Category Archives: Gardens

Snowdrop spotting

For that first glimpse of spring, there’s nowhere better than the places cared for by the National Trust, which have beautiful displays of snowdrops across the country. The delicate white flowers transform woodland and garden floors in early spring and are one of the first signs of life after the winter months

Pleasure Ground Wood Chirk

Mike Calnan, Head of Gardens for the National Trust said, “Beautiful drifts of white snowdrops are one of the great pleasures of visiting gardens at the end of winter.  But look closely and you’ll soon discover variation among the carpet of white flowers. At Anglesey Abbey there are over 300 different snowdrop varieties growing in the garden. 

“Snowdrops are promiscuous plants, they cross-fertilise easily, producing new varieties.  The differences are very subtle and it’s always a challenge to spot them but this is what makes snowdrops so fascinating to collectors.”

From stunning bulb meadows to the UK’s largest winter garden, here are the special National Trust places to enjoy a family day out surrounded by snowdrops:

South West


Kingston Lacy, Dorset

Snowdrops, 1 – 29 February, 10am – 4pm

Kingston Lacy welcomes a dazzling blanket of snowdrops each year. The garden wakes up to spring in January and February when thousands of flowers burst through the soil, transforming areas of the garden into a sea of white. Special snowdrop openings have long been a tradition at Kingston Lacy so visitors can wander through the displays and salute this first welcome sign of spring. Keep an eye out for the estate’s fine herd of Red Ruby Devon cattle and explore the Japanese Garden which is sure to look even better with a dusting of frost.

Price: Free event (normal admission charges apply)

For more information please call 01202 883402

Make a weekend of it: With pink walls and a thatched roof, 524 Pamphill Green Cottage is a delightful semi-detached cottage tucked away in a quiet part of the Kingston Lacy estate.

Newark Park, Gloucestershire                   

Snowdrops Season, 13 – 15, 17 – 22, 24 – 29 February, 11am – 4pm

At Newark Park there are snowdrop drifts throughout the garden and they mingle with aconites and cyclamen to give an impressive show. Grab your walking boots and a camera and head to Newark where the carpets of snowdrops provide dazzling photo opportunities. Afterwards, warm up with a hot drink and well-deserved slice of cake in front of the fire in the Tudor sitting room.

Price: Free event (normal admission charges apply)

For more information, please call 01453 842644

 Kingston Lacey

Saltram, Devon

A walk amongst the snowdrops, 4 – 31 January, 10am – 4pm

Standing high above the River Plym with magnificent views across the estuary, Saltram’s 500 acres of rolling parkland and woodland provide the perfect setting for a stunning snowdrop display. As the snowdrops frame the pathways take a stroll and explore the tranquil garden, 18th-century orangery and magnificent lime avenue. Return in February to plant a snowdrop with the garden team.

Price: Free event (normal admission charges apply)

For more information please call 01752 333500

London and South East

Mottisfont, Hampshire

Open daily, 10am – 5pm

Snowdrops thrive along the banks of the Font stream, where the warming effects of the water creates its own microclimate, teasing them into bloom a week or two before their companions in colder corners of the garden. Elsewhere, the open acres of the river garden are magically transformed by drifts of purest white.

Price: Garden admission charges apply

For more information please call 01794 340757


Nymans, West Sussex

Open daily, 10am – 4pm

This 20th-century garden is famed for its amazing collection of rare and important plants. At the start of spring, spot wonderful displays of snowdrops followed by camellias and magnolias underplanted with a host of daffodils and grape hyacinths. The bulb meadow in the walled garden is full of snowdrops and early narcissus and there are rare hellebores all around the garden. By Valentine’s Day, over 150 different types of plant are flowering at Nymans and the snowdrop drifts offer cool contrasts to fiery witch hazel oranges and the rich red stems of dogwoods.

Price: Garden admission charges apply

For more information please call 01444 405250.

Make a weekend of it: For people who love being close to nature, a stay at Woodlands Cottage is a great way to discover Nymans. The perfect retreat, the pretty cottage is surrounded by beautiful lakes and woodland walks.

