Discovering snowdrops at Colesbourne Park

Take on an established garden in the summer and you would expect to see most of what it has to offer. There may be the odd winter-flowering shrub, or some spring bulbs to discover but the rest of the year is unlikely to hold many big surprises. Colesbourne Park is different as new head gardener Arthur Cole is finding out.

When he arrived last year, the Cotswold garden’s snowdrops were hiding underground. Now, with the snowdrop season well underway, he’s beginning to see what makes this garden special.

Colesbourne
‘Fiona’s Gold’ is one of the yellow snowdrops at Colesbourne

“Seeing things coming up now is so exciting,” he says.

Already there are big drifts of ‘S Arnott’, ‘Ophelia’ and ‘John Gray’ spread out under the trees and this year, there’s the added bonus of ‘Colossus’, which is flowering weeks later than normal.

colesbourne
‘John Gray’ is out in the garden

“I was told ‘Colossus’ came up at Christmas and was finished by the end of January. This year they were only just poking their noses up around Christmas. Now they are looking amazing.”

Meanwhile, more unusual varieties, such as the yellow ‘Carolyn Elwes’, are flowering in raised beds near the house and in the Spring Garden, where snowdrops are grown with a mix of shrubs and perennials in a woodland setting.

colesbourne
The Spring Garden has a mix of early blooms

Arthur, who trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, arrived as the long job of lifting and dividing the snowdrops was underway at Colesbourne.

The garden, which has more than 300 different varieties, is known for its mass displays through woodland and alongside the unusual blue lake; the colour is thought to be due to suspended clay particles in the water.

colesbourne
The blue lake is a notable feature

Every year, Colesbourne’s owners Sir Henry Elwes, his wife, Carolyn, and the garden team, lift, divide and extend the display.

“All that was here was the grass, markers and gaps marked on pieces of paper,” recalls Arthur.

colesbourne
Viburnum flowers add a dash of pink to the display

What guides the work is the knowledge built up over decades of not only Sir Henry and Lady Elwes, who started expanding the collection in the 60s, but also gardener Will Fletcher who has worked at Colesbourne for many years.

“Having that experience is invaluable.”

Arthur says lifting the clumps was like “digging for gold” – an apt description as some of the snowdrops are sold to help fund the garden.

colesbourne
‘Ding Dong’

One third of each clump is replaced with the rest either potted up for sale, or replanted to extend the display.

And making the show even bigger is one of his main objectives.

“What I’m aiming to do is expand the snowdrops right along the lake,” says Arthur. “I want different varieties that are diverse enough to show the differences clearly.”

colesbourne
Cyclamen are an important part of the show

Already, there’s been some replanting on the raised path while on the lake’s banks, where the ground is too heavy for snowdrops, more trees have been put in, including Pinus orientalis and a Californian nutmeg, grown from seed.

Other changes since I last visited include moving a boundary fence to bring ‘George’s Garden’ further into the main garden. Now, you can walk around both sides of the border of shrubs and trees while the arboretum is being extended with more trees and snowdrops up to the new boundary.

The trees, many of them planted by Sir Henry’s great-grandfather the Victorian plant hunter Henry John Elwes, make a stunning setting for the snowdrops, which are mixed with cyclamen and aconites.

colesbourne
Snowdrops are spread throughout the arboretum

And it’s what Arthur refers to as the “macro and micro” interest of Colesbourne that makes it different.

“You’ve got champion trees, the ‘blue lagoon’, and then the snowdrops all in a concentrated package.”

Colesbourne Park, between Cheltenham and Cirencester, is open every Saturday and Sunday until March 5 2017. Gates open at 1pm and last entry is at 4.30pm. Entry is £8 for adults, children under 16 enter free.

A snowdrop study day will be held on February 15 with snowdrop experts John Grimshaw and Judge Ernest Cavallo. Numbers are limited and tickets must be pre-booked. See the website for more details.

