The sight of these tiny white flowers peeping through in January or February never fails to cheer us up – here's our pick of where to see snowdrops.
Few flowers are more uplifting on arrival than the snowdrop, the ‘beauteous gems’ brightening the ‘bare and chilling gloom’ of winter, as Mary Darby Robinson put it in her sonnet The Snowdrop.
Hever Castle in Kent has a magnificent walk that takes in 100,000 of them, including unusual cultivars such as ‘Green Brush’, ‘Colossus’ and ‘Wendy’s Gold’. To start the season, garden writer and Country Life contributor Val Bourne will give a talk on February 12, revealing her favourite varieties and their stories.
‘There’s only one thing that keeps me going in the dark days of winter — and that’s the arrival of my snowdrops,’ she says.
‘I’m besotted with them, but they’re all different and some are easier than others. I’m going to focus on the best 20 to grow and where they grow best and I’ll pepper my talk with anecdotes about galanthophiles past and present.’
Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire, promses an enchanting display with its 120,000 Galanthus bulbs. In Lincolnshire, the exquisitely restored Easton Walled Garden is covered in snowdrops until early March, with a delightful woodland walk. In London, the Chelsea Physic Garden has a Heralding Spring trail.
The National Garden Scheme offers plenty of opportunities with its Festival of Snowdrops, which runs throughout February and counts more than 100 participating gardens. Highlights include Copton Ash, Spring Platt and Knowle Hill Farm in Kent; Higher Cherubeer, Devon; Pembury House, East Sussex; and Hollyhocks in Oxfordshire. All are owned by snowdrop specialists — visit www.ngs.org.uk/snowdrops for more.
On February 19 and 20, the Shepton Snowdrop Festival in Somerset honours the work of Victorian horticulturalist James Allen, the ‘Snowdrop King’, with a memorial lecture, a heritage and snowdrop trail, art and horticulture workshops, poetry and photography competitions and a plant sale that includes rare varieties.
Further west in the county, the famous Snowdrop Valley at Wheddon Cross on Exmoor is open until February 27, with parking and refreshments in the market car park.
No white-magic tour is complete without a trip to Colesbourne Gardens, Gloucestershire, once home to botanist and galanthophile Henry John Elwes. Open every weekend in February, the garden has 10 acres of formal snowdrop walks with more than 350 cultivars, including the fragrant Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’, first sent to Elwes by Scottish gardener Samuel Arnott, and the yellow-tinged G. elwesii ‘Carolyn Elwes’, so sought after that thieves uprooted and stole a clump in 1997.Colesbourne sells potted bulbs in flower, too, not least G. elwesii ‘elwesii’, a descendant of the giant snowdrop originally collected by Elwes.
Snowdrop buyers should also head to Kent for the Plant Fairs Roadshow at Hole Park and the Snowdrop Sensation Plant Fair at Great Comp Garden on February 20. To learn more, George G. Brownlee’s new book, A Passion for Snowdrops, is an engaging guide (£15.99, Whittles Publishing).
Below, we list some of the finest places across England to go and see these beautiful little flowers.
Berkshire – Welford Park
Said to have been planted by monks to decorate their church, Welford Park’s show of snowdrops is truly magnificent. www.welfordpark.co.uk
Borders – Abbotsford
Impressive displays are already showing on the banks of the River Tweed at Abbotsford – snowdrops grow throughout the 120-acre estate, which is freely accessible all year round.
Cambridgeshire – Chippenham Park
Created at the end of the 17th century as an ‘Angle Dutch’ landscape comprising canals, park, woodland and formal gardens.
Cheshire – Rode Hall
There have been snowdrops in the Repton landscape at Rode Hall for nearly 200 years and they are considered one of the natural treasures of the North West. There are snowdrop walks and a farmer’s market on some days.
Cumbria – Forde Abbey
Founded by Cistercian monks 900 years ago, with a garden developed in the 1700s – open every day with snowdrop weekends throughout February.
Dorset – Shaftesbury Snowdrop Festival
The whole town goes Snowdrop mad throughout February.
Exmoor – Wheddon Cross
The mysterious Snowdrop Valley is a remote, privately owned spot close to Wheddon Cross. Magnificent carpets of flowers with a park-and-ride system.
Fife – Cambo
The Cambo estate has 70 beautiful acres of woodland banks that are jam-packed with rare varieties. From January 27, with tours every weekday and specialist tours run every Friday until March 11.
Gloucestershire – Colesbourne Park
One of the first gardens to open for snowdrops two decades ago, Colesbourne Park offers some of the finest displays in the UK, with 300 varieties. Weekends only until the start of March.
Kent – Goodnestone Park
Home of Jane Austen’s brother, open 11-4 every day.
Kent – Hever Castle
Anne Boleyn’s childhood home, with some 70,000 snowdrops that include unusual varieties, such as the 9in-tall Colossus.
Lincolnshire – Easton Walled Gardens
The 400-year-old Easton Walled Gardens, called ‘a dream of Nirvana’ by President Roosevelt, open daily in half-term for snowdrop walks.
Norfolk – Walsingham Abbey
The spectacular priory drew pilgrims for centuries and now the snowdrops bring in the crowds, too.
Northumberland – Howick Hall
The collection here was mostly planted between the World Wars by Lady Grey. Open to visitors in February and March.
Peebleshire – Kailzie
Also has a two-mile stretch of the River Tweed for fly-fishing. February and March.
Surrey – Gatton Park
These marvellous gardens were designed by Capability Brown.
West Sussex – West Dean Gardens
More than 500,000 spring bulbs have been planted, not just snowdrops – open every day from the start of February.
Yorkshire – Goldsborough Hall
A former royal residence, Goldsborough Hall, built in 1620 and remodelled in the 1750s, is opening its snowdrop walk on selected February days, with more than 50 rare varieties.