Spring Gardens are the favourite of many plant-lovers. After the sparse months of winter come the quick bursts of colour, depending on the weather of course, but always better than remembered from the year before. Starting with the humble snowdrop, and pregressing through the vibrant, proud daffodil to the compact crocus, and then bluebells, the relentless march of colour is impressive, wherever you are.
But some gardens are blessed with better weather, some have to deal with inclemency (and in some cases force six gales) and gardeners relish the challenge of making the most of what they are given in any one area. This is why all the really good gardens in the UK are different.
Springtime is one of the most exiting for differences. William Benne, an adviser to the Royal Horticultural Society, says this can be one of the most unpredictable times of year, and therefore one of the most inspiring: ‘I always say you can’t rely on being frost-free in the south east until the end of May,’ he comments using the voice of experience. ‘It may be an old wives tale, but it’s true enough. You never can tell.’ Indeed the south east – Kent and the South Downs in particular – can be pray to much colder snaps than further north in springtime.
Spring flowers are alsowell documentedas braving the late frosts and blooming faster than ever, which some attribute to climate change, and others to unpredictability.
Crocuses and camellias, daffodils and snowdrops are incredible colourful joys after the winter months have given you plenty of time to grow weary of the camellias. Snake’s head fritillaries and magnolias also come into flower around now. Wisterias, cherry trees and rhododendrons festoon country house gardens at this time and, as most people know, look away from a rhododendron and it’s grown about three metres – pinky purple flowers on the march for ever new conquests.
Later, there are carpets of bluebells as well as all the bulbous flowers, which are always a joy and last for some weeks, weather, as always, permitting.
The RHS always does spring in style.Wiselyis marking the month of March with a celebration of magnolias, featuring lectures, and a photographic exhibition.
The magnolias atRosemoorin Devon unfortunately took a bit of a hit in the cold spell a couple of weeks ago, but are looking healthier again, and there are carpets of daffodils, narcissi and anemones at the moment, making for a colourful visit.
The RHS Garden atHyde Hallin Essex has a well-established carpet of colour during the Spring upon which the roses begin to bloom as we get into the summer months.
Location is a big factor in what you can grow, says Steve Griffiths, Head Gardener at Abbotsbury Gardens in Dorset. Being based to far south, and on the coast is a big advantage.
‘This garden is unlike any other garden in the country. We lay our plants out geographically, rather than according to the species, so in one are we’ll have plants from the Himalayas and in the sun trap areas we’ll have plants from Australasia.
‘We have a little microclimate, by the sea, and we have a longer growing season here, we hardly ever get rain, which means more hours of sunshine, and being a maritime garden as well, the sea warms the land by a couple of degrees,’ and indeed in a mild winter the land never really gets that cold, as soil retains heat for months after the sun loses its warmth.
A great mix of plants and flowers is currently on show at Abbotsbury for the Easter visitor, not to mention the (almost guaranteed sunshine): ‘At the moment we’ve got magnolias, camillais, mimosa, acacia, witch hazel, later on in late April we get huge rhododendrons, acacias, helabores. Enormous palm trees and bamboos with their shoots just poking through the soil, there’s an awful lot to get round!’
Details: Abbotsbury Gardens, Bullers Way, Abbotsbury, Dorset DT3 4LA. Open from 10am to 4pm daily. Admission: £5.80. For further information, telephone +44 (0)1305 871387, or log ontowww.abbotsbury-tourism.co.uk.
Scampston Hall in Yorkshire is further north and as a result is a little colder. However, it is a walled garden which provides a certain amount of shelter for the less hardy plants introduced. This garden has undergone a major redesign over the past four years, and is now at the cutting edge of garden design. Piet Oudolf together with Lady Legard, conceived a plan for the space incorporating both the old and the new. Mr Oudolf brought his Chelsea winning expertise to Scampston in 2000, and the garden is now throwing open its walls, as it were, to the public.
Head gardener Tim Marshall told Countrylife.co.uk that things have been really moving on in the past week, with the warmer weather: ‘Hellebores we have by the dozen and Hipacitas are just beginning to show through, Lamium is covering the more shady areas nicely. We have Nepeta and Astrantia before its usual time as well. Prunus trees are also in bud, leading down to the meadow where we have lots of the bulbous plants, like tulips and so on.’
Lady Legard told Countrylife.co.uk that it was a very modern garden: ‘It’s not the kind of planting you find in a typical English garden, it is a modern plan in a very traditional space, rather than just bluebells and trees.’
Later on in the spring Lady Legard encouraged visitors to come and see the specie peonies, as well as lots of spring flowering shrubs, and grasses which give pleasure for months once they are fully grown.
Scampston Hall, Scampston, Malton, North Yorkshire, YO17 8NG, +44 (0)1944 758 224,http://www.scampston.co.uk
Further north in Scotland, on the east coast we find a completely different garden again. Osgood Mackenzie’s plan to create a garden from windswept moorland on a rocky peninsula took many by surprise, but is now the jewel in the crown of this National Trust property.
Witness some of the world’s largest growing trees planted into holes hewn out of the bedrock as well as a multitude of exotic plants. The garden is nurtured by the warm currents of the North Atlantic Drift, which help the gardeners there to be able to cultivate plants which have not been seen previously in the UK.
John Anderson, the enthusiastic head gardner at Inverewe says the weather is indeed the key to the garden’s success: ‘What we have here is a micro climate within a micro climate. It is often sunny, but we can also have a lot of rain – about 7ft last winter – so its warm and wet, and extremely fertile up here,’ he says.
There are over 54 acres of gardens here, with breathtaking views, 40 of which are woodland, and the woodland garden, together with the walled part of the garden, are the best ones in early spring, according to Mr Anderson: ‘We have primula, skunk cabbage, tulips in the rock garden, new shoots of frens, scilas, and eucalyptus, alongside pulmonaria and tree ferns. It’s hard to see it all in one visit, and every day things are changing here,’
‘It’s quite an intensively farmed garden, and that comes through, but there’s also something quite wild about it, it has to be because of this fantastic location.’
Inverewe Garden, Poolewe, Ross-shire, IV22 2LG. Tel (01445) 781200; email email@example.com
Such sights in the springtime are sure to put paid to the theory that unless you’re in the home counties, you can’t garden creatively, and wherever you are you use what you have to the best of your abilities, and this is something to see for yourselves. The wealth of diversity, and determination on behalf of these dedicated gardeners, and landowners make it a double pleasure to drop by for a visit.