For more Cotswold snowdrop gardens open in 2017 see here

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Cotswold Snowdrop Gardens 2017

Snowdrop gardens are universally popular when it comes to garden visiting. From the passionate collectors – galanthophiles – to people who don’t garden themselves, everyone welcomes the chance to shake off the winter blues and get outside.

In the Cotswolds, there are several notable snowdrop gardens and many more with smaller displays.

Some of these are opening as part of the National Gardens Scheme Snowdrop Festival. More than 80 of the scheme’s members across the country will open during February to show off their snowdrop collections or spring displays of snowdrops, hellebores and other early flowers.

snowdrop gardens
Snowdrops are a welcome sign of spring approaching

Launched last year as an addition to the regular charity openings, the festival proved very popular.

“During our first Snowdrop Festival in 2016 many of our garden owners were overwhelmed by the number of visitors that attended their openings,” says NGS chief executive George Plumptre.

So, whether you’re an enthusiast wanting to see unusual varieties or someone who loves the spectacle of a mass planting, there are many snowdrop gardens you can visit. Here’s what happening in the Cotswolds this year.

With all the gardens, it is advisable to check they are still open in the event of severe weather.

Colesbourne Park

One of the best-known specialist displays is at Colesbourne Park, which has around 300 different varieties, one of the largest collections in the country.

snowdrop gardens
Colesbourne Park has a large collection of snowdrops

Once the home of Victorian plant hunter Henry John Elwes, who introduced Galanthus elwesii, it has unusual varieties around the house and mass plantings through woodland and beside the unusual blue lake.

The garden, between Cheltenham and Cirencester, is open every Saturday and Sunday from Saturday February 4 until Sunday March 5. Gates open at 1pm with the last entry at 4.30pm. Admission is £8, children under 16 enter free.

Rodmarton Manor

Rodmarton Manor is another of the snowdrop gardens that appeals to collectors, with around 150 different varieties, including many that are rare.

Although the display begins in October, it is at its peak during January and February.

snowdrop gardens
Rodmarton Manor has many named varieties

The garden, between Cirencester and Tetbury, also has many crocus, hellebores, cyclamen and aconites.

It is open on February 5, 12, 16, and 19 from 1.30pm with group bookings possible on other days.

Cotswold Farm Gardens

The snowdrop collection at this Arts and Crafts garden at Duntisbourne Abbots was started in the 1930s and has been developed since then by generations of the Birchall family.

snowdrop gardens
Snowdrops are found all over Cotswold Farm

Today, it numbers 62 different varieties, including ‘Cotswold Farm’. There are labelled clumps in the main flower borders and areas of naturalised snowdrops through woodland.

There is a ‘Winter Step Garden’ with a focus on scent and texture and the garden also has many hellebores, aconites, cyclamen and crocus.

It is open on Saturday and Sunday February 11 and 12 from 11-3pm in aid of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. Entry is £5.

Cotswold Farm Gardens are also open on Mondays February 13, 20 and 27, from 11-3pm with entrance £5.

Cerney House Gardens

Cerney House is another private garden with a mix of named varieties of snowdrops and a naturalised display of the common snowdrop.

snowdrop gardens
Cerney House has an informal snowdrop display around the main garden

Special snowdrops are found around the house with more informal plantings in woodland around the central walled garden.

Aconites, cyclamen and borders full of hellebores add to the show in this garden at North Cerney between Cheltenham and Cirencester.

Cerney House Gardens are open daily from 10-5pm until the end of November. Admission is £5 for adults and £1 for children.

Painswick Rococo Garden

When it comes to a mass display, Painswick Rococo is one of the best snowdrop gardens.

Thousands of mainly Galanthus nivalis, the common snowdrop, put on a spectacular display through woodland with more naturalised in grass and teamed with other spring flowers in the borders.

snowdrop gardens
Winter sun on the Eagle House at Painswick Rococo Garden

There are some named varieties but it is sheer scale that makes this garden stand out.

Winter is also a great time to see the appreciate the structure of this idiosyncratic valley garden with its striking folly buildings.

