At the beginning of last year we were blessed with a series of sunny, bright days; just the thing for an early start to visiting The National Garden Scheme’s open gardens. The draw in January and February is that familiar, shy, winter favourite, the snowdrop. Not a native of these shores, it seems at home because it naturalises well and can cover large areas with an impressive, albeit diminutive, show. The scientific name for the snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, translates as milk-white flower of the snow.
Two gardens drew us in. The first, in late January, was a set of allotments boasting 130 different snowdrop varieties. No ordinary allotments, clearly! These allotments are a lovely Victorian relic set on the edge of Warwick Racecourse. In the mid-1800’s many shop-keepers in the town lived above their shops and had nowhere to grow flowers or vegetables. They collectively acquired a plot of ground within easy reach of the town centre. They divided it up and laid out tiny formal gardens with brick paths, hedges, fruit trees, beds and borders, creating a place to grow things, but also to relax in. Many of the plots have delightful brick summerhouses, to enjoy the scene (and the races!) when the work of the day was done.
Hill Close Gardens is no longer owned by shop-keepers, but is run by a trust and worked by volunteers. I can really recommend it as an intriguing place to visit. Just a few steps from the market-place and overlooking the racecourse, what could be better? Oh, and it has a tea-shop too.
The second visit came in the second half of February when the common single snowdrop, the last to flower, was in her prime. Here, the magnificent grounds of Millichope Park in Corvedale boasted quantity, not variety or rarity. And what a sight they were! In beech woodland, along the lake edge and tumbling down into the steep ravine of a brook, I have never seen so many snowdrops all in one place before. Also peeping through were the first wild daffodils, enjoying the sunny day, and here and there a swathe of rich yellow. This latter was a carpet of winter aconites. These too, are an introduced species, but have a very quaint appearance with a deeply-cut ruff of leaves below the cup of yellow sepals. This flower is unusual in having sepals, which normally surround the petals, but no actual, technical, petals.
All in all we had a great start to the gardening year, and, who knows, we might be treated some early sunshine in 2020, too, let’s all hope so.