Stowe, Buckinghamshire

Open daily, 10am – 4pm (from 13 February onwards 10am – 6pm)

Snowdrops are so cherished at Stowe that they even have their own season. The beginning of the year is ‘Stowedrop’ time as the delicate peeping blooms develop into white drifts in the Elysian Fields, Sleeping Wood and Lamport Garden. Take a walk amongst the snowdrops in this magical landscape of myths, lakes and temples.

Price: Garden admission charges apply

For information please call 01280 817156

East of England


Anglesey Abbey, Gardens & Lode Mill, Cambridgeshire

Snowdrop Season: 25 January – 28 February

Anglesey’s garden has over 300 different varieties of snowdrop scattered across 114 acres. Meander through the paths and soak up the fabulous show that the garden offers during this time. But snowdrops won’t be all that you see: the Winter Garden packed with vibrant colours, textures and the heady scent of winter flowering shrubs can brighten-up the darkest of winter days.

Price: Garden admission charges apply

For more information please call 01223810080

 Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 18.00.52

Ickworth, Suffolk

Open daily, 9am – 5.30pm

Throughout Ickworth Park, along the oak walk and the trim trail, snowdrops are complemented by the golden glow of aconites. Geraldine’s and Erskine’s walks are woken from their winter sleep by Galanthus ‘S Arnott, a relatively large snowdrop with a strong honey scent providing a feast for the senses. Discover amazing views of the estate or warm up in the West Wing restaurant with delicious food and drink (Friday to Tuesday).

Price: Free event (garden admission charges apply)

For more information please call 01284 735270.

Make a weekend of it: Stay at the heart of the estate in one of Ickworth’s four cottages: there’s the quirky round house set in an enchanting woodland glade, two redbrick Victorian cottages in the parkland and the former head gardener’s cottage with its own walled garden.


Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk

Snowdrop Walks, 30 January – 16 March, 11.30am and 2pm

Feast your eyes on the stunning sights of Oxburgh, a huge moated Hall surrounded by 70 acres of gardens and woodlands. Join the team for a guided walk, or wander independently around the woodlands and take in the stunning carpets of snowdrops, aconites and other spring flowers.

Price: Garden admission charges apply

For more information please call 01366 328258




Attingham Park, Shropshire

Open daily, 8am – 5pm

Watch the woodland floor transform into a stunning carpet of snowdrops during Attingham’s snowdrop season. Take a stroll around this grand estate and discover over 200 years of history, acres of parkland and a beautiful walled garden. Keep an eye out for deer as you go.

Price: Normal admission charges apply

For more information please call 01743 708123

Belton House, Lincolnshire

Open daily, 9.30am – 4pm

With delightful gardens and lakeside walks, Belton is a pleasure to explore all year round and never more so as the early signs of spring creep in. Don’t miss the delicate displays of snowdrops that melt away all your thoughts of winter.

Price: Normal admission charges apply

For more information please call 01476 566116


Baddesley Clinton, Warwickshire

Open daily, 9am – 4pm (from 13 February onwards 9am – 5pm)

Baddesley Clinton’s intimate gardens feel like a personal winter wonderland during the colder months. In January and February the snowdrops will be out in full bloom, both in the gardens and around the church. Enjoy a gentle stroll around the gardens and lake, and discover some of the estate’s late medieval and Tudor history along the way.

Price: Normal admission charges apply

For more information please call 01564 783294


North West

 Dunham Massey

Dunham Massey, Cheshire

Open daily, 11am – 4pm
Throughout January and February, thousands of snowdrops will bloom in Britain’s largest winter garden at Dunham Massey. The garden contains almost 700 different plant species and a further 1,600 shrubs specifically bred for the seven-acre wonder. January heralds the first signs of spring, where clusters of over 100,000 double and single snowdrops and 20,000 narcissi begin to bloom amongst the trees.

Garden admission charges apply.

For more information, please call 0161 941 1025

Yorkshire and North East


Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, Yorkshire

Open 10am – 5pm
Set in 323 hectares of beautiful countryside, this World Heritage Site offers an unparalleled opportunity to appreciate Britain’s heritage and natural beauty. Early spring is the perfect time to explore the picturesque Abbey ruins and amble through the beautiful Georgian water garden, surrounded by white carpets of snowdrops. This is a stunning sight that dates back to the 19th-century, when Earl de Grey planted snowdrops to spell out his name along the backs of the river Skell.
Normal admission charges apply.

