Snowshill Manor is holding an information day this weekend for would-be volunteers.
Staff and existing volunteers at the National Trust property will be on hand to explain what’s involved in jobs that range from gardening and storytelling to caring for the collection built up by Charles Wade, who left the house to the Trust.
Volunteering is a great way to make friends and learn something new,” said marketing officer Gosia Rumsey. “There are plenty of opportunities available here, and we can work with people to find a role that suits individual interests and skills.”
For weeks gardeners have been talking about the unseasonably mild winter, fretting about spring stars coaxed into an early appearance, incredulous that summer blooms refuse to die down. Yet at one Cotswold snowdrop garden the higher temperatures have been positively welcomed. Colesbourne Park is set to have one of its best displays ever thanks to a year that has seen gardens turn from summer to spring with barely a pause in between.
The garden’s impressive snowdrop collection of 250 varieties has been largely unaffected and is, believes head gardener Chris Horsfall, merely a week earlier than usual. What is different are the partnership plants that have been added to supplement the snowdrops. Hellebores, cherry and Cornus mas, normally in bloom further into the snowdrop show, are weeks ahead of their usual schedule.
“They think it’s spring,” comments Chris, “but the snowdrops are still coming up. We’ve got these combinations that are quite wonderful.”
Already the cornus is covered in tiny yellow flowers, their colour a striking contrast to the blue of the lake behind; the water colour is believed to be caused by lime. Nearby there are dainty catkins on a willow and colourful dogwood stems adding to the show.
Meanwhile in the woodland spring garden, the hellebores are in full flight in shades of cream, pink and purple, there are sheets of cerise cyclamen and white spangled leaves on Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’.
The spring garden was developed from a previously largely overlooked space near the house. Ancient yews were cut back to allow more light in and a winding path of chipped bark was introduced. The planting, while showcasing the snowdrops, is more mixed than in other parts of the garden. Ferns, the native evergreen Daphne laureola, epimedium, Carex ‘Ice Dance’, with its white edged leaves, and Bergenia emeiensis form a backdrop for snowdrops such as ‘Hippolita’ and ‘South Hayes’. Prunus kursar is covered in shell-pink flowers and the dark foliage of Corydalis quantmeyerana ‘Chocolate Stars’ is repeated through the border.
“There were three when I arrived and now I have it everywhere.”
Move out into the woodland and the planting combinations become less complex. Near the ice house there’s a pink and white theme with cyclamen and the scented Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’, while the main display sees vast drifts of snowdrops partnered with golden aconites. Here there are thousands of the dainty double snowdrop ‘Ophelia’, more ‘S. Arnott’ and giant ‘Colossus’.
While the large scale display is what draws many visitors, for the snowdrop obsessed galanthophiles it’s Colesbourne’s collection of rarities that is important.
It was started by Victorian plant-hunter Henry John Elwes, who introduced many plants and trees to cultivation, among them Galanthus elwesii, discovered in Turkey in 1874, and today a commonly grown snowdrop. Colesbourne is now owned by his great grandson Sir Henry Elwes and his wife Carolyn. Together they have extended the number of snowdrops grown and each year add a few more.
New this season are ‘Rosemary Burnham’, which has a green flush to its outer petals and ‘Priscilla Bacon’, which has a seersucker-like texture to its blooms similar to ‘Diggory’.
“It has the most wonderfully shaped flower,” says Chris.
The rare snowdrops are found in raised beds near the house and in a ‘specialities’ border. Among them are yellow snowdrops, including ‘Fiona’s Gold’ and ‘Primrose Warburg’. ‘Margaret Owen’ has unusually large flowers and ‘Gerard Parker’, another large snowdrop is partnered with ‘Wasp’ a more dainty variety.
“We thought it would be a good contrast.”
‘Seraph’ has no inner petals and so opens out to form a white disc while ‘Harewood Twin’, as the name suggests, has two flowers to every stem.
For most visitors though it is the mass displays that are the attraction at Colesbourne, a display that thanks to the weather is this year looking better than ever.
“I thought that’s my winter planting combination sorted out and I’ve had to throw away the books. It’s very humbling,” admits Chris.