Painswick Rococo Garden is open daily until October 31 from 10.30-5pm with a snowdrop talk every day at noon during February. Admission is £7.20 adults, children five to 16 £3.30 and the website includes updates on the snowdrops.

Batsford Arboretum

Batsford may be best known for its trees with beautiful spring blossom and stunning autumn colour but it also has many drifts of snowdrops.

snowdrop gardens
Hellebores are another late winter highlight at Batsford Arboretum

Set alongside the privately owned Batsford Park, once the home of the Mitford sisters, the arboretum has a garden-like atmosphere with trees grouped for effect rather than by genus.

Snowdrops, hellebores, cyclamen and aconites make it a great place to visit in the winter with long views over the Cotswold countryside.

Batsford, near Moreton-in-Marsh, is open daily from 9-5pm and 10-5pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays. Admission is £7.95 adults, children aged four to 15 £3.50 (prices include voluntary 10% donation to the arboretum’s conservation work).

Newark Park

Newark Park is one of the snowdrop gardens where the appeal is the size of the display rather than the rarity of the flowers.

snowdrop gardens
Snowdrops are naturalised around the old hunting lodge at Newark Park

The snowdrops are naturalised around the old hunting lodge and through woodland on the estate. There are also long-reaching views thanks to the sloping site.

The National Trust property at Ozleworth is opening for a special snowdrop weekend on February 4 and 5 from 11am-4pm. Admission is £9 adults and £4.50 for children.

The NGS Snowdrop Festival

Four Gloucestershire gardens are opening for the National Gardens Scheme’s Snowdrop Festival.

Home Farm, Huntley, has lovely views and spring flowers along a one-mile walk through woodland and fields. It is open for the Snowdrop Festival on Sunday February 12 from 11-3pm. Admission is £3, free for children.

Lindors Country House, near Lydney, covers nine acres with woodland, streams and formal gardens. It is open for the festival on Saturday and Sunday February 25 and 26. Admission is £3.50, children enter free.

snowdrop gardens
The NGS is holding its second Snowdrop Festival

The Old Rectory at Avening has naturalised snowdrops, woodland and an Italianate terrace. It’s snowdrop opening is on Sunday February 19 from 11.30-4pm. Admission is £3.50, children’s entry free.

Trench Hill at Sheepscombe is well known for its spring display of snowdrops, aconites, hellebores and crocus. It has a woodland walk and good views over the Cotswold countryside. It’s open for the festival on Sundays February 12 and 19 from 11-5pm. Admission is 4, children enter free.

For more details on the Snowdrop Festival and for the gardens’ other opening dates, visit the NGS website.

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Mad about the snowdrop

Snowdrop expert John Grimshaw is returning to the Cotswolds to talk about these winter favourites at Allomorphic in Stroud.
I caught up with him to chat about his favourite varieties
and snowdrop mania.

With hundreds of new varieties being named each year, the snowdrop world is, says John Grimshaw, a “bit out of control” and he feels at least in part responsible.

He was one of the authors of the definitive work on the winter beauties, a monograph that for the first time looked in detail at each variety, comparing their differences and deciding which was which; some snowdrops had more than one name.

Yet the 2002 book had another unintended consequence as it brought the snowdrop to a wider audience, fuelling what has become an obsession with many.

snowdrop
John Grimshaw

“The book suddenly made it possible to learn. It was a big catalyst and I do feel partly responsible, I’m afraid.” says John, who until 2012 was Gardens Manager at Colesbourne Park, which has one of the country’s major snowdrop collections.

Interested in the snowdrop since childhood, his enthusiasm was really fired up as a student in Oxford when he met well-known galanthophiles (snowdrop enthusiasts) Primrose Warburg and Richard Nutt through the local Alpine Garden Society.

But the snowdrop world was, he says, very different in the 80s and 90s.

“A relatively small group of people were interested in snowdrops before the book came out and it was more manageable. You knew everybody and people shared material rather more freely and generously than they do now.”