For more information please call 01765 608888

Make a weekend of it: Turn a visit to this magnificent site into a long weekend in a unique cottage. With eleven holiday cottages on offer, including apartments in the luxurious Fountains Hall and five cottages converted from a group of 18th-century farm buildings, there’s something for everyone.

Wallington, Northumberland

Open daily 10am – 6pm

As well as the common variety, Wallington’s snowdrop display includes a few specials. The less common varieties include the Northumbrian G. ‘Sandersii’ group which has sulphur yellow markings instead of green, and the pretty G. ‘Flore Pleno’ with double flowers. Don’t forget to visit the winter garden where purple Iris will brighten up any winter day.

Normal admission charges apply

For more information please call 01670 773600




Chirk Castle, Wrexham

Open 30 January onwards, 10am – 4pm
Chase away those winter blues with a bracing walk around the beautiful gardens and woodland at Chirk. Glimpses of snowdrops can be found throughout the garden, scattered between clipped yews, shrub and rock gardens, as well as drifting along the woodland floor.

Normal admission charges apply

For more information please call 01691 777701



Northern Ireland


The Argory, Co. Armagh

Snowdrop walks, 6 – 7, 13 – 14, 20 – 21, 27 – 28 February, 12pm – 5pm

This spectacular riverside estate has a stunning display of snowdrops and other beautiful spring bulbs throughout February. Snowdrop self-guided walks run every Saturday and Sunday in the month, where the scenic walk shows off the garden as the frost thaws, with a stunning backdrop of sweeping vistas. There are also delicate snowdrop plants available to buy in the shop and children can enjoy the adventure playground.

Price: Free event (normal admission charges apply)

For more information, please call 028 8778 4753

 Snowdrop walk at The Argory Bernie Brown

Springhill, County Londonderry

Snowdrop walks, 6 – 7, 13 – 14, 20 – 21, 27 – 28 February, 12pm – 5pm

Explore the grounds of this beautiful 17th-century family home where blooms of snowdrops welcome in the springtime. Short walks around the estate are perfect for a leisurely stroll, and kids will be kept busy by the Natural Play Trail. Afterwards, enjoy some hot soup or a delicious tea and scone in the Servants’ Hall tea-room and take home your very own snowdrop plant, lovingly cultivated at Springhill.

Price: Free event (normal admission charges apply)

For more information please call 028 8674 8210

To plan a family day out with the National Trust visit:

To book a holiday cottage visit:

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Flowers everywhere!

It’s officially autumn, which means my brain is already thinking about Christmas! No, I’m not one of those super-humans who has all their shopping and wrapping done by Halloween – I make Christmas wreaths and sell them locally.

So the arrival of autumn is my queue to start squirrelling up pinecones, rose hips and honesty seedheads; to book stalls and markets and start ordering wire, metal frames and dried oranges and cinnamon sticks.

This year I’ve decided to run workshops so that locals can come and learn to make their own bespoke design.

My autumnal centrepiece, made at Judith Blacklock Flower School
My autumnal centrepiece, made at Judith Blacklock Flower School

And it’s got me so excited that I’ve started swotting up my skills across the floristry board. Yesterday I began a Floristry for Business course at the Judith Blacklock Flower School in Knightsbridge, and it is heaven.

A buttonhole comprising Rosa vendella, Sedum spectabile and Hedera
A buttonhole comprising Rosa vendella, Sedum spectabile and Hedera

I’m surrounded by bucket-loads of flowers every day and get to while away the hours working on my wiring and arranging skills; creating wedding corsages, buttonholes and garlands; styling an autumnal table centrepiece and designing a contemporary linear arrangement for a banqueting table. And that’s just in the first two days.

A corsage of Rosa snowflake, gypsophila and Eucalyptus
A corsage of Rosa snowflake, gypsophila and Eucalyptus

I can’t wait to see what I make next…

A linear display for a banquet - not quite finished at this point!
A linear display for a banquet – not quite finished at this point!

George Clarke’s Amazing Sheds

Today I headed to London’s Excel Centre for THE exhibition that tackles home building, extending, improving and developing.

I was meeting architect and self-build enthusiast George Clarke, who even in his 40s, has an energy and enthusiasm for architecture and design that is infectious and inspiring.