• Colesbourne Park, between Cheltenham and Cirencester, is open on January 30 and 31, and every Saturday and Sunday in February. Gates open at 1pm, last entry is at 4.30pm, admission is £7.50, children under 16 enter free. Dogs are welcome on a short lead.
• On Friday February 5, the garden will be open from 1pm for RHS members free of charge on production of valid membership card and other identification.
Snowdrop gardens are a highlight of winter, a chance to get outside and an early sign that spring is on the way. Here in the Cotswolds we are lucky to have several gardens that open for the snowdrop season ranging from those with specialist collections to others with mass displays.
This year there are more than ever as the National Gardens Scheme is launching its first Snowdrop Festival with more than 100 plots across England and Wales opening during February.
Add those to the gardens that open independently and there’s plenty of opportunity to get out and marvel at these dainty white blooms.
Here’s a quick look at some of the area’s snowdrop gardens. Several will be featured on ‘The Chatty Gardener’ in more detail over the next few weeks.
In severe weather gardens may close. Do check before travelling.
Snowdrops have been a part of this Arts and Crafts garden at Duntisbourne Abbots since it was developed in the early 20th century. The collection has 62 varieties, including ‘Cotswold Farm’, which are clustered under shrubs or conveniently set at eye level in the rock border. Mass displays are spread throughout the woods.
Cotswold Farm opens for Cobalt on February 6 and 7 from 11-3pm. It is also open on Mondays February 8, 15, 22, 29. Admission is £5, children enter free. Details: www.cotswoldfarmgardens.org.uk
One of the Cotswolds quirkiest gardens, the tradition of visiting Painswick Rococo Garden to see the snowdrops stretches back to Victorian Snowdrop Sundays.
Today, the garden is known for its mass display of the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, although there are some smaller areas of named varieties. All are set against its iconic follies, including the Exedra and Red House.
One of the biggest collections of snowdrops in the area, with 250 varieties, there are clumps of rarities for the snowdrop obsessed – better known as galanthophiles – and massed displays through woods for the rest. The winter garden also features cyclamen and hellebores while the curiously coloured lake is a highlight.
Colesbourne Park, between Cheltenham and Cirencester, is open Saturday and Sundays from 1pm to 4.30pm from January 30/31 to February 27/28. Admission is £7.50, children enter free. Details: http://www.colesbournegardens.org.uk/
One of the stalwarts of the National Gardens Scheme, Trench Hill shows how snowdrops can be used as part of a mixed display. The highlight is the woodland walk where snowdrops, aconites and cyclamen will be followed by hellebores, narcissi and pulmonaria.
Trench Hill, at Sheepscombe, is open as part of the NGS Snowdrop Festival on February 14 and 21 from 11am to 5pm. Admission is £4, children enter free.
It may be an arboretum but Batsford has worked hard over recent years to extend its interest beyond trees. Snowdrops mark the start of a long spring display covering aconites, hellebores and narcissi. Far reaching-views make Batsford a great place to enjoy the winter Cotswold countryside.
Rather than one big display, Snowshill Manor has snowdrops woven through its two-acre plot with aconites and hellebores also in flower now.
One of the National Trust’s smallest gardens, it is opening for just two days in February ahead of the start of the 2016 season in March.
Snowshill Manor garden will be open for the National Gardens Scheme on Saturday and Sunday February 13 and 14 from 2-4pm. Admission is £3.50, children’s entry free.
The Old Rectory
Designer and writer Mary Keen has been developing The Old Rectory at Duntisbore Rous for the past 20 years. Snowdrops are one of her interests and she has a number of different varieties. They are used with aconites and cyclamen to give a colourful winter welcome to the garden and are also found under fruit trees and in the ‘Wild Garden’. There is also a sizeable display of hellebores.
The Old Rectory is open for the NGS on Monday February 22 from 12-4pm. Admission is £5, children’s entry free.
Wild flowers are the backbone of the mile-long woodland walk at Home Farm, starting with snowdrops and moving on later in the season to wild narcissi, wood anemones, orchids, bluebells and primroses.
Home Farm is open for the NGS on Sundays January 31 and February 14 from 11am-3pm. Admission is £3, children enter free.
This romantic secluded garden set in a valley in North Cerney has a fine snowdrop collection that has been built up over many years. Named varieties are found in the central walled garden and beds near the entrance while the snowdrop walk through surrounding woodland has mass displays of the common snowdrop mixed with aconites. The garden also has a large display of hellebores.