In fact, the monograph detailed only 500 varieties, a far cry from the multitude that have been named since it came out.

snowdrop
‘Primrose Warbury’ is a vigorous yellow.

“Nowadays several hundred are named each year. It’s just a bit impossible to cope with.”

And snowdrops can be big business with a record £1,390 paid for a bulb of ‘Golden Fleece’ in 2015, though John is quick to stress that the average snowdrop sells for sensible prices.

Top five snowdrops

So, with hundreds of snowdrop varieties on offer, where should someone new to the galanthophile world start?

snowdrop
‘Three Ships’ is a reliably early variety

Top of John’s list is ‘Three Ships’, a pretty variety and one that flowers early, usually before Christmas.

“It is probably the most reliable pre-Christmas flowering snowdrop.”

snowdrop
‘Comet’ is a robust snowdrop

‘Comet’ is another recommendation and one that he describes as “very large, handsome and robust”.

Another favourite is ‘Diggory’, which has beautiful, big round flowers.

“It’s so distinctive, it stands out a mile away.”

snowdrop
‘Diggory’ is very distinctive

When it comes to yellow snowdrops, he suggests ‘Primrose Warburg’ because it’s robust and vigorous, unlike many of the yellow varieties.

And no collection would be complete without ‘S Arnott’.

“It has vigour, charm, beauty and scent.”

snowdrop
‘S Arnott’ has a lovely scent

Since 2012 John has been running the 128-acre Yorkshire Arboretum where he confesses he has introduced some snowdrops, although not on a grand scale.

“Much of the arboretum is very sticky wet clay which is very unsuited to them so the planting areas are quite limited but we’ve made a start.”

He also still has quite a collection of his own with around 350 different varieties in his private garden.

allomorphic
Allomorphic is hosting a series of gardening lectures

And he urges gardeners to ignore the hype surrounding the snowdrop and add them to their gardens.

“They’re charming winter flowers. You can’t not like a snowdrop.”

John Grimshaw will the guest speaker at an Allomorphic lunch on Wednesday February 15 when he will take a light-hearted look at snowdrops. Details here.

 John is one of two guest speakers at the Colesbourne Park snowdrop study day in February.

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Celebrate autumn

Two of the Cotswolds’ popular gardens offer the chance to celebrate autumn this weekend with their last big events of the 2016 season.

Colesbourne Park and Painswick Rococo Garden are both better known for their snowdrop displays but each has plenty to offer at this time of year as well.

At Colesbourne there’s a rare chance to see the arboretum and enjoy the autumn colour spectacle on Friday and Saturday, while from Friday to Sunday, the Rococo Garden will be showing off its home-grown produce and explaining how to get the most out of the harvest.

celebrate autumn
Squash are among the homegrown crops at Rococo

Among the trees

Colesbourne’s arboretum was started by Victorian plant-hunter Henry John Elwes and has been added to by his great-grandson Sir Henry Elwes.

It now numbers around 300 trees, with six registered as the largest of their variety in the UK and some 120 years old.

“This is very much a plantsman’s collection of trees from around the world,” said Sir Henry. “The arboretum was started by and is still managed by the Elwes family.”

celebrate autumn
Colesbourne’s unusual blue lake

The rest of the 10-acre garden will also be open with woodland walks and views across the lake, which is believed to get its unusual blue colour from lime.

Learn about apples

At the Rococo Garden, apples and pumpkins are just some of the produce on show as the historic garden encourages visitors to celebrate autumn.

On National Apple Day this Friday, there is a children’s Apple Activity Day with the chance to learn how to cook with apples, bug-hunting and apple games.

The apple theme continues on Saturday and Sunday with talks by Martin Hayes on orchards and how to prune trees. The Gloucestershire Orchard Trust is supplying information about traditional local varieties and there will be demonstrations of rural skills, apple-pressing and wreath-making.

celebrate autumn
Learn more about apples at Painswick Rococo Garden

And if you’ve got a mystery apple tree in your garden, you can take in the fruit for identification by Martin on Sunday.

