With much of Britain still feeling the full force of one of the most severe winters in living memory, and with more snow forecast, summer might seem a long way away.
But like the first snowdrops, the appearance of the annual Yellow Book – the guide to gardens open for charity under the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) – is a sign that spring is on the way, and the 2010 edition is published this week.
More than 200 gardens open between January and March, with many of the snowdrop gardens, such as East Lambrook Manor in Somerset, created by plantswoman Margery Fish and restored over the past decade, and Brandy Mount House in Hampshire, opening this weekend.
Indeed, at least one Yellow Book garden is open in England and Wales from January until the end of October. As daffodils, tulips and bluebells give way to roses, which in their turn are succeeded by autumn foliage displays, there will be a garden showcasing that particular season or flower.
Among the 3,700 entries, grow-your-own enthusiasts will find a huge selection of kitchen gardens, herb gardens and allotments. There are gardens with lakes, gardens with chickens (even in the wilds of East Dulwich in south-east London), grand gardens, tiny gardens and even one garden – Twin Tarns in Cambridgeshire, new to this edition – with its own microbrewery and a cider house (they promise tastings, too). Some gardens are open to the public regularly. Others are private, and open only once a year. Some have had famous owners, such as Ocklynge Manor in Sussex, former home of the children's illustrator Mabel Lucie Attwell.
Other owners may be less famous, but have contributed valuable scientific research instead. The garden of Victorian entomologist Eleanor Ormerod, at Sedbury Park in Gwent, is open for the first time under the scheme.
Joe Swift, the BBC Gardeners' World presenter, is the new president of the NGS and says the scope of the Yellow Book is astonishing. "The sheer variety of the gardens and the hard work of the garden owners never ceases to amaze me," he said. "I remember one garden in London where I could literally stand in the middle and touch the walls, a garden packed full of plants and inspiration for anyone."
The real point of all this horticultural display is to raise money for charity. The NGS has a tradition of fundraising for nursing and care charities, and its beneficiaries include Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care and Help the Hospices.
Last year the proceeds from entry fees, homemade teas and plant sales raised £2.5m for charity, an increase of 45 per cent on the previous year.
The Yellow Book 2010 costs £8.99 from all good bookshops and garden centres, or from www.ngs.org.uk