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.

‘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.

‘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.

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.

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.

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.

‘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.”

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.

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.

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.

‘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?

‘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.”

‘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.”

‘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.”

‘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 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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Christmas gardening jobs

December is a quiet time in the garden caught between the clear-up of autumn and the busy seed-sowing of spring.

Yet there are still some things that need to be done and what better way to escape the festive frenzy than to ‘disappear’ outside for a while.

Here are some gardening jobs that will while away a few hours over the Christmas break.

Look sharp

Now’s a good time to overhaul your gardening tools – and the potting shed. Make sure trowels, forks, spades and secateurs are cleaned of last season’s grime, blades are sharpened and wooden handles treated with linseed oil for protection.

gardening jobs
Now’s the time to get tools ready

It’s worth putting up some hooks or shelves for storage; there’s nothing worse than wasting time hunting for something.

Check you’ve got enough twine, labels and other gardening bits and pieces now rather than waiting until you need them in the spring.

Plan ahead

If you’re anything like me, you have boxes stuffed with seed packets. Some empty, some half-full. Sorting it out is one of those gardening jobs that pays dividends. Go through and check the sow-by dates; quite a lot will keep but some things – notoriously parsnip, sweetcorn and lettuce – rarely germinate well a second year.

gardening jobs
Get your seeds sorted

Be ruthless. It’s so easy to hang on to something you are never likely to grow (often a ‘free gift’ from a gardening mag). If the seed is still good, why not donate it to a local school, swap it at a garden club or allotment group, or see if there is a Seedy Saturday event near you?

Make a list of what you want to grow and what you need to buy – make sure you include something new. Experimenting is one of the joys of gardening.

Don’t be caught out

British winters are notoriously hard to predict. One year we could be inches deep in snow, the next basking in balmy temperatures. Either way, don’t get caught out.

In the midst of Christmas, it’s easy to neglect those ‘out of sight, out of mind’ plants but it pays to keep a close eye on things in greenhouses and cold frames.

gardening jobs
Keep an eye on things that are seeing out the winter under cover

Make sure heaters are working and that lagging is sufficient. Check that overwintering plants don’t need watering; the recent warm spell has seen things in my greenhouse near wilting. Remove any dying leaves to prevent the spread of disease.

On warmer days, open up the cold frame or greenhouse door for a while to allow air to circulate.

Don’t forget to check for other residents: snails love the shelter of greenhouses and it’s a good idea to regularly check staging and corners.

Look out for pots

If you’ve got pots of bulbs tucked away waiting for their moment of glory in spring, make sure they are in top condition. Lag them with bubble wrap, or move into a more sheltered spot if temperatures drop. Standing them on ‘feet’ will ensure good drainage and help them shrug off winter wet and frost.

gardening jobs
Pots of bulbs are already showing signs of life

I grow mine – including tulips, Iris reticulata and hyacinths, in a corner of the garden and move them into the ‘spotlight’ just as they start to flower. Some are already starting to appear through the soil and will need regular checks to make sure I don’t miss the right moment to show them off.

Help your friends

Keep putting out food for the birds and they will repay you by helping to clear up pests later in the year.

gardening jobs
Old sunflower heads have been feeding the birds

Make sure there is fresh water and disinfect bird tables every so often to help prevent disease.

Bring the outdoors in

If you have one of the wonderfully scented winter shrubs, why not cut a small piece to bring indoors? The winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima), mahonia and winter box will all scent a room.

gardening jobs
Winter honeysuckle has a wonderful lemon fragrance

Alternatively, if you haven’t planted early hyacinths or ‘Paperwhite’ narcissi, pick up a pot from a local nursery or garden centre and make a note to plant some yourself next autumn. They are the best antidote to the January blues and help to solve that suddenly bare look when the Christmas decorations come down.

Take time out

One of the hardest things for a gardener to do is to stop and appreciate what they have. It is so easy to see what needs doing – weeding, pruning, digging – rather than what you have achieved.

gardening jobs
Fat hellebore buds are full of promise

So as well as the gardening jobs, take the time to walk around your garden and see what’s already on the move. Snowdrops, hellebores and crocus are just some of the things that are starting to appear in my garden. 2017 is already full of promise.

gardening jobs
It won’t be long before the snowdrops are in bloom

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Snowdrops add sparkle to Cotswold Farm

Snowdrops’ obliging nature makes them ideal for most gardens. Happy to naturalise through grass or under trees, they can also be tucked under shrubs or hedges to add sparkle to the winter scene. At Cotswold Farm this versatility has been exploited to the full and come February every nook and cranny is tinged white.

The collection was begun in the 1930s when the house was enlarged in the Arts and Crafts style by Sir John and Lady Birchall. The sloping site was divided into ‘garden rooms’ with a terrace designed by Norman Jewson and long vistas out into the Cotswold countryside; the garden is 700ft above sea level and the ‘borrowed views’ are an important element.