“It’s an opportunity to find out what to do with autumn produce and the last chance to see the garden before we close for the year,” says garden director Dominic Hamilton.

Painswick Rococo Garden’s Apple Activity Day for children is on Friday October 21 from 10.15-3pm and costs £7.50. Book online at The Rococo Garden or call 01452 813204.

The Autumn Festival is on Saturday and Sunday, October 22 and 23, from 10.30am to 3pm. The 2016 season ends on October 31. For more details, visit The Rococo Garden

Colesbourne Park is open on Friday and Saturday, October 21 and 22, from 12.45pm with optional guided tours led by Sir Henry and head gardener Arthur Cole. Admission is £5, to include a cup of tea. For more information, see Colesbourne Park

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Colesbourne Park is blooming

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.

colesbourne
Hellebores are in full bloom

“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.

colesbourne
Cornus mas stands out against the blue lake

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.

colesbourne
Cherry blossom is already out

“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’.

Galanthus 'Ophelia'
Galanthus ‘Ophelia’

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.

Galanthus 'Gerard Parker'
Galanthus ‘Gerard Parker’

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.”

Galanthus 'Rosemary Burnham'
Galanthus ‘Rosemary Burnham’

‘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.

colesbourne
Cyclamen are used throughout the garden

“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.

More details: http://www.colesbournegardens.org.uk/home.html

colesbourne
Snowdrops and aconites spread through the woodland

Coberley pupils get planting

Youngsters at a Cotswold school are looking forward to their own snowdrop display thanks to Colesbourne Park’s head gardener.

Chris Horsfall visited Coberley Church of England Primary School last autumn to help pupils plant around 100 snowdrops.

Chris Horsfall
Chris Horsfall

The bulbs were donated by Sir Henry and Lady Elwes, owners of Colesbourne, one of the county’s best known snowdrop gardens.

“We talked about what a bulb is and how to plant them,” said Chris.

The ‘James Backhouse’ variety of snowdrops were planted in the school’s wildlife garden.

“I could not think of a better way to spend an hour than I did with these youngsters,” said Chris. “It was fantastic.”

Please, Santa, can I have . . .

Unlike some of my nearest and dearest, gardening friends and family are easy when it comes to buying presents. Newcomers to the joys of growing can be given starter kits of forks, trowels and fool-proof seeds while there are unusual plants and top quality tools for seasoned campaigners. And everyone loves a book.

But what of the professionals for whom gardening is not a hobby but a way of life? I’ve been talking to the head gardeners at some of the Cotswolds’ best known plots and asking them to share their letters to Santa.

At Barnsley House, home of the late Rosemary Verey, head gardener Richard Gatenby is hoping for new tools, but not just any old fork and spade. He has his eye on some traditionally made items from Holland.

“Dutch tools do it for me,” he explains. “I’d love the DeWit planting spade. It has a beautiful curve to the shaft and not too big a blade. But I’d need boot protectors!”

Richard Gatenby
Richard Gatenby at Barnsley House

Richard, who worked with Mrs Verey on the world famous garden, is also hoping for a Great Dixter Tickling Fork. Designed by another horticultural giant, the late Christopher Lloyd, and made by Sneeboer, it is ideal for working the soil in tightly planted beds.

“I like the sound of it and again it just looks perfect.”

At Batsford Arboretum, head gardener Matthew Hall is in charge of 56 acres of woodland and garden that include the National Collection of Japanese flowering cherries. The wide-ranging arboretum has around 1,300 different trees, shrubs and bamboo, and more than 2,850 labelled specimens.

Matthew Hall
Matthew Hall wants help keeping track of the trees

Unsurprisingly, top of his Christmas list is something to make keeping a track of everything a little easier.

“If someone was to hand me a GPS system to map the arboretum and catalogue the plant collection, I would be very happy!” he says.

Sezincote
The Indian Garden at Sezincote

It’s not trees but vegetables that are on Greg Power’s mind this Christmas with a wish list that encompasses something that’s practical and beautiful.