Cerney Gardens, North Cerney, are open daily from January 20 from 10am to 4pm. Admission is £5, children’s entry £1. Details: http://www.cerneygardens.com/
One of the Cotswolds’ many Arts and Crafts gardens, Rodmarton Manor has a notable collection of around 150 different varieties of snowdrops. Winter is also a good time to see the ‘bones’ of this garden from the pleached limes to the Cotswold stone walls that divide it into rooms.
Newark Park falls firmly into the mass display group of snowdrop gardens. Rather than named rarities, the emphasis is on the effect of thousands of bulbs in woodland and on lawns alongside the former hunting lodge.
Newark Park is open for snowdrops from 11am to 4pm from Saturday February 13 to Monday February 29 inclusive, closed on Tuesdays. Admission is £7.80, £3.90 for children, under-fives enter free. Details: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/newark-park
Designed for year-round interest, this private garden has naturalised snowdrops in the ‘Millennium Wood’ and through a grove of silver birch. Clipped hedges and topiary give strong structure to the garden, which is set high on the Cotswold escarpment.
Conservation work at Batsford Arboretum will be featured on BBC Countryfile this weekend.
Presenter Matt Baker visited the Cotswold arboretum near Moreton-in-Marsh to find out how a form of X-ray, known at Tomographing, can be used to detect decay in trees and decide whether they need to be felled.
Head Gardener Matthew Hall and a team from Oxford Brookes University tested an ailing 100-year-old purple beech. The tree was found to be beyond salvage and was cut down.
Matt Baker then helped plant a Serbian Spruce, which is under threat, as part of Batsford’s contribution to the International Conifer Conservation Project, based at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
Batsford is one of a number of sites throughout the UK that hosts rare and endangered species in a bid to safeguard them for the future. The first trees in the scheme to be planted at the arboretum were Chilean conifers and there have also been species from China, Japan and Vietnam.
• Batsford will feature on Countryfile on Sunday January 17 at 6.30pm on BBC1.
There’s no doubt that when it comes to grow your own, spuds have an image problem. Potatoes may be a staple of many diets but for the average vegetable gardener they are seen as space-greedy and suitable only for allotments. Why devote time and effort to something that’s cheap to buy and, frankly, a bit dull?
The answer, as with so many crops, lies in the taste. There’s nothing quite like newly dug potatoes and growing your own gives you the chance to try varieties ignored by the supermarkets. They can also be raised in containers, so even balcony gardeners needn’t miss out, while choosing one of the colourful varieties means you could be harvesting rainbow nuggets of gold.
The start of the potato growing season is one of the highlights of the year at Dundry Nurseries. The Cotswold business hosts an annual Potato Weekend that sees thousands of seed potatoes sold to customers who travel from all over the country for the event. As little as one tuber can be bought, making it the ideal way for beginners to start, or for old hands to try something new.
This year, the 19th event, there will be around 135 different varieties on offer with coloured spuds set to steal the show.
“We like to be a bit different,” says Steve Mercer, manager at the family-owned nursery. “As with everything we do, it’s a bit of fun.”
Unlike varieties such as ‘Red Duke of York’, it’s not just the skin that’s coloured on these spuds but the flesh as well. Some are Heritage varieties, others newer introductions.
‘Violetta’ and ‘Salad Blue’ are both a deep blue-purple, ‘Red Emmalie’ is a glorious pink-red, while ‘Highland Burgundy’ has almost all red flesh with just a narrow band of white under the red skin. ‘Shetland Black’ has dark blue skin and creamy flesh with a distinctive purple band.
When it comes to more mainstream varieties, ‘Charlotte’ is still the bestseller.
“It’s because everybody knows it and it always grows well. Why change a good thing?” says Steve.
There has been a trend though for growers to move over to ‘Annabelle’, which crops earlier than ‘Charlotte’ and with more uniform tubers. In the same way, ‘Mozart’, which Steve describes as “bombproof”, is gradually becoming the spud of choice among former ‘Desiree’ growers. Meanwhile, ‘Jazzy’, a popular waxy spud with great flavour, sold out on the first day at last year’s event.
“We’ve tripled the order this time,” says Steve.
