The gardeners at the National Trust’s Glendurgan near Falmouth have been reflecting on how the 25-acre valley garden has changed since the great storm of 1990. On January 25 that year seventy trees blew over in a matter of hours. Far from being a disaster, the events of that day proved transformational for the garden. Having suddenly lost many of their surrounding woodland companions, the tree-sized flowering magnolias have turned the extra light, moisture and nutrients into eye-catching flowering each March.
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Ian Wright, South West Gardens Advisor said: “Arriving fast on the heels of snowdrops, daffodils are often the first sign of spring that people watch for.
The unusually mild winter has brought out snowdrops earlier than normal at Fyne Court, the National Trust property nestling in the Quantock Hills. The mild weather has led to early snowdrops being spotted in December, and throughout January clumps of the popular bulbs at Fyne Court have been seen.
It comes as no surprise that the recent cold, snowy weather has put a pause on spring as flowering plants and bulbs hold back for warmer temperatures.
Gardeners at 24 National Trust properties across the South West (52 nationwide) took part in the annual Valentine’s Day flower count which first started in Devon and Cornwall in 2006.
It’s here in the South West which is usually the furthest advanced with early spring blooms, but numbers have dropped significantly at several gardens, although there are some encouraging signs of spring with bountiful displays of snowdrops and Camellia’s at Saltram and masses of spring bulbs at Killerton as well as some stunning displays of magnolias in bloom at Trelissick in Cornwall.
Ian Wright, National Trust South West Gardens Consultant, said: ‘It’s the first time since the survey began that some of our gardeners have been out counting flowers in the snow. Temperatures of near freezing didn’t put off our hardy gardeners as they set about the annual flower count.
‘In the far West of Cornwall, the Magnolias have started to deliver their spring spectacular, whereas at Hidcote in Gloucestershire, few flowers could be seen due to a covering of snow.
‘However we are greatly encouraged that this year there are already some great snowdrop shows, such as at Arlington Court and Saltram in Devon.
‘Although there was 50% less flowers counted in Cornwall compared with 1,032 in 2012 there were still a few surprises such as an Aloe which is succulent plant in flower on St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall and in Devon at Coleton Fishacre a Gazania from South Africa.
‘On the evidence of our count, I think Magnolias and Rhododendrons may well be the big success stories this spring due in part to the wet autumn, with fantastic displays expected at Lanhydrock, Trelissick, Trengwainton and Killerton in the coming weeks.’
This year 1,178 plants were recorded in 16 gardens in Devon and Cornwall compared to 1,745 in 17 gardens in 2012. In 2008 3,335 plants in bloom were recorded, marking the earliest spring so far recorded. 1,455 plants were recorded in gardens across the whole of the South West this year compared 1,972 in 2012.
Mike Calnan, Head of Gardens & Parks at the National Trust, said: ‘On the back of one of the wettest years on record, this past month of icy temperatures and snow followed in some areas by a thaw, have certainly slowed things down in our gardens.
‘Although the count is down for Valentine’s Day, we can confidently look forward to spectacular displays as time moves on and temperatures gradually start to rise.
‘Comparing the number of plants across our gardens on a set day every year gives us a real insight into how our gardens respond to weather patterns, and is a useful ‘barometer’ for the season ahead.’
The highest number of flowers recorded in the South West were recorded at Saltram and Lanhydrock with 136 blooms, while Lanhydrock and Cotehele in Cornwall saw the biggest drop in numbers of bloom (down from 248 at 136 and 228 to 102 respectively).
Many National Trust gardens are already open. For more information and opening times see http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/.
Healthy numbers of flowering plants and bulbs in bloom indicate that many gardens across the country will experience a bumper and longer blooming spring despite the recent cold snap, says the National Trust.
Gardeners at over 50 National Trust properties across the country have taken part in the annual Valentine’s Day flower count which has been conducted by gardeners and volunteers in Devon andCornwalleach February since 2006.
Many properties, particularly across the South West experienced a spring ‘preview’, prior to the recent frost which destroyed many of the very early blooms. However, there are a plethora of buds ready to open once the temperatures rise, indicating spring is just around the corner.
Due to the unseasonable warm winter spring had arrived early in some parts of the country with daffodils blooming in December at Dunham Massey inCheshireand Knightshayes in Devon and Lanhydrock inCornwallrecorded its earliest flowering magnolia on New Year’s Day.