Greg Power
Greg Power

Greg, who took over as head gardener at Sezincote earlier this year is hoping to see some forcing pots under the tree.

“I’d like some that are a modern design and some old 19th century ones,” he says. “I want them for my sea kale.”

One of the Cotswolds’ newest head gardeners is Vicky Cody, who took over as Gardener in Charge at Snowshill Manor in April. She’s hoping for an old-fashioned scythe to use in Snowshill’s orchard, a quieter alternative to a flail mower and strimmer.

Snowshill Manor
Snowshill Manor

“I also think it’s good to keep old techniques and practices alive,” says Vicky, “and it’s much more in the spirit of Snowshill and would be kinder to the environment to boot.

“If Poldark happened to come along with the scythe – even better!” she adds.

Vicky Cody
Vicky and Cookie, who is looking for a coat

And after a wet autumn, she has also looking for a fleecy, lined, waterproof jacket for her spaniel, Cookie.

Meanwhile, Vicky’s former boss Glyn Jones at Hidcote Manor Garden is after beauty and creature comforts.

Top of his list are some mohair socks, such as those sold by former TV presenter Selina Scott.

Glyn Jones
Glyn is hoping for a ready to flower wisteria

“I already have one pair and they are so toasty,” explains Glyn, who is Garden and Countryside Manager at Hidcote. “Having spent many years with cold feet these are simply fantastic.”

Plants are also welcome, particularly a dark blue wisteria – “Grafted as I don’t want to wait ten-plus years to see its first flower” – and a pink clematis, such as C. x vedrariensis ‘Hidcote’, to climb through it.

“It’s a classic pink and blue combination and would screen a fence in my back garden at home.

“So, something to warm the heart and something to warm the toes!” adds Glyn.

At Colesbourne Park, home of Sir Henry and Lady Elwes, head gardener Chris Horsfall has his eye on a set of grading riddles for sorting seed.

Chris Horsfall
Chris Horsfall selling snowdrops at Colesbourne Park

“It’s loads of fun and pretty important when planting a garden,” he explains, “but seeds vary so much that one riddle simply won’t do.”

A new Silky Fox pruning saw is another request: “They’re one of the best saws, so convenient and sharp. They are as necessary as your secateurs when you’re out and about in the garden.”

Finally, he wants something to combat the cold in this garden famous for its snowdrops: “Above all, I would love a wood-burning stove for the potting shed. It’s a long winter and autumn, and spring can be challenging too. A wood-burner turns a damp shed into salvation. Yes please, Santa!”

Learn from the experts

One of the best ways of learning is to consult an expert and there are plenty of opportunities for gardeners in the Cotswolds.

February sees the snowdrop season get underway and the return of the popular Colesbourne Park study day.

This year, head gardener Chris Horsfall will be giving his first lecture, entitled ‘Never Waste a Bulb’. In it he will outline a typical year at Colesbourne (pictured above) and how he manages the garden.

In addition, ‘More Special Snowdrops’ by galanthophile Jim Almond will feature some unusual varieties and will give tips on everything from twin scaling to photography.

Numbers for the study day on February 11 are limited to 35 and places cost £35 per person to include lunch, refreshments and a private tour of the Colesbourne collection.

Award-winning designer Chris Beardshaw, designer and writer Mary Keen, vegetable grower and writer Lia Leendertz and bulb expert Christine Skelmersdale are among those taking part in The Generous Gardener lecture days.

the coach house
The Coach House is the setting for the Generous Gardener lectures

The talks, held in Ampney Crucis near Cirencester, cover topics ranging from growing flowers for cutting, good design and planting, and the gardens at Sissinghurst.

Two speakers, lunch and refreshments are included in the £90 cost of the lecture days, which run from 10.30am to 4pm; the first is on March 31.

Colesbourne Park: http://www.colesbournegardens.org.uk/

 The Generous Gardener: http://thegenerousgardener.co.uk/