His TV series, Amazing Spaces, charts crazy, brave souls creating crazy, brave living spaces out of everything from shipping containers, to aeroplane nose cones and from tree houses to caravans…

Having designed his own bespoke shed in his garden and a holiday retreat from a retro caravan, George has plenty of experience and approaches these projects with as much diligence as he would any home-build. Because of this, the result is always a highly crafted, cleverly planned and designed space that looks beautiful – even if it is in a pared-back, industrial way.


Which brings me to his latest venture, with his design partner William Hardie, George Clarke’s Amazing Sheds – pre-built, insulated, wood and then steel-clad sheds, with bifold and French doors, and modular, plywood interior panelling. Each one comes with, electricity, lighting, a pull-down table and fold out sofa – how you customise it from there on is up to you. Options include a wood-burner, sink, stools, shelving, and even a mini bar – and they’re working on more variations as I type. To look at they are awesome, functional, practical, minimal, and cool. The shape is of a traditional shed, but the style looks more like a shipping container.


“I just felt like none of the garden studios on the market were enough fun,” George tells me, as we are sitting inside one of his hip homes. “You can either spend 80 grand on something with LED lighting and a hot tub, or five grand on what’s really a glorified shed that will be freezing in winter.”

Having watched a mini revolution over the past decade, as more and more of us have turned to flexible working and felt the squeeze of the housing crisis and recession, George spotted the growing market for affordable, and crucially, stylish and functional, garden living space that could be used in a flexible way. “It might be somewhere for Granny to hang out in the day enjoying the garden and then become more of a teenage punk band studio in the evening,” one of his sales team tells me.

And it’s this playfulness that George is keen to grasp. “Something I’ve noticed over the years is that lots of people have quite boring houses, pained magnolia and not very interesting, but in their gardens, they are willing to be much more eccentric and brave. Perhaps because they don;t have to do any actual building work to the house or because they don’t have to worry about affecting its value if they decorate it in a crazy way, they feel unburdened when it comes to these small outdoor spaces. They are free of all those worries and want to have some fun.”


But I can’t help feeling one of his sales team has hit the nail on the head when I ask him what response he’s been getting from the crowd at GDL. “When people hear that they don’t need planning permission for this, and that there are no building works or costs – they are really excited. And they love the flexibility of the customisation – they can make it personal but they don’t have to do anything themselves, all the hard decisions have already been made.”


Restaurant review: The Ethicurean

We were driving down to Wiltshire on Friday, minus the children, with an hour or three to spare. We were hungry. “Is there anywhere that we could stop about an hour from here,” asked my husband optimistically somewhere between Worcester and Gloucester trundling down the M5.

I scoured the map. We didn’t really want to drive in to Bristol as we were heading south-east of there, to explore the Somerset/Wiltshire borders. And then I remembered I’d been wanting to try The Ethicurean for a while. But where was it? Not quite in Bristol.

A Google search and phone call later we were booked in to this ethical, hyper-local, sustainable restaurant that sits in a walled garden south of Bristol. I say restaurant, but  The Ethicurean is really a ramshackle greenhouse and shed, stuck to one corner of the Barley Wood Walled Garden. If that makes it sound scruffy, then you shouldn’t go. But if you love the romantic notion of sitting in the orangery of the very garden that the produce on your plate was grown in, and to hell with a bit of damp on the walls, or the wonky mis-matched tables and chairs, then this is the place for you.

The Ethicurean (photo by Jason Ingram)
The Ethicurean (photo by Jason Ingram)

As a gardener, an interiors addict and a greedy appetite for food, I was in heaven! Looking out, sipping cider from apples grown in the orchard, you could imagine Peter Rabbit might pop up at any moment and steal an organic carrot.

But, romance aside, the aims of this place are in credible. Virtually all of the food comes from the garden or is foraged locally, so menus are created each day according to what’s on offer. I was worried that we were visiting at possibly the worst time of the year – the winter season over, nothing would be growing for spring yet, apart from the earliest wild garlic and maybe some nettles and rhubarb.

