December 2010 was the coldest this century the Met Office have said, and rewarded many with a white Christmas. Fortunately this unprecedented cold snap took place when flower buds were at their tightest, giving them most protection, however it also had the effect of greatly chilling the ground.
Coupled with a distinct lack of sun to inject some warmth into the ground, the cold has slowed up some of the emerging early flowers. Plants like the appropriately named Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’ only now fully out in flower West Cornwall, and Magnolia cambellii still in bud with only the slightest hint of pink beginning to show.
Our annual flower count has been conducted by National Trust gardeners and volunteers in Devon & Cornwall each February since 2006 and provides us with an annual snapshot of the heralding of spring.
This year, 1395 plants were recorded in flower across 16 gardens in Devon and Cornwall compared to 1,115 last year and 3,335 in 2008, when the highest count was recorded, giving a 75% increase in plants in bloom. The highest number of flowers recorded in Devon this year was at Killerton with 200 in bloom (up from 172 last year) and at Glendurgan in Cornwall with 149 (up from 45 recorded last year).
Although Camellias have been flowering in Cornish gardens even before the cold period, our gardens are really only now beginning to burst into flower although a touch behind compared with other years.
The ever favourite Rhododendron is towering over great drifts of snowdrops and daffodils both are bravely popping their heads above the parapet hoping for some caressing valentine warmth, rather another visit from Jack Frost. Even the birds have been increasing the intensity of their dawn chorus during the last few days.
Ian Wright, National Trust South West Gardens Advisor said: ‘Our annual flower count is a simple and fun way of recording how our garden plants react and adapt to changes in weather patterns, a kind ‘floral barometer’, its not a scientific exercise but it is a simple indicator of the weather we have experienced and the season ahead. This fun and slightly competitive count is something you can try in your own garden. Our gardens are just beginning to burst into life; the worst that could happen now is a late cold period which would damage the buds which have already begun to open.
‘Last year we saw a spectacular display of a magnolias this year Rhododendrons look like being particularly good, when we do get some warmth from the elusive sun, our gardens will be under starters orders and quite frankly bursting with blooms, blossoms and flowering bulbs, our gardens should be a riot of colour once again, he added.
Many National Trust gardens are now open, including many of those in Devon and Cornwall. Properties currently open are:
Devon – A la Ronde (open Sat – Weds 12-27 Feb, weekends to 6 March, Sat – Weds from 12 March). Arlington Court (open daily). Buckland Abbey (open daily 18-27 Feb, Fri-Sun to 6 March, daily from 12 March). Castle Drogo (open daily 19-27 Feb and from 12 March. Killerton (garden open all year). Knightshayes Court (open daily – except Friday 19-27 Feb, weekends to 6 March, daily (except Friday) from 12 March). Lydford Gorge (Whitelady Waterfall Walk open daily all year). Overbeck’s (open Sat – Thurs daily). Saltram (Park open daily all year. Restaurant, shop and gardens open daily, except Friday, to 10 March then daily from 12 March)
Cornwall – Cotehele (garden and estate open all year). Glendurgan (open Tues-Sat from 12 February). Lanhydrock (garden open all year). Trelissick (open daily). Trengwainton (garden open Sun-Thurs from 13 Feb).