, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, Scotland, is open every day except Christmas Day and New Year's Day, 10am-3.30pm: tel 0131 248 2909
Paul Cook, Curator: My interview for the job of Curator at Ness Botanic Gardens was in December. There were salvias in flower, winter-flowering viburnums and banana plants, wrapped up to protect them from the Cheshire frosts. The coastal climate of the west Wirral means we enjoy a sheltered microclimate here.
My favourite winter walk at Ness starts in the Pine Wood, a two acre plantation of mature Scots pine underplanted with rhododendrons, camellias, Sorbus and snowdrops. Although you have to wait until after Christmas to see Rhododendron 'Winter Cheer' in flower, there's always colour from hardy winter-flowering camellias - Camellia 'Winter's Choice', 'Winter's Joy' and other hybrids bred in America from a species camellia, Camellia oleifera.
Out from the shelter of the trees you get the contrast between the close comfort of the woods and the views across the wild marsh landscape of the Dee Estuary. It's what makes Ness such a special place to work in.
Ness Botanic Garden, Neston, South Wirral, is open daily except Christmas Day and Boxing Day, 10am-4.30pm: tel 0151 353 0123
David Lock, Head Gardener: Chirk Castle and its garden perches 700ft up on a Welsh hillside between Oswestry and Wrexham. There are 5½ acres of garden and 7 acres of woodland.
We've opened the garden for winter visitors for the first time this year. This has taken a lot of consideration on our part as much of the garden is only accessible by grass paths. But there's lots to see - particularly the topiary in the frost and snow. Plants in flower include Jasminum nudiflorum, Hamamelis varieties, hellebores, early daffodils and, of course, snowdrops.
We have opened in February for our snowdrops for 15 years now and it's a really popular event. We have about two acres of common and double snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) in the Pleasure Ground Wood. We encourage the public, particularly the children, to help us to increase the coverage of the snowdrops by digging a few bulbs up each year and planting them for us.
Chirk Castle, Chirk, nr Wrexham, Wales, reopens on 5 February, 10am-4pm: tel 01691 777701