PUBLISHED: 12:28 02 February 2012 | UPDATED: 20:59 20 February 2013
Every February, thousands of people flock to see the snowdrop display at Benington Lordship near Stevenage. Philippa Pearson discovers the charms of snowdrops in this delightful garden...
FAMED for its snowdrop display, Benington Lordship is one of the most popular gardens in the UK to see massed planting of this harbinger of spring. The Georgian manor house with the remains of a Norman castle and moat has seven acres of beautiful gardens and opening each February for snowdrops is not a recent event: the gardens began opening for snowdrop Sundays over 100 years ago and opened in summer for the National Garden Scheme (NGS) for over 80 years.
Generations of the Bott family have planted snowdrops in the gardens but it is the area around the moat and old ruins that have the thickest carpets. Centuries ago, monks brought snowdrops from Europe and Turkey to the UK and planted them around their monasteries. Many churches have snowdrops planted in their grounds, the plants being associated with Candlemass Day on February 2. St Peters Church adjacent to Benington Lordship is no exception and has a dramatic display of its own snowdrops, well worth a visit, too. Snowdrops from the churchyard have no doubt migrated into the moat at Benington Lordship but the stunning display you see today wasnt always like this. The moat was really overgrown with sycamore seedlings of various sizes several years ago, says Susanna Bott who now looks after the gardens with head gardener Richard Webb and other helpers. Goats were used to clear away the overgrown moat and gradually, the snowdrops started to bloom and spread. More areas were cleared over the years and new vistas are still being opened up and new sites continually earmarked for snowdrop planting.
The mixture of snowdrops at Benington Lordship is one of naturalised and species plants. Throughout the gardens, new borders and other areas are being created to hold species snowdrops and Susanna is always on the look out for the chance to swap plants with other snowdrop fans.
Plants are named in the gardens for enthusiasts and over 100 different varieties can be found. Snowdrops used to be sold at the garden but now all plants are needed for the developing collection. Richard Webb and his team twin scale snowdrop bulbs, a propagation technique where the bulb is split into several segments then each separate piece is potted up to eventually make a new plant; the offspring plants, together with divisions of other clumps, are then planted in new areas of the garden. I know it is nice to be able to buy snowdrops when you visit, says Susanna who knew nothing about snowdrops when she first came to live at Benington Lordship but is now a devoted fan, but we need any spares for the garden to increase our stock in the borders and other areas. One new area earmarked for a snowdrop display is in the old rock garden where a new bridge was put in two years ago as the ground was quite muddy. We found some old photos of the area afterwards, says Susanna, which showed there was a bridge here originally in the past. The bank is perfect for snowdrops as it has shade from trees and snowdrops love growing on banks, its the perfect spot for them.
One of Susannas favourite snowdrops is Mighty Atom, notable for its huge flower heads up to 2in across. In the Spring Garden, borders have been planted with this dazzling snowdrop on one side of the path whilst a new bed on the other side has just been completed for plants from the propagation process. It will look amazing in a year or two once clumps start to increase, says Susanna. It is such a huge flower and looks stunning planted en masse. She loves the way snowdrops just creep around, spreading merrily into borders and in all areas of the garden including the rubbish dump and chicken run areas. They are so delicate, so lovely, Susanna enthuses the first flower of the year and once they are over then everything else starts to come alive in the garden. Wonderful.
Garden designer and RHS Silver-Gilt medal winner Philippa Pearson was awarded Peoples Choice Award for Best Show Garden at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2010. Visit http://www.philippapearson.co.uk/ or contact her on 01767 651253.
Visit the snowdrops at Benington Lordship
The gardens are open daily for snowdrops from February 4-26, noon-4pm
Admission charges: Adults 5 (Concessions 4 - Not on Sundays) Children: Under 16s 2. Children: Under 12s Free.
RHS members: Free entry Feb 4-10
Guided Walks Mondays & Wednesdays at 2pm, 1. Maximum of 30 people, tickets are sold on the day in the entrance kiosk on a first come first served basis: bookings for places not taken by email or telephone.
Free Parking. Refreshments.
No dogs allowed.
St Peters Church, with a good display of snowdrops, next to Benington Lordship has a series of concerts each Sunday in February from 2.30-3.15pm. Retiring collection for the church organ fund.