A sign that winter is nearly over and spring is just over the horizon, this month we celebrate the snowdrop, and there’s nowhere better to view them than at Grantham’s Easton Walled Gardens
Few gardens have endured quite as much as Easton Walled Gardens, just off the A1 between Stamford and Grantham. 450 years old, a 12-acre site, now attracting over 20,000 visitors a year, the site was once home to the formal gardens adjacent to Easton Hall. The stately home, though, was requisitioned during both worlds wars as a convalescent home and later as barracks, before later falling victim to pillages of lead and other materials, leading Sir Hugh Cholmeley to the sad conclusion that it needed to be pulled down.
The gardens also fell into disrepair, but unlike the stately home itself, enough of the grounds remained to ensure that in the early 1990s when Fred Cholmeley – grandson of Sir Hugh – returned to Easton, he and his new wife Ursula could return them to their former glory.
Ursula lead the work from 2001 and about 10 years later, Easton Walled Gardens was well on the way to become re-established. Today it’s one of the most beautifully presented gardens with the Applestore Tearoom, Courtyard Shop and four holiday cottages too.
Above all though, Easton Walled Gardens has two annual events for which it’s exceptionally well-renowned; sweet peas in late June and snowdrops in February and March.
For the most part the snowdrops in the gardens have naturally established themselves, particularly the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, as in the Cedar Meadow and White Space Garden leading through to the Woodland Walk where they’re joined by aconites lilac and purple crocus and eventually Narcissus like Tete-à-tete. The Woodland Walk also features Galanthus Flore Pleno a double-form, and in total, visitors can expect to see about 10 varieties of snowdrop during a spring walk.
It’s thought there are 18 different species of snowdrop, and about 500 named varieties. While snowdrops may seem abundant in the wild, some species face threats due to habitat loss and climate change. Conservation efforts are underway to protect these delicate flowers and ensure their continued presence in the British countryside, but happily, Easton Walled Gardens is a site where they thrived and have become a particular attraction for the site since the mid-2000s.
Cultivating snowdrops is an art in itself. These hardy bulbs thrive in well-drained soil, often naturalising in woodlands and grassy meadows. Their preference for partial shade makes them ideal for planting beneath deciduous trees, creating a serene carpet of white blooms as winter fades away.
Speaking of when winter fades away, and despite snowdrops being synonymous with spring, it’s during late summer and into autumn that the bulbs are best divided, when the top growth has died back and before new root growth has started.
Dig up the bulbs and replant singly into smaller clumps of three or four, ensuring that the bulbs and roots aren’t allowed to dry out. Part of the challenge of dividing snowdrops, of course, is remembering where the drifts of snowdrops are in the first place, so take plenty of photos on a phone when your snowdrops are on display in order to remember where to dig later in the year!
One of the most remarkable aspects of snowdrops is their early arrival in the gardening calendar.
These resilient flowers begin to appear as early as January, often pushing through the frost and snow to announce the end of winter’s hibernation.
Their punctual emergence makes them one of the first signs of life in the dormant landscape, earning them the endearing nickname ‘Candlemas Bells’ as they coincide with the Christian festival of Candlemas celebrated on the 2nd of February, just before this edition of Pride appears in shops.
Perhaps one of the reasons that Easton Walled Gardens remains to popular with visitors is the sense of reassurance that a visit provides of winter nearly being over and spring being on its way.
Visit Easton this month, and a there’s also a welcome pot of freshly-brewed coffee and slice of homemade cake waiting after you’ve admired the drifts of snowdrops.
We can think of no better antidote to the winter than a visit to Easton Walled Gardens, 450 years in the making and a true labour of love for the Cholmeley family.
Find Out More: Snowdrop Season at Easton Walled Gardens will take place from Wednesday 14th February 2024, open from Wednesdays to Sundays, 11am-4pm. £10/adults, £5/children. Free parking. Call 01476 530063 or see www.visiteaston.co.uk.