Anna Pavord: 'February is the month to catch snowdrops in all their glory'

Our gardening correspondent reveals the best snowdrop spectaculars this month, from Hodsock Priory to Chippenham Park...

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The Independent Online

The first snowdrops (a handsome variety called Galanthus 'Atkinsii') were flowering in our garden before New Year. There are two spreads of them. Both are planted against the same south-facing boundary hedge and both started with bulbs from a single clump that I brought with us from our old garden. But one spread is higher up the bank and comes out three weeks earlier than the other, which is no more than 10 metres lower down. I didn't expect that difference, when I first planted them, but it's useful, as I can expect a show from this one variety for a least seven weeks.

Another early snowdrop is now well-established even higher up the bank, in a much more open, sunny situation. This is G. elwesii, very distinctive, not just because it's early but because the leaves are a soft grey, rather than green and very broad. That clump started with a generous gift of a bulb from Carolyn Elwes at Colesbourne, and it's a beauty: tall, pure white flowers, an eye-catcher among snowdrops.

Then a neighbour, who had taken a fancy to the G. 'Atkinsii' in our garden, offered to swap a clump of her G. elwesii for a clump of our 'Atkinsii'. Her snowdrops flowered with us for the first time this season, as early as the G. elwesii I'd had from Carolyn Elwes and with the same wide grey leaves. But the flowers were quite different. The inner petals were plated all over with emerald green, rather than carrying the more usual small inverted green 'V' on white. The outer petals, usually plain white, were brushed very elegantly with green stripes. It's a beauty.

True galanthophiles won't find this as thrilling as I did. G. elwesii is known to play these kind of tricks and some of the green-marked variants have already been named – 'Green Tip', 'Green Brush' and the like. Mine won't have a name. I'm just content to admire it.

But the snowdrop's ability to mutate is what drives the present galanthomania, and it shows no signs of slowing down. About 350 different kinds of snowdrop are listed in The Plant Finder and of course the rarest ones are never listed at all. More than 40 people bid on eBay for a single bulb of a yellow marked G. woronowii called 'Elizabeth Harrison'. It finally sold for £725.10. Those in the know think that a yellow variant of the pretty snowdrop called 'Trym' is likely to fetch even more. And eBay is becoming the sales table of choice, which is sad. It's a soulless way to dispose of plants.

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Handsome variety: A display of Galanthus 'Atkinsii' (Alamy)

I rate a snowdrop for its looks, not its rarity, and to me they are never more beautiful than when spread in vast drifts in old gardens such as Hodsock Priory (hodsockpriory.com) or Chippenham Park (chippenhamparkgardens.info). Both open regularly all through this month to show off their snowdrops and I've spent very happy days in both.

I particularly remember the gorgeous smell of woodsmoke hanging in the woods at Hodsock, one of the best smells in the world. Halfway round the circuit, the path brings you into an open glade where there was a huge bonfire, specially lit to keep visitors warm on winter visits. It was a brilliant touch.

The longer of the two circuits takes you to the end of the wood and brings you to a dell where thousands of snowdrops – mostly doubles – push up through the dark leaf litter. The Buchanans (owners of Hodsock) planted quarter of a million snowdrops to celebrate the Millenium and they are settled enough now to make a superb display.

Collectors, though, like to buy new treasures and rather surprisingly, the epicentre of snowdrop selling seems to have shifted to Shaftesbury in north Dorset. The ticket-only sale they are having there today was sold out before Christmas.

There's another tomorrow, at the Guildhall, for which tickets (£5) will only be released on the day. Try shaftesburysnowdrops.org or the Shaftesbury Tourist Information Centre.

The snowdrop festival goes on until 19 February with competitions for snowdrop poetry and snowdrop paintings, snowdrop walks and talks. For more snowdrop spectaculars this month, see below.

SNOWDROP SPECTACULARS THIS MONTH

Today

Little Ponton Hall, Grantham, Lincs NG33 5BS (11am-4pm, admission £5), 01400 281288, wendy@linkmagazines.co.uk; Penrhyn Castle, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 4HN (12-3pm, admission £5.75), nationaltrust.org.uk

Tomorrow

Summerdale House, Nook, nr Lupton, Cumbria LA6 1PE (11am-4.30pm, admission £4), 015395 67210, sheals@btinternet.com; Trench Hill, Sheepscombe, Glos GL6 6TZ (11am-5pm, admission £3), 01452 814306, celia.hargreave@btconnect.com; Home Farm, Newent Lane, Huntley, Glos GL19 3HQ (11am-4pm, admission £3), 01452 830210, torill@ukgateway.net; Weeping Ash, Bents Garden and Home, Warrington Rd, Glazebury, Lancs WA3 5NS (11am-4pm, admission £3), bents.co.uk; Dunham Massey, Altrincham, Cheshire WA14 4SJ (11am-4pm, admission £8), 0161 941 1025, nationaltrust.org.uk/dunhammassey; Littleham House Cottage, 11 Douglas Avenue, Exmouth, Devon EX8 2EY (12-3.30pm, admission £3.50), 01395 266750, patricia.attard@sky.com; Copton Ash, 105 Ashford Rd, Faversham, Kent ME13 8XW (12-4pm, admission £3), 01795 535919, coptonash@yahoo.co.uk; Little Ponton Hall, Grantham, Lincs NG33 5BS (11am-4pm, admission £5), 01400 281288, wendy@linkmagazines.co.uk; Sherborne Garden, Litton, Radstock, Somerset BA3 4PP (11am-4pm, admission £4), 01761 241220; Gable House, Halesworth Rd, Redisham, Beccles, Suffolk NR34 8NE (11am-4pm, admission £3.50); Gatton Park, Rocky Lane, Merstham, Surrey RH2 0TW (11am-4pm, admission £4.50); Manor of Dean, Tillington, Petworth, Sussex GU28 9AP (2-4.30pm, admission £3.50), 07887 992349, email: emma@mitford.uk.com