The Ethicurean (photo by Jason Ingram)
The Ethicurean (photo by Jason Ingram)

I needn’t have been. They pickle and preserve what they can, so the beetroot starter with strained goats cheese was divine. They also make their own cider from the apples and even their own vermouth to go in the Negronis. Our other starter – cider and cheddar Welsh rarebit – did not disappoint. The cider and cheese had been cooked and turned in to a thick fondue, then spread on the doorstep slab of home-baked bread and grilled into submission. A sharp salad of winter leaves and pickled carrot in place of tomatoes, cut through the rich rarebit to clean the palette.

Our mains were even better – considering the chefs were cooking in a shed the size of, well, a shed, this was a miracle. My pork belly was pressed to squeeze out some of the fat and served with chipotle crackling, more beetroot, pickled apple slices and deep, forest green kale. The husband’s bavette was succulent and stylishly presented. We may have been in a garden but there was no heavy-handed presentation, the finesse of the food and it’s delectable flavours were matched by the delicate presentation.

The Ethicurean
The Ethicurean

Pudding? Sticky toffee apple pudding! It could have had more sauce – as the husband pointed out, it isn’t hard to whip up – but it was moist and treacly without being stodgy or heavy. All in all, we were bowled over.

The only thing we couldn’t understand on this sunny, blustery spring Friday lunchtime, was why it wasn’t packed out? People of Bristol, what are you doing?! Perhaps you’re already too spoiled for choice by great, ethical, locally-sourced eateries…

The Ethicurean cookbook
The Ethicurean cookbook


Ready, steady, sow

At this time of year, I love to spend my evenings poring over seed catalogues, searching for new and heritage varieties of plants and imagining my garden as a mini Great Dixter-meets-Sissinghurst-meets-Barnsley House.

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I love romantic old-fashioned scented sweet peas, delicate lacy wild English flowers such as Orlaya grandiflora, Cosmos bipinnatus, Scabiosa in pure white as well as the deepest, bruisiest plum…

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Tonight I’ve been swooning over the poppies and flowers from the genius cut flower specialist Sarah Raven. Not only does she pioneer old English garden varieties, she also loves bold and blowsy planting schemes that conspire to create a ravishing and heady display, that can be grown for a few pounds, from seed, in just 12 weeks.

So, here’s my latest haul (I hope my husband doesn’t read this post!).

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Ammi majus (Bishop’s flower) – as close to the clouds of frothy cow parsley that line country lanes as you can get in a formal garden.

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Scabiosa atropurpurea (White) – a pin cushion white cenre with a fluttering tutu of white petals that stand on tall slender stems.

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Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Purity’ – Simply the most simple, graceful white cut flower that’s a must in any garden, or vase for that matter. And it’s so easy to grow!

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Cerinthe major ‘Pupurascens’ – the shower of bell-like flowers annual honeywort is the colour of sloe berries is topped with a silvery green hood. I’ve struggled to grow these in the past but they are so gorgeous that I will persevere again this spring.

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Hibiscus trionium – I haven’t grown this before, but the pale ivory-green flowers with a deep crimson-black centre have seduced me into trying it- the paper lantern seed pods will look good into autumn, too.

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Lagurus ovatus (Bunny’s Tail grass) – I always worry that I garden in an “all fur coat and no knickers” kind of way, by which I mean all annual flowers and no foliage of shrubs, not that I’m some kind of exhibitionist gardener. So, I thought I’d try this grass as a counter-point to the flowers, but that will still offer some structure and architecture as well as a natural meadowy look.

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Nigella papillosa ‘African Bride’ – I love the contrast of white and black in the same flower, so this pure white petal with its inky blue centre and fronds of feathery foliage is drama on a stem.

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Papaver somniferum ‘Black Single’ – I hadn’t seen this wild mauve-purple single opium poppy before, but is is so sultry, I can’t wait to see it in my garden.

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Papaver somniferum ‘Dark Plum’ – bold, brave, beautiful, I plan to contrast this against the acid green foamy foliage of Euphorbia oblongata. Heavenly.

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The list I didn’t buy but still want is TWICE as long!

Once I’ve got my seedlings growing, I’ll post some pictures of my progress.

Growing your own flowers from seed is so easy, rewarding and affordable, and you can grow them even in a tiny pot. What’s more bees, butterflies and other pollinators LOVE annual flowers so everyone should find a little space in their garden or balcony to grow some.

Images copyright Jonathan Buckley, taken from

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