More of the first two, though, as our visit to Hodsock Priory on Tuesday was rather earlier in the month than last year and the snowdrops were not yet at their peak, despite the glorious winter sunshine we were blessed with. Having driven through a mini-blizzard on our way there we couldn’t have asked for a better day, and being well wrapped up to keep warm in the bitter temperatures the resultant frozen ground was a boon as it meant no muddy paths. Although it was cold, there was only a sprinkling of lying snow and most of the ‘white stuff’ in yesterday’s wordless picture was snowdrops, not immediately obvious unless you zoomed in or looked at the tags!
The Buchanan family open their estate to the public for about month each year so visitors can enjoy the renowned annual snowdrop festival. Snowdrops have a long history here, with Lady Beatrix Stanley being the grandmother of the current owner, Sir Andrew Buchanan. Both she and her daughter were talented gardeners with connections to E A Bowles, the renowned plant hunter, and were largely responsible for the instigation of the now internationally known massed snowdrops and winter borders, with bulbs being brought from Maidwell Hall, Sibbertoft Manor, St Anne’s Manor at Sutton Bonington and from the gardens of the late Primrose Warburg, names that snowdrop aficionados may recognise.
The woodlands, once part of Sherwood Forest, are full of these massed plantings in their natural habitat, definitely the best way to see snowdrops. If happy, they will naturalise and spread to their hearts’ content as they clearly have here, but just as in our own gardens they would still respond well to being lifted and split every few years. Digging up clumps on the edge of the wood and heeling in single bulbs next to the paths whilst still in the green is the Buchanan’s default job in the week after they close. There are a few smaller clumps of named varieties in the winter gardens, where there are also numerous winter flowering honeysuckles and witch hazels, hellebores, sarcococca, cyclamen, aconites, early prunus and the first narcissi, still a little early for all but the first two. It was good to see all of these winter beauties available in the little plant sales area too – and yes, I did succumb, to Lonicera purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ and Daphne mezereum ‘Rubra’, but no snowdrops…
The family is celebrating 250 years of being at Hodsock this year and we had been invited as part of a Media, Bloggers and Industry day in conjunction with this, a new experience for me. Sincere thanks go to Helen for organising the event and for the invitation. Not only did we have the pleasure of visiting the gardens again but I was able to meet up with Michelle of Veg Plotting and Alison of Blackberry Garden and her friends, as well as having a guided tour of the gardens from George Buchanan (Sir Andrew’s son) and his wife Katharine, a delightful and down-to-earth couple, who regaled the group with history and anecdotes throughout. George’s mother, Lady Belinda, still manages the garden and it was she who insisted the snowdrop garden was opened to the public, whilst Katharine was instrumental in creating a wedding venue, not surprisingly popular for ‘Snowdrop Weddings’.
Upwards of 18,000 visitors visit Hodsock each year to see the snowdrops so visiting during the week and early in the day might be the best way to avoid the crowds. The simple beauty of massed and naturalised plantings of snowdrops at their peak is certainly something not to be missed by gardeners and non-gardeners alike.