But, recent sub-zero temperatures despite slowing things down slightly, appears to have had little affect with many gardens set to burst into life, particularly in the South West which escaped the worst of the recent harsh weather. All the indications are that our true spring is still to come and when it does it will be a longer blooming one.
The Trust’s annual flower count has been conducted by National Trust gardeners and volunteers in Devon & Cornwall each February since 2006 to provide an annual snapshot of the heralding of spring 
1972 plants were recorded in flower this year across 26 gardens in the South West. 1745 plants were recorded in flower this year across 18 gardens in Devon and Cornwall this year compared to 1395 plants last year and 1,115 the previous 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 Saltram with 133 blooms (down from 163 last year) and at Lanhydrock inCornwallwith 248 (up from 142 recorded last year) and Kingston Lacy with 44 plants in bloom. Cotehele inCornwallsaw the biggest increase in blooms, 228 (up from 45 in 2011). This leap in numbers is largely due to its location in a mild Cornish valley which helps drain cold air out to sea allowing the upper slopes to warm up quickly, promoting earlier flowering.
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; unfortunately many of them have suffered from the recent frost but luckily for us that almost means we are getting two springs, what could be better than that?”
“InCornwallwe have noted many out of sync flowering before the cold snap with Agapanthus, which usually flowers in June, out already at Trengwainton. The great snowdrop spectaculars at many of our gardens are also well underway. Many plants were continuing to grow until last week, including Hydrangeas and it remains to be seen if they have survived this cold weather unscathed.
“Spring was a little too fast of the starting blocks, but nature is a great healer so we hope many plants and bulbs affected by the cold snap will go on to flower when the temperatures start to rise”.
“Last year was particularly good for rhododendrons, and this year should hopefully be a good year for camellias and other plants which have tighter buds that would have stood a better chance of surviving the cold snap”, he added.
Garden adviser, Ian Wright extols the wonder of the snowdrop and the bluebell.
To me snowdrops and bluebells are ‘the’ iconic flowers of early and late spring.
Barely have we taken the Christmas tree to be recycled then the brave little snowdrop is either well above ground or perhaps even in flower. But what we don’t ever do is ever get down on the ground and really appreciate the tiny snowdrop bud.
I admit that a carpet of white is a spectacular sight but why not this year take a small mirror, get down on your knees, and carefully place it under the snowdrop. Only then will you appreciate the subtleness of this spring bulb – I promise you that the attractive flower with its delicate green, and in some cases yellow, tinges will show itself to you in a whole new light.
Lots of our gardens, particularly Lacock and Trengwainton, have great displays, so go and kneel in honour of this brave little plant the snowdrop.
Then, just as the snowdrop’s light is fading, another favourite is rampaging up through the woodland floor ready to light up the second part of spring.
The bluebell is steeped in mystical folklore. Are fairies really summoned by the ringing of its bells? If you hear the bell does that mean your sudden demise? Or does wearing a wreath of flowers means you can only speak the truth? Even the nineteenth-century Romantic poets Tennyson and Keats were under the spell of the bluebell, believing it symbolised regret and solitude. I say nonsense! This bulb is a true symbol of the fantastic beauty of nature.
Again, you are spoilt for choice as to where to go and get your yearly bluebell fix. My favourite, but keep it a secret, is Lanhydrock. Do the same as with the snowdrop and get the mirror out for new perspective. If you stare hard enough hopefully the intense blue will stay locked in your memory until next year.
…it would be like cancelling spring and going straight to summer! Can anything actually beat walking through a bluebell wood on a warm spring day with all your senses in total overdrive?
Wander down to a wood in April or early May and it’s likely that you’ll be confronted by a wonderful sight. A carpet of blue will stretch out into the distance with a scene full of delicate, fragile flowers. A bluebell wood in full flower is a true assault on your senses.
For generations bluebell woods have captured the public’s imagination and they have become the perfect symbol of the beauty and seasonality of our world. They are emblematic of new life and remain a real crowd pleaser: a time for celebration and joy.
Bluebells are usually at their best during mid morning, making it a great time to visit when you get the softer dappled light on a sunny day and their scent wafting through the air. Look also for the changes in colour from the rich dark blue when they are at their youngest and freshest, to the softer almost pale blue as they begin to fade away as the summer months draw nearer.