Last year, around 1,800 people visited over the two days of the Potato Weekend with many more calling in during the run-up to be sure of getting a particular variety.
“Around eighty per cent still come back for the weekend to talk to fellow growers. It’s really a social gathering.”
• Dundry Nurseries, Bamfurlong Lane, Cheltenham, holds its Potato Weekend on Saturday and Sunday January 16 and 17 from 9am to 4.30pm. Tubers are 20p each; £1.75 a Kg; £4.50 3Kg. Nursery owner Chris Evans will give cookery demonstrations using coloured potatoes on the Saturday. Gloucestershire gardening groups will have stalls, there will be advice about growing potatoes, antique tools on display and a potato-themed play on the Sunday. Refreshments will be available. For more details, visit http://www.dundrynurseries.co.uk/default.asp
How to grow spuds
• Always use certified disease-free tubers.
• Tubers should be chitted to develop shoots before planting. Place, eyes uppermost, in a light, frost-free place, such as a conservatory or porch. Old egg boxes are an ideal container.
• Ground should not be freshly manured – prepare it in the autumn. Pelleted chicken manure is a popular fertiliser when planting.
• Plant around the end of March for first earlies; early to mid-April for second earlies and mid to late April for maincrop.
• First and second earlies are planted 1ft apart, 5ins deep with 2ft between rows. Main crop: 18ins apart, 5ins deep.
• As shoots start to grow, earth up by drawing earth around them to protect from frost and stop light turning the tubers green. Keep well-watered.
• Harvest first and second earlies from June, when the potatoes are egg-sized. Harvest main crop from September when the flowers go over.
• Allow potatoes to dry before storing in a dark, frost-free place in sacks. Do not store damaged tubers and check remainder regularly.
• A 35L bucket can be planted with three tubers. Keep well watered and either fill the bucket immediately or earth up as the tubers grow.
Painswick Rococo Garden opens its gates this week for the 2016 season with a bigger display and a new garden director.
Dominic Hamilton takes over from Paul Moir, who stepped down last week after 27 years running the historic garden.
“They are big shoes to fill,” admits Dominic. “My ambition is to continue the good work Paul and the team have done because it works.”
That task includes the slow process of restoring the eye-catching follies and fundraising for a new entrance building when the lease on the current one comes to an end in 2022. He is also keen to get local people more involved in the garden by tapping into the skills available in Painswick.
“It’s just a question of finding the right person and inspiring them to do things and this place has the capacity to do that.”
Dominic comes from another iconic Gloucestershire garden, Snowshill Manor, and says it’s the quirky nature of the Rococo that attracted him.
“It’s part of the appeal for me. It’s got to be interesting for me to want to do it. There’s nowhere quite like this place, which is why I like it.”
Although he was buildings manager at Snowshill, gardening is something he enjoys.
“I had an allotment until I had children,” he says. “I do love being outside gardening.”
While the Rococo is best known for its follies, such as the Exedra and Red House, when it comes to plants it’s snowdrops that steal the show.
The 10-acre garden is home to one of the biggest displays in the county with thousands of blooms turning the Rococo white during February. Most are the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, in both its single and double form, although there are some named varieties including G. Atkinsii, ‘Magnet’ and ‘James Backhouse’.
When the garden first started opening for the snowdrop season back in the 1980s, the display lasted for about a fortnight. Today it spans around six weeks, depending on the weather.
“It’s not because we are necessarily using different varieties,” explains head gardener Steve Quinton, “We just think about where we plant them in the garden. Changing the aspect and different soil alters the flowering time.”
This autumn, Steve and his team have been ensuring the display lasts long after the snowdrops fade with the continuation of a five-year plan to plant 10,000 bulbs in the nature walk. Funded by the Friends of the garden, they include crocus and narcissi. The bluebell show has also been improved with 6,000 more planted.
“We’ve put them in an area that has not been open to the public before. It’s at the top of the garden and has a nice view through of the Exedra and Kitchen Garden,” says Steve.
Hundreds of hellebores have also been added to sit alongside the already good show of cyclamen.
“We’re trying to make it a spring garden. It should look pretty.”
Painswick Rococo Garden opens at 11am on Sunday January 10. For admission prices and information on the expected flowering time of the snowdrop display, visit www.rococogarden.co.uk