John Massey is the mastermind behind Ashwood Nurseries’ world-famous hellebores, hepaticas, cyclamen and hydrangeas. His private garden is superb and full of treasures – and it also shines in winter. But John (who I love dearly) is also passionate about conifers, large and small.

Unfortunately, I mentioned his conifer addiction to my editor, who fell on this nugget of information with all the excitement of a London-bound commuter finding a seat.

As the only way to get on as a writer is to be obsequious, off I went, wearing my enthusiastic hat and vowing to love the conifer come what may. I’m trying, trying very hard indeed.

While, I love the pincushion effect of a dainty astrantia flower, others, men in particular, will hone in on an ugly arisaema. Arisaemas are woodland plants rather like arums (or cuckoo pints) and often have mottled foliage that clasps an upright spadex. For me these plants may as well be known as phallusias for they mimic the male member almost exactly. But on the credit side men tend to pick up shape and form better than women. They manage to get the right saucepan lid on the right saucepan with ease, just not often enough. Men also seem to admire trees more than women. My guess is that dendrological societies are mostly full of men and most famous garden designers seem to be men too.

John had some impressive conifers including a form of the deciduous Dawn Redwood – Metasequoia glyptostroboides ‘Gold Rush’. This pyramidal tree has ferny almost acacia-like leaves that are bright gold in spring and green in summer. However, by early autumn the feathered foliage has mellowed to stewed apricot. I could live with that. But gardens are reflections of our personality too and John is humourous and good natured. The tall stooping outlines of the Weeping Sierra redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum ‘Pendulum’) hover over one border like stooped old retainers.

But most of John’s conifers are frankly stunted. That’s because many full-size conifers have a tendency to sport, having been deformed by witch’s brooms. Consequently, dwarf conifers come in every shade of green, blue and gold. At Ashwood they are mostly arranged on a man-made rocky terrain which gives them scale. John’s visits to Japan have obviously influenced him here and he prunes and shapes his trees with great precision to encourage a bonsai look.

The textures vary from tactile Christmas-tree fingers to rigid monkey puzzle and there are greens and blues. But the golden varieties stand out like bolts of winter sunshine. Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’ has loosely-needled foliage that resembles an over used bottle brush. You could equally well use two forms of Pinus mugo. either ‘Ophir’ or ‘Carsten’s Wintergold’, to provide that same shaft of winter sun.