This is nature at its best and a quintessential sight in the spring months. It’s a sign that the days are getting longer and warmer.
As our climate has gradually become milder the first bluebells began to get earlier every year. In west Cornwall they could even be spotted in March thanks to frost-free winters and the milder nature of the west country. It would be late April or even early May before the rest of us could marvel at these lovely bluebells as they force their way through the soil stretching tall and proud towards the warm spring air.
The bluebell starts growing in the previous autumn, its sole purpose to flower before other woodland plants. This means that it’s free from competition, attracting the early spring pollinators. But cold weather can slow its clock down. Not only will the bluebell then have to compete with other ground flora but also shade from above in the form of trees coming into to leaf, preventing sunlight reaching the forest floor.
To help us keep up to speed with the bluebell season, the National Trust has set up Bluebell Watch as a way to provide updates on when the bluebells are at their best. Wardens and gardeners are sending in their sightings of the first bluebells as they appear and will be keeping a close eye on the peak time for bluebells; they’re normally at their best for one week.
The blue haze of bluebells has also begun to appear at National Trust woods from the gardens at Agatha Christie’s former holiday home on the banks of river Dart in Devon.
Woods in the UK really do matter globally for bluebells. Half of the world’s population of English bluebells can be found on these shores but their future remains uncertain.
Climate is important for bluebells but they are also struggling to cope with another threat so common for many different species of British wildlife – invasive species.
Spanish bluebells, a more cultivated form of bluebell, are normally found in our towns and cities in gardens and parks. Yet this welcome splash of colour in urban areas is putting the future of native bluebells at real risk. A blend of the English and Spanish bluebells has created a virulent hybrid that is difficult to distinguish from our own true bluebell.
In the meantime, use the arrival of this year’s fleeting bluebells as the perfect excuse to spend time in a nearby wood – and share the resulting photographs with the rest of the world.
As dappled sunshine peeped out across the South West, we celebrated the arrival of spring (and the weekend) in Bristolian style at Tyntesfield.Time for a squiz at the new Home Farm visitor centre and a carefree walk around Tyntesfield’s sprawling grounds before a spell in the city.
A mighty fine soya cappuccino and gluten-free shortbread (spot the girl with special dietary requirements) from Tyntesfield’s Home Farm set me on my way. It was lovely to see lots of families striding about and breathing in the fresh air. Strolling past the picnickers and kids having a kick about was a splendid way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Have a peek at our pictures.
I glowed with a little vicarious pride as I overheard lots of positive oohs and aahs coming from fellow explorers of this grand Victorian estate.
‘This is a gorgeous, gorgeous place’ – sighed one Bristol resident.
Another remarked ‘Everywhere smells lovely after the grass has been cut.’
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Seas of narcissi and daffodils under the trees, pots of purple hyacinths and freshly sewn seeds in the kitchen garden added to the spring in my step.
And with Tyntesfield‘s turrets and pinnacles standing proud and free from scaffolding for the first time in two years – what a lot of eye candy on show.
Continuing Bristol’s seasonal celebrations required a stop at The Spring Festival in the city centre. It was great to see a fellow National Truster – roving recruiter Emma – setting up her stall among local lovers of the outdoors and moreish morsels.
Find her there tomorrow (Sunday 27 March, 11am-5pm) at Brunel’s Old Station (next to Temple Meads). She’ll be joined by the Tyntesfield crew who promise lots of inspiration on getting outdoors and closer to nature just outside one of Britain’s greenest cities.
Why not stop by to find out more about fun things to do in the fresh air from yoga on the lawn to growing your own veg. Simple pleasures, hey?
A stroll in any of our gardens at this time of year is always lovely but if you’re lucky enough to get to Overbeck’s nr Salcombe like I did this week, take a moment to go and view the stunning 110 year old Magnolia Campbellii ‘Overbecks’. This stunning tree year on year attracts the crowds and with a backdrop that includes the Salcombe estuary its almost overwhelming in its beauty.
The garden has undergone quite a makeover recently with the planting of 1000 spring bulbs, 300 rare endangered species. Combine a visit with a made to order picnic or a Otto cream tea (or maybe both) and there is no better place to relax and rejuvenate after the cold winter months.
Overbeck’s opens for its new season this Saturday 12th March. More details from our website at www.nationaltrust.org.uk