Galanthophiles rejoice, snowdrop season is upon us once again. In recent years snowdrop appreciation has become a mainstream activity with hundreds of gardens throwing wide their gates outside of normal opening times to welcome eager visitors. Thus we are not only permitted to gaze upon spangled carpets of white blossom, but also to enjoy familiar gardens when they haven’t got their clothes on, as it were.
I maintain a measured indifference to snowdrops, mainly because I have an addictive personality, yet their early appearance pleases me no end. I find snowdrops’ often infinitesimally small differences intriguing, but I am wise enough to understand that I don’t have the right situation to grow them here at The Watch House. My interest is that of an appreciative bystander rather than a knowledgeable enthusiast. But since there’s precious little to admire in gardens right now, I am thankful for the joy snowdrops bring me. There’s no excuse not to wrap up warm and go snowdrop spotting when my own plot is still demanding little of me.
If you’re at a loose end over the next fortnight you still have time to visit one of the 95 gardens participating in the 4th annual National Garden Scheme (NGS) Snowdrop Festival. The rosta includes gardens large and small, grand and humble, each with its own approach to celebrating our favourite harbinger of spring. Here are a few favourites to whet your appetite.
Gelli Uchaf – Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, SA19 7PY
Open February 23rd and 24th 2019 10.30 – 17.30
At Gelli Uchaf you’ll discover hundreds of thousands of snowdrops comprising over 200 cultivars and including a unique collection of Welsh varieties. Snowdrops are used throughout the garden to underplant trees and shrubs alongside crocuses, scillas, cyclamen and narcissi. The 1.5 acre plot is gardened on a mainly organic regime. Owners Julian and Fiona Wormald have a keen interest in encouraging insects by planting meadows rich in wild flowers. Parking at Gelli Uchaf is very limited, so even on open days visitors are encouraged to phone or e-mail ahead and book a time slot.
10 Chestnut Way – Repton, Derbyshire, DE65 6FQ
Open February 17th and 24th 2019, 11.00 – 15.00
A one-acre garden which appears very much larger. Owners Robert and Pauline have a keen interest in Viticella clematis and organic gardening, sometimes offering their homegrown fruit and vegetables for sale in season. During February visitors can enjoy hellebores, fragrant daphnes and of course lashings of snowdrops, followed by a warming bowl of homemade soup. Bliss. There is plenty of seating in the garden for those who wish to take the weight off their feet or to just sit and contemplate the simple beauty of the snowdrop.
Hedgehog Hall – Tilton on the Hill, Leicestershire, LE7 9DE
Open February 23rd and 24th 2019, 11.00 – 16.00
The organically managed 1/2 acre garden at Hedgehog Hall is packed with interesting plants. The owners’ extensive collection of snowdrops is displayed on a series of terraces and in a raised bed, providing a good opportunity to get up-close and personal with these tiny flowers. Clumps are well labelled, which will please committed galanthophiles. Homemade soup and a roll is available for those braving the cold to enjoy the display.
Higher Cherubeer, Winkleigh, Devon, EX19 8PP
Open February 23rd 2019, 14.00 – 17.00
This magical garden in the South West of England is a plantsperson’s paradise. As well as a National Collection of cyclamen species, Higher Cherubeer is home to many handsome hellebores and over 400 snowdrop varieties. Other-worldly, pollarded willows, captured in all their alien glory by Carole Drake’s atmospheric photograph (above) are worth the visit alone. RHS Rosemoor is only 8 miles away, so can easily be explored on the same day.
Lacock Abbey Gardens – Lacock, Chippenham, Wiltshire, SN15 2LG
Open February 23rd 2019, 10.30 – 17.30
The National Trust’s Lacock Abbey and the adjoining village of Lacock are much beloved by TV and film makers, having appeared in Cranford, Pride and Prejudice (the Colin Firth version), Emma, Moll Flanders and, most famously, the Harry Potter films. In late winter the Abbey’s woodland garden is carpeted with aconites, snowdrops, crocuses and narcissi. As you’d expect of a National Trust property, there are numerous opportunities for refreshment both at the Abbey and in the village. Period costume optional, but it will guarantee a winning snowdrop selfie.
The Down House – Itchen Abbas, Hampshire, SO21 1AX
Open February 13th – 28th, by appointment – contact the garden owner for details
Situated on the Pilgrim’s Way and overlooking the peaceful Itchen Valley, The Down House is a true winter garden. Borders of brightly coloured dogwoods and stands of gleaming white birch deliver colour and light on the darkest of days. Beneath your feet (not literally one hopes!) you’ll discover carpets of snowdrops, aconites and pinkish-lilac crocuses. Don’t be put off by the ‘by arrangement’ status of this garden which is well worth seeing, however do call ahead to discuss your visit.
Copton Ash – Faversham, Kent ME13 8XW
Open February 17th 2019, 12.00-16.00
Although it’s only up the road, to my great shame I have never visited Copton Ash, a fine Kentish garden which opens regularly for the NGS. Owners Tim and Gillian Ingram have collected many rare plants and raised others from wild seed. They have a special interest in woodland flowers including anemones, hepaticas and trillium, as well as snowdrops and hellebores. Tim is a member of the Alpine Garden Society and maintains a small alpine nursery to indulge his passion.
Devonshire Mill – Pocklington, North Yorkshire, YO42 1NN
Open February 24th 2019, 11.00 – 17.00
In early spring the orchards at Devonshire Mill are awash with long-established drifts of double snowdrops (principally Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Flore Pleno’).
Two-acres of garden surround the house, a 200-year-old Grade II listed watermill. Devonshire Mill is an intimate garden with many different areas, structured on an old layout with a mill stream running along the length. To encourage wildlife, owners Sue and Chris Bond are guided by organic principles. TFG.