The National Garden Scheme Snowdrop Festival
Hurrah for the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) Snowdrop Festival which is on throughout February. As the days are beginning to lengthen and signs of spring emerge the prospect of a garden visit is a welcome tonic, whether you want to admire the different varieties of snowdrops or have a walk in lovely surroundings.
More than 80 gardens of every size and style from diminutive cottage gardens to grand country house gardens across the country are opening for the NGS’s second festival. ‘I have long been fascinated by the ability of gardens that open in effectively what is still the winter to attract a disproportionately large numbers of visitors,’ says George Plumptre, Chief Executive of the NGS, adding ‘a garden could open on a rainy day in June and get just ten people, whereas a special snowdrop day can attract tens if not hundreds of visitors.’
In 2016 an astonishing 700 or so visited Welford Park, Berkshire on a Wednesday afternoon to see the five acres of snowdrops alongside the River Lambourn. Welford boasts many rare varieties including Green Tips, Lady Elphinstone and Desdemona. (It is also well known as location for the Great British Bake-Off.)
‘People are fed up they have not been able to get out, the weather has been miserable. And there is very little competition of things to do outside. People are fascinated by snowdrops and they are not horticulturally taxing,’ George explains. ‘It’s not like going to a garden in high summer, where there is a border full of things and you don’t know what they are.’
Galanthus nivalis, meaning milk flower is the Latin name of the snowdrop. Galanthophiles can visit a specialist garden like High Cherubeer in Devon, which has more than 300 snowdrop varieties as well as the national collection of cyclamen.
It is uncertain when the first snowdrops were brought to Britain but they were certainly fashionable by the 17th-century. They originate, like many bulb species, in the Caucasus, southern Europe and Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Sometimes known as Candlemas bells, they are often to be found growing at former abbeys and priories.
Serious galanthlophiles will proudly display their treasures in little pots. Individual bulbs can change hands for hundreds of pounds. Others will be satisfied with carpets of snowdrops naturalised in the wild.
The NGS Snowdrop Festival caters for all tastes. It is also a clever new way of raising even more charitable money – in 2016 an extra £50,000. In 2016 the NGS raised well over £3 million. ‘It’s a great way for the NGS to kick off the season, and hopefully many visitors will return to see the same garden later in the year,’ says George.
For further information:www.ngs.org.uk
The Scottish Snowdrop Festival until 12 March www.visitscotland.com
Several National Trust gardens are opening including Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire which has an imaginative winter garden plus hundreds of different types of snowdrops and Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, where snowdrop planting originally spelled out the names of the 6th Duke of Devonshire’s nieces – Blanche, Anne, Dorothy and Maud. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lists/top-spots-for-snowdrops.
For those keen to bulk up their display of snowdrops, Cambo, Fife, Scotland, (www.camboestate.com) home of the national collection of snowdrops, sells them in bulk from 50 to 2,500 a time.
For the romantically inclined, Cambo is offering a snowdrop posy to be despatched on the 13th February by courier to ensure delivery on Valentine’s Day -a novel idea and sure to be popular.
www.doddingtonplacegardens.co.uk will be open for the NGS Snowdrop Festival on the 19th February 11am-4pm. Specialist snowdrops will be for sale.