MONDAY 16 FEB

Sherborne Garden, Litton, Radstock, Somerset BA3 4PP (11am-4pm, admission £4), 01761 241220

TUESDAY 17 FEB

Pembury House, Ditchling Rd (New Rd), Clayton, nr Hassocks, Sussex BN6 9PH (11am-4pm, admission £5), 01273 842805, jane.baker47@btinternet.com

WEDNESDAY 18 FEB

Pembury House, Ditchling Rd (New Rd), Clayton, nr Hassocks, Sussex BN6 9PH (11am-4pm, admission £5), 01273 842805 email: jane.baker47@btinternet.com

THURSDAY 19 FEB

Pembury House, Ditchling Rd (New Rd), Clayton, nr Hassocks, Sussex BN6 9PH (11am-4pm, admission £5), 01273 842805 email: jane.baker47@btinternet.com; Ivy Croft, Kinsham, Herefordshire LD8 2HN (9am-4pm, admission £3.50), 01568 720344, ivycroftgarden.co.uk

FRIDAY 20 FEB

Cherubeer Gardens, Dolton, Devon EX19 8PP (2-5pm, admission £4), 01805 804265, hynesjo@gmail.com; Little Court, Crawley, nr Winchester, Hants SO21 2PU (2-5pm, admission £3), 01962 776365, elksic@tiscali.co.uk

SATURDAY 21 FEB

21 Chapel St, Hacconby, Bourne, Lincs PE10 0UL (11am-5pm, admission £2.50), 01778 570314, cliffordcurtis@btinternet.com

SUNDAY 22 FEB

Trench Hill, Sheepscombe, Glos GL6 6TZ (11am-5pm, admission £3), 01452 814306, celia.hargreave@btconnect.com; Mere House, Mereworth, Kent ME18 5NB (2-5pm, admission £4), mere-house.co.uk; Knowle Hill Farm, Ulcombe, Maidstone, Kent MW17 1ES (11am-3pm, admission £4), 01622 850240, elizabeth.cairns@btinternet.com; Weeping Ash, Bents Garden and Home, Warrington Rd, Glazebury, Lancs WA3 5NS (11am-4pm, admission £3), bents.co.uk; Little Court, Crawley, nr Winchester, Hants SO21 2PU (2-5pm, admission £3), 01962 776365, elksic@tiscali.co.uk; 21 Chapel St, Hacconby, Bourne, Lincs PE10 0UL (11am-5pm, admission £2.50), 01778 570314, cliffordcurtis@btinternet.com; Quainton Gardens, Quainton, Bucks HP22 4AY (group opening 12-4pm, admission £4); Jericho, 42 Market Place, Oundle, Northants PE8 4AJ (12-5pm, admission £3), 01832 275416, stephenaris@btinternet.com; Dr Jenner's House & Garden, Church Lane, Berkeley, Glos GL13 9BN (11am-4pm, admission £3.50), 01453 810631, jennermuseum.com; 14 Chawley Lane, Cumnor, Oxford OX2 9PX (1.30-4pm, admission £4)

TUESDAY 24 FEB

Little Court, Crawley, nr Winchester, Hants SO21 2PU (2-5pm, admission £3), 01962 776365, elksic@tiscali.co.uk

WEDNESDAY 25 FEB

Lacock Abbey Gardens, Chippenham, Wilts SN15 2LG (10.30am-4pm, admission £5.50), 01249 730459, nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock; Austwick Hall, Town Head Lane, Austwick, nr Settle, Yorks LA2 8BS (12-4pm, admission £3.50), 01524 251794, austwickhall@austwick.org

THURSDAY 26 FEB

Ivy Croft, Kinsham, Hfds LD8 2HN (9am-4pm, admission £3.50), 01568 720344, ivycroftgarden.co.uk

SATURDAY 28 FEB

Lacock Abbey Gardens, Chippenham, Wilts SN15 2LG (10.30am-4pm, admission £5.50), 01249 730459, nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock

WEEKEND WORK

WHAT TO DO

* Start tubers of favourite dahlias into growth if you want to increase your stock by taking cuttings. Greengrocers' wooden boxes make ideal nurseries. Line the box with newspaper, cover with a layer of compost (any old stuff will do) and stand the dahlia tubers upright in the compost. Pack in more compost so the tubers themselves are covered, but the stumps of last year's stems are sticking up above the surface. Water the box and stand it in the greenhouse or anywhere light. A temperature around 13C/55F will be enough to tickle them into growth.

WHAT TO SEE

* The London Plant and Potato Fair opens next Fri (10am-5pm) and continues on Sat (10am-5pm). Pennard Plants of Shepton Mallet in Somerset are putting on a mammoth exhibition of more kinds of potato than you ever knew existed. Onion sets, vegetable seeds, snowdrops from Avon Bulbs and much more. Held at the Royal Horticultural Society hall, Vincent Square, London SW1P 2PE, admission £8

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