Hertfordshire Snowdrop Festival roundup
PUBLISHED: 10:00 06 February 2016
Walkern Hall has a beautiful display of snowdrops and winter bulbs in its woodland garden. Philippa Pearson explores the estate ahead of the Hertfordshire Snowdrop Festival
There is something magical about snowdrops. They appear whatever the weather out of nowhere at a time of the year when our gardens seem to be stuck in a seasonal inertia, to give us a delightful lift with their fascinating flowers. Snowdrops en masse are the best way to get a winter-flower fix and Walkern Hall in Walkern near Stevenage has them in abundance.
Set in parkland in an elevated position on the edge of the village, Walkern Hall is an imposing Georgian manor house and the perfect backdrop for thick plantings of snowdrops and other winter bulbs. Essentially a winter woodland garden covering eight acres, it has a good selection of established trees in what was once a medieval hunting park and snowdrops have been a particular feature in the garden for at least a century.
‘My husband’s family have lived here since the 1830s,’ says owner Kate de Boinville, ‘and David can remember masses of snowdrops under the trees when he was growing up.’ There’s mention of snowdrops in the gardens from as early as the 1900s, although no records as to how long ago they were originally planted here. Carpets of winter aconites also mingle among the snowdrops and the cheery sight is heartwarming on a winter’s day.
Snowdrops prefer light shady areas under trees or shrubs in soil that reflects its natural woodland habitat, and at Walkern Hall the range of trees includes well-established tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera), and a magnificent London plane that dominates the garden.
This will be the fourth year that de Boinville has opened the gardens at Walkern Hall for its winter flower display in aid of the National Garden Scheme. As well as the plants, there will be homemade soup, cakes and teas served in the courtyard, while Lorna Jones of Hertfordshire Hellebores at Levens Greens will have plenty of her specialities for sale.
De Boinville trained as a florist and grew up with ‘a wonderful garden’ at her parents’ home in Suffolk. ‘My mother was a very keen gardener and used to open the garden regularly for the NGS,’ she says. ‘I thought it would be good to do that here at Walkern Hall with our snowdrops and spring bulbs.’
This month, the garden is open as part of the NGS Snowdrop Festival, one of four gardens in the county opening for the event.
After the snowdrops, aconites, crocus and other winter bulbs have finished flowering at Walkern Hall, naturalised daffodils, primroses and early tulips take over the stage in the woodland area and in borders and containers around the house. An old orchard has drifts of spring bulbs, while near the house an established magnolia not only makes a strong focal point but begins to open its delicate flower buds in warm spring sunshine. The gardens are open again to the public on April 9 and 10 for a second viewing of spring bulbs.
De Boinville plants delicious tulips – she loves the exotic Parrot varieties – in urns and borders each November for a good display the following spring. The garden also has a good range of interesting plants for foliage and texture, such as the Mediterranean spurge Euphorbia characias, while Wulfenii, with its zingy lime-green flowers, creates interest along the front of the house in early spring. In summer, the grounds around are a venue for weddings and provide material for floral displays created by de Boinville. It is a garden that gives year round.