Snowdrops started appearing in some parts of the UK towards the end of last month, a whole week earlier than expected, giving rise to suggestions that winter could be coming to an end.
Well, excuse me if I hang on to my thermals for just a little longer. However, there can be no doubt that these delicate white flowers were already blooming in late January, when generally they are expected to appear 40 days from Christmas at Candelmas – on 2 February.
This early showing means the annual Snowdrops Spectacular, which launched yesterday at Hodsock Priory, in north Nottinghamshire, is already in full swing (hodsockpriory.com). Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the event – which runs until 6 March – attracts an impressive 25,000 people every year, which places the priory in the top 10 winter gardens in the UK.
So what can visitors to Hodsock expect? Well, at least four million snowdrops will show themselves throughout the gardens and woodland that make up the priory's 800-acre estate. And, new for this year, there's a family trail, where kids can hunt for a hidden snow gnome by following the woodland paths.
The priory even has a Snowdrop Short Break, which offers "secluded splendour in sumptuous suites" surrounded by spectacular snowdrops, from just £120 per room per night.
The National Trust has also been rolling out its white carpets at properties across the country, with a "Spectacular Snowdrops" list of the top 10 places to catch the best blankets of white this month (nationaltrust.org.uk).
At Anglesey Abbey, Gardens and Lode Mill, in Cambridgeshire, visitors can take a snowdrop stroll through 240 varieties, while at Dunham Massey, in Cheshire, there are clusters among the trees that amount to more than 100,000 double and single-headed flowers to admire.
The trust is also organising specific events, such as a guided tour of Ankerwycke, near Runnymede, in Berkshire, which takes place next Sunday (book in advance). The secret history of this beautiful estate – with its romantic ruins dressed in snowdrops – will be revealed, including its legendary role as the site of the sealing of the Magna Carta under the ancient Ankerwycke Yew.
Meanwhile, at Ickworth House in Suffolk, visitors can learn about the number of varieties of snowdrop and the plant centre will explain how to create the same look in your garden.
If the sun's shining, get out and about and enjoy this winter-white sight – the optimists among you can take it as a sign that spring has sprung.