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Goodbye winter, hello snowdrops

PUBLISHED: 08:58 15 February 2011

Jeremy Bagnall-Oakeley with snowdrops at Brinton Hall. Visitors will be able to view the snowdrops and the hall as part of the Invitation To View scheme.

Jeremy Bagnall-Oakeley with snowdrops at Brinton Hall. Visitors will be able to view the snowdrops and the hall as part of the Invitation To View scheme.

Archant 2011

They are the delicate and adored emblems of the emergence of spring — and one of the best reasons to get out in the countryside and enjoy the change in seasons. RACHEL BULLER brings you her guide to the best snowdrop walks in the region.

There are few things as uplifting as the sight of the delicate snowdrop emerging from the cold, frosty ground like a little ray of hope — bringing the belief that spring is just around the corner.

The blanket of white petals smothers the ground and brings light to the dark dull days as the natural world wakes up from its wintry sleep.

And here in our region, there are many stunning snowdrop displays to enjoy, whether they are decorating the vast gardens of a historic building or hiding among the trees and fallen leaves in a peaceful stretch of woodland.

The snowdrop (Latin name galanthus nivalis, meaning milk-white flowers) comes in hundreds of varieties, some of them incredibly rare.

The first snowdrops were believed to have been brought to the British Isles by the Romans. One variety, the G plicatus, was introduced by soldiers returning from the Crimean war and the Victorians quickly fell in love with it, seeing them as emblems of purity.

Last week, this much loved variety was in the spotlight again, when a single bulb was sold on eBay to a horticulturist for a record-breaking £357. The bulb, an unusual G plicatus ‘EA Bowles’ snowdrop, was bred from a plant discovered in Myddelton House Gardens in Enfield, Middlesex in 2002.

This boom in the price of the humble snowdrop shows how much dedication and fascination it creates among the flower’s enthusiasts - known as galanthophiles, who will happily spend hours on their hands and knees searching for the most minute variations in the precious little flowers.

Although snowdrops are not yet considered under threat, they are being carefully monitored to ensure wild populations are not endangered.

Their natural habitat is deciduous woodland, but they also grow in coniferous woodland, meadows, near rivers and on stony slopes, particularly on calcareous soils.

Perhaps the most famous place to see the delicate white flowers in Norfolk is at Walsingham Abbey, where they bloom in wild abundance every February, attracting thousands of visitors.

The origins of the snowdrops at Walsingham are unclear, however they are commonly found flowering at religious sites. Symbolic of new life and renewal, they come into flower around Candlemas which commemorates the purification of Mary, 40 days after the Nativity.

Carpets of snowdrops lay throughout the Abbey’s 18 acres of woodland and along the banks of the River Stiffkey which runs through the grounds and the ruins of the medieval priory seem to spark into life when they are in bloom.

The Norfolk National Gardens Scheme will also be kicking off its programme of events and open gardens for the year with a series of snow drop walks – beginning with at Lexham Hall, near Litcham on Sunday.

With more and more people interested in snowdrops, the ‘Snowdrop Trails’ are a great way of embrace the change in season and get outside exploring.

Here is our guide to some of the best snowdrop walks and events in the region during the next month.

Walsingham Abbey, Walsingham.

From February 12, £3.50 (£2.50 cons).

The Abbey grounds and the Shirehall Museum in the Georgian Courthouse, are open daily. Woodland walks and paths can be soft and muddy at this time of year so stout footwear is recommended. Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a lead at all times.

Wheelchair users can reach some if not all of the woodland and there is a wheelchair available on request for visitors’ use.

Lexham Hall, near Litcham.

February 13, 11am–4pm, £4.50, children free, www.norfolkgardens.org

In the grounds of a fine 17th/18th century hall, with a lake, river walks and an extensive collection of scented, wintering flowering shrubs and woods carpeted with snowdrops. There is also a formal garden, with terraces and yew hedges and a traditional kitchen garden. Dogs on leads are welcome.

Old Hall, Low Road, Keswick

February 13, 11am-4pm, £3.50, under-12s free.

A large informal garden surrounding a 17th century house with a walled garden, bog garden and rockery, with proceeds going to St John Ambulance. Fine displays of carpets of naturalised snowdrops and aconites and unusually old box hedges.

Raveningham Hall, near Loddon.

February 13-March 4, Mon-Fri 11am-4pm, Sun 2pm-4pm, Sat closed, £4 (£3.50 cons), under-16s free, www.raveningham.com

These incredible gardens, were the labour of love of former own Pricilla Bacon, who lived at the hall for 50 years. The gardens feature an 18th century walled kitchen garden, Victorian conservatory, Edwardian rose garden, huge herbaceous borders, a colourful herb garden and an orchard and arboretum. There are swathes of snowdrops throughout the main gardens. Proceeds go to Priscilla Bacon Lodge.

Bagthorpe Hall, near Fakenham.

February 20, 11am–4pm, £3.50, children free, www.norfolkgardens.org

A woodland walk full of snowdrops. Home-made teas and organic soups available as well as plant sales.

Brinton Hall, Stody Road, Brinton, near Holt.

February 20 and 27, 1pm–4pm, £3.50, children under-12 free, 01263 860247

The hall is set in mature gardens with specimen trees, beside the church, with parkland sweeping down to a lake . There are many marked woodland walks through the snowdrops, which have increased recently with further planting. The event on February 20 is to raise funds for St John Ambulance, February 27 proceeds will go to St Andrew’s Church.

Horstead House, Mill Road, near Norwich.

February 26, 11am–4pm, £3.50, children free, www.norfolkgardens.org

Millions of beautiful snowdrops carpet the woodland setting which has also been recently planted with scented winter flowering shrubs. One of the most stunning features of this gardens are dogwoods growing on a small island in the River Bure which flows through the garden. There is also a small walled garden.

St Peter’s Church, Spixworth

February 27, 11.30am-4pm, £2.50, £1 children, under-5s free.

Enjoy a walk around the churchyard, woodland and farmland with different routes up to three miles long, starting at the church.

Dogs on leads are welcome and strong footwear is recommended. There is also a mini exhibition “Finds on the farm - from the Ice Age to Today”.

Chestnut Farm, Church Road, West Beckham, Holt

March 6, 11am–4pm, £3.50, children free, www.norfolkgardens.org

A garden and small arboretum, with more than 70 varieties of snowdrops, there is a snowdrop walk, and drifts of single and double snowdrops. The garden also has many very early spring flowering shrubs, Hellebores and heavenly scented Daphne Jacqueline Postill. Last year, it drew German enthusiasts to the garden.

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