White magic: Britain's best snowdrop gardens
Saturday 12 February 2011
Snowdrops are patient creatures, as Mark and Clare Oglesby discovered when, a few years ago, they became the new owners of Goldsborough Hall, near Knaresborough in Yorkshire. The woodlands behind the house were choked with brambles, but when they began to clear them away, snowdrops and aconites appeared in grateful carpets under the trees. Now that they've come to the end of the initial scrub-bashing, they are opening the garden next Sunday for its first-ever snowdrop spectacular.
Once before, long ago in the late 1920s, the gardens opened for the National Gardens Scheme. The Oglesbys have a picture of the occasion: ladies in cloche hats, gentleman in voluminous caps and trilbies crowd the lawn in front of the fine Jacobean house. Around the house are the magnificent trees that are still, on their own, a good reason for visiting the place.
Just behind the house, there's a vast horse chestnut (the biggest I've ever seen) with great swirls of aconites and snowdrops under its drooping branches. Below the front of the house is an equally vast beech, splayed twiggily against the sky. Alongside is the great soaring bulk of a wellingtonia, planted, as so many of them were, in the 1860s. On the lawn, set just in front of the park railing, is a strange little group of flat-topped Japanese cherries – possibly 'Shirotae' – given by the emperor of Japan as a wedding present to Princess Mary (aunt of our queen) who lived in the house in the Twenties.
By the time that the Oglesbys came on the scene, the beautiful brick house had drifted into a decaying twilight and nobody remembered the snowdrops in the woods. While still in his late thirties, Mark Oglesby had sold his IT business and was ready for another challenge. Goldsborough Hall came on the market, destined, everyone thought, to be swallowed up by a developer.
But it wasn't. After negotiations that lasted for more than two years, Mark Oglesby bought the place – a rather complicated 40th birthday present – and is now working on ways to give the house "a new reason to exist" as he puts it. They've made a swanky series of bedrooms on the top floor and, as well as living with their two daughters at Goldsborough, they run it as an upmarket place to stay or to hold a wedding.
Clare Oglesby grew up with parents who were always bottom up in herbaceous borders. They've helped her replant the two long flower borders that run between beech hedges towards a fine lime walk beyond. And had she found any unusual snowdrops, I wondered, in the clumps now spread out so liberally under the trees? "Well, I'm rather hoping some snowdrop expert might find one for me," she replies. "Each time we clear a new area and let light into the place, more snowdrops come up." So, if you are a snowdrop detective make your way to Goldsborough Hall, Church Street, Goldsborough, nr Knaresborough, North Yorkshire HG5 8NR. The gardens are open 20 February (10am-4pm), admission £5. For more information call 01423 867321 or visit goldsboroughhall.com.
Snowdrop gardens to visit this month
Higher Denham Gardens, Higher Denham, UB9 5EA
A small group of gardens in the Misbourne Valley show off their snowdrops (and compost). Open tomorrow (2-4.30pm). Admission £3. 07740 177038.
Quainton Gardens, Quainton HP22 4AY
Four gardens with good views over the vale of Aylesbury. Open 27 Feb (12-4pm). Admission £3. 01296 655243.
Chippenham Park, Chippenham, nr Newmarket CB7 5PT
Fine displays of snowdrops by lake and canals in 350-acre park. Open Sat & Sun in Feb (11am-4pm). Admission £4. 01638 720221; chippenhamparkgardens.info.
Summerdale House, Nook, nr Lupton LA6 1PE
Snowdrops in part-walled country garden. Open 27 Feb (11am-5pm). Admission £3.50. 015395 67210.
Sherwood, Newton St Cyres, Exeter EX5 5BT
Steep wooded valley with snowdrops under extensive plantings of magnolias and camellias. Open Sundays in Feb (2-5pm). Admission £4. 01392 851216.
Colesbourne Park, Colesbourne
At least 250 varieties in a beautiful setting. Open every weekend this month (1-4.30pm). Admission £6. 01242 870264; colesbournegardens.org.uk.
Trench Hill, Sheepscombe GL6 6TZ
Thousands of snowdrops in a woodland walk. Open tomorrow and 20 Feb (11am-5pm). Admission £3. 01452 814306.
Manor House, Church Lane, Exton SO32 3NU
Walled garden with woodland walk and spring bulbs. Open tomorrow (12-3pm). Admission £3.50. 07977 223368.
Goodnestone Park, Wingham CT3 1PL
For a Hardy Plant Society snowdrop and hellebore extravaganza. Open 20 Feb (11am-4pm). 01843 256515; goodnestoneparkgardens.co.uk.
Easton Walled Gardens, Grantham NG33 5AP
Talks every day at 12.30pm and 2.30pm from snowdrop expert, Jackie Murray. Open from today to 20 Feb (11am-4pm). Admission £5.50. 01476 530063; eastonwalledgardens.co.uk.
Chelsea Physic Garden, 66 Royal Hospital Road, SW3 4HS
Masses of different varieties on a snowdrop trail winding through winter-flowering shrubs. Open today and tomorrow (10am-4pm). Admission £8. 020-7352 5646; chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk.
Deene Park, Corby NN17 3EW
Snowdrops and hellebores in a lakeside setting. Open tomorrow and 20 Feb (11am-4pm). Admission £4. 01780 450278; deenepark.com.
Winsley Hall, Westbury, Shrewsbury
Open 19 & 20 Feb for snowdrop walks (10.30am-12.30pm and 2-4pm). Admission £3 in aid of Lingen Davies Cancer Centre Appeal. 01743 492396.
Hill Close Gardens, Bread & Meat Close, Warwick CV34 6HF
16 individual hedged gardens with snowdrop display and plants for sale. Open 19 & 20 Feb (11am-4.30pm). Admission £3. 01926 493339; hillclosegardens.com.
Great Chalfield Manor, Melksham SN12 8NH
Snowdrops and aconites in a fine Arts & Crafts garden. Open tomorrow (2-4pm). Admission £3.50. 01225 782239.
As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”
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