Galanthus 'Hill Poe'
Galanthus ‘Hill Poe’

Snowdrops permeate every corner of the garden, now owned by Iona Birchall. The beech wood is gradually being colonised by drifts of the scented ‘S. Arnott’ and the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis; varieties including ‘Ransom’s Dwarf’ and ‘Anglesey Abbey’ are conveniently placed at eye-level in the rock border; even the Bog Garden has clumps of white.

Most of the ‘special’ snowdrops are found in the shrub borders and the range is wide from the rounded blooms of ‘Hill Poe’ and the double ‘Hippolyta’ to the dark green leaved ‘Woronowii’ and the yellow ‘Wendy’s Gold’.

Cotswold Farm
Galanthus ‘Hippolyta’

Some have connections to the garden: ‘Mary Biddolph’ is named for the woman behind another great Gloucestershire garden, Rodmarton Manor, who was originally a Birchall.

“She is flourishing here and doing very well indeed,” says Iona of the snowdrop that she refers to as ‘Aunt Mary’.

Galanthus 'Mary Biddulph'
Galanthus ‘Mary Biddulph’ is flourishing

Then there’s ‘Ruth Birchall’, called after one of the many women who have shaped the Cotswold Farm garden, ‘Daglingworth’, a tall, statuesque snowdrop, which was discovered in that Cotswold village by Ruth, and ‘Cotswold Farm’ itself.

Another tall variety, ‘Benhall Beauty’, is slowly spreading through the island beds on the terrace, part of a deliberate plan to enhance what is predominantly a summer display that includes lavender, penstemon and roses.

It’s not just snowdrops that are brightening the garden. On the cold winter day I visited, Cornus mas was in full flower, a yellow cloud above leafless shrubs, burnished red bark on a Prunus tibetica was set against the white and gold of snowdrops and aconites, and the Step Garden was glowing with red and orange-stemmed dogwoods.

Cornus mas
Cornus mas adds colour to the shrub borders

There are hellebores throughout: simple singles, frilly doubles, cool cream, pale pink and sultry purple. The paper-like blooms of Iris unguicularis nestle in beds of strappy foliage and the scent of daphne, sarcococca and winter honeysuckle are carried on the cool air.

Hellebores are a big part of the display

The stripped back season also exposes the fine bones of this garden from hard landscaping, including old Cotswold stone walls and a gazebo in the Step Garden, to the living structures of clipped box and gnarled trees.

Cotswold Farm
Norman Jewson designed the main terrace

February belongs to the snowdrops though and their ability to lift the spirits in the depths of winter is eagerly awaited.

“They’ve been twinkling in the dark evenings and dark mornings,” says Iona. “It’s always special.”

Cotswold Farm at Duntisbourne Abbots, Cirencester, is open from 11am to 3pm on Saturday and Sunday February 6 and 7 in aid of Cobalt. It is also open on Mondays February 8, 15, 22 and 29. Admission is from 11-3pm and costs £5, children under 16 enter free.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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:

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.”

Cotswold snowdrop gardens 2016

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.

Cotswold Farm

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.

Galanthus nivalis 'Wendy's Gold'
Cotswold Farm’s collection includes ‘Wendy’s Gold’

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:

Featured at:

Painswick Rococo Garden

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.

The garden is open daily from 10.30-5pm. Details:

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Colesbourne Park

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
Colesbourne Park has one of the best specialist collections

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:

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Trench Hill

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.

Batsford Arboretum

Batsford Arboretum
Snowdrops are a winter feature at Batsford Arboretum

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.


Snowshill Manor & Garden

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
Snowdrops, hellebores and cyclamen at The Old Rectory

The Old Rectory is open for the NGS on Monday February 22 from 12-4pm. Admission is £5, children’s entry free.

Home Farm

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.

Cerney Gardens

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
Cerney Gardens has a snowdrop walk

Cerney Gardens, North Cerney, are open daily from January 20 from 10am to 4pm. Admission is £5, children’s entry £1. Details:

Rodmarton Manor

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.

Rodmarton Manor is open on February 7, 14, 18, and 21 from 1.30pm. Garden only entry is £5, £1 for children aged 5-15. Details:

Newark Park

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
Newark Park concentrates on a mass display

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:


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.

Camers, Old Sodbury, South Gloucestershire, is open from February 1 for parties of 20 or more. Details:

Snowdrops are used under silver birch at Camers

Details of the National Gardens Scheme Snowdrop Festival:

Rococo opens a new era

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.”

Dominic Hamilton
Dominic Hamilton looking forward to the challenge

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.

Huge drifts of snowdrops are a winter highlight in February

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