The trouble is that our particular climate and the journeys of Victorian explorers mean that we can grow an extraordinarily wide range of things. A garden can become little more than a horticultural stamp collection. But even the most beautiful plant shines better in the right setting. If a garden can combine good plants with good design, visitors get the best of both worlds.
Michael and Caryl Baron have fine collections of daphnes and snowdrops, a greenhouse packed with floury-leaved primulas and a choice selection of the more difficult kinds of peony. So there is no doubting their credentials as plantsmen. But their garden, Brandy Mount House in Alresford, is well balanced in terms of its design, too.
A wide terrace in front of the house ends in a shallow raised bed packed with bulbs (sternbergias, hoop-petticoat daffodils) and some of Michael's more difficult miniature daphnes. A narrow, winding path leads between shrubs such as Rosa virginiana (brilliant red leaves in autumn) and the dogwood `Midwinter Fire' (buff stems flaring into foxy orange-red), with a dense underplanting of cyclamen, ferns, rare snowdrops, corydalis and hellebores
The lawn is thick with dwarf crocus, scillas and aconites, but with luck you will get safely round to the informal beds at the back of the garden. Here, under a fine stachyurus, are hellebores, cardamine, pulmonaria and more rare cyclamen, packed round with pine needles.
To the right of the house is an intensive area of glass. When Caryl Baron gave up her job, she felt she had to have something "to combat Michael's snowdrops" so she began collecting Primula allionii, a tiny plant from the maritime Alps, and P marginata which is not much bigger.
The next garden opening at Brandy Mount House, Alresford (01962 732189) is on Sunday 14 March (12pm-5pm) Admission pounds 1.50
Other gardens to visit:
Cliveden, Taplow, Maidenhead
Tel: 01494 522234
The head gardener, Philip Cotton, is leading a guided walk tomorrow at 11am. Admission pounds 4.80.
Great Barfield, Bradenham
Tel: 01494 563741
Richard Nutt's fine snowdrops, displayed among hellebores. Open tomorrow (2pm-5pm). Admission pounds 1.50.
Anglesey Abbey, Lode
Tel: 01223 811200
This 100-acre garden is home to 80 kinds of snowdrop. Open today and tomorrow (11am-4pm). Admission pounds 3.
Tel: 01208 73320
A Victorian granite mansion with a fine woodland garden. Early camellias, magnolias and carpets of snowdrops. Open daily during daylight hours. Admission pounds 3.10.
Killerton, Broadclyst, Exeter
Tel: 01392 881345
Snowdrops, early crocuses and fine species magnolias. Open daily in daylight. Winter admission pounds 1.
Little Cumbre, Pennsylvania Rd, Exeter (No phone calls, please)
Half an acre of mixed shrubs, with a newly acquired half acre of woodland. Open tomorrow (2pm-5pm). Admission pounds 2.
Yonder Hill, Colaton Raleigh
Tel: 01395 567541
Tranquil garden harmonising with a beautiful natural setting. Open Monday 22 Feb (10am-4pm). Admission pounds 1.
Cinderdine Cottage, Dymock,
near Newent Tel: 01531 890265
Unusual snowdrops, well displayed with hellebores, pulmonarias and other early spring plants. Open tomorrow (12pm-5pm). Admission pounds 1.
Little Court, Crawley
Tel: 01962 776365
Comfortable garden with bantams on the lawns. Flint walls, hellebores. Open tomorrow, Mon and Tues (2pm-5.30pm). Admission pounds 2.
The Vyne, Sherborne St John, Basingstoke Tel: 01256 881337
Naturalised snowdrops and early daffodils. Open today and tomorrow (11- 4). Admission pounds 2.50.
The Weir, Swains Hill, Hereford
Tel: 01345 125436
Steep garden beside the river Wye. Snowdrops, chionodoxas, violets, primroses. Open Wed-Sun (11am-6pm). Admission pounds 2.
Belton House, Grantham
Tel: 01476 566116
Snowdrops and daffodils are naturalised in the garden of this 17th-century house, TV star of Pride and Prejudice and Tom Jones. Open tomorrow (11am- 3pm) pounds 5 per car.
21 Chapel Street, Hacconby
Tel: 01778 570314
A plantsman's garden, full of troughs of rare alpines. Open today and tomorrow (11-4). Admission pounds 1
Castle Ward, Strangford, Co Down
Tel: 01396 881204
Fine trees, including wellingtonias and a multi-stemmed thuja. Open all year, dawn to dusk. Admission pounds 1.75 per car.
Ballynahinch, Co Down
Tel: 01238 510131
Monterey and Scots pine, redwoods, red cedar, Douglas fir, an unusual podocarpus. Mon-Fri (10.30am-5pm). Admission pounds 1.40.
Hodsock Priory, Blyth
Tel: 01909 591204
A one-way trail through Hodsock's famous snowdrops, ornamental dogwoods, winter-flowering honeysuckles, hellebores and Cyclamen coum. Open daily (10am-4pm). Admission pounds 2.50.
Moseley Old Hall,
Tel: 01902 782808
Catkin-hung nut walk in a17th-century garden. The knot garden is laid out in box. Open tomorrow (1.30pm-4pm). Admission 50p.
Polesden Lacey, nr Dorking
Tel: 01372 458203
Magnificent setting on the north downs, with the wilder parts of the garden covered in snowdrops and aconites. Open daily (11-dusk). Admission pounds 3.
9, Raymead Close, Fetcham
Tel: 01372 373728
Compact plantsman's garden. Good berries and winter bark. Open Sun 28 Feb (1pm-4pm). Admission pounds 1.50.
Chirk Castle, Chirk, Wrexham
Tel: 01691 777701
A medieval Marcher fortress, sheltered by great oaks. Fine yew topiary and snowdrops . Open today and tomorrow (12pm-4pm). Admission pounds 1.
Penrhyn Castle, Bangor, Gwynedd
Tel: 01248 353084
Queen Victoria visited this gigantic castle and planted a wellingtonia, which still survives. Open tomorrow (12pm-4pm). Admission pounds 1.
Lacock Abbey, Lacock,
near Chippenham Tel: 01249 730459
Romantic Victorian woodland garden carpeted with snowdrops, aconites, anemones and crocus. Open today and tomorrow (12-5). Admission pounds 2.
Stourhead, Stourton, Warminster
Tel: 01747 841152
Britain's most famous 18th-century landscaped garden: beech woods, temples and statues laid bare. Open daily (9am-dusk). Admission pounds 3.40 (pounds 4.50 after 1 March).
Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, Ripon Tel: 01765 608888
Ornamental lakes, temples and cascades in an idealised landscape around a 12th-century Cistercian abbey. Open daily (10am-5pm) Admission pounds 4.30.Reuse content