Spring is here so get out and grab it

Well its happened! Spring has finally arrived with the usual great show of colour in our wonderful South Weset gardens.

Rhododendrons, Magnolias and Camellias all bursting out in glorious blooms. This week blue skies are forecast and this will be a perfect opportunity to see these spectacular plants against a backdrop of true clear Blue Sky.

Camellias and Rhododendrons appear to be particularly good this year but the good old favourite Magnolias are still providing wonderful value for money and the ‘ohs and ahs’ as only they can do.

The only thing is don’t hang around and miss this visit one of our National Trust gardens soon, and put a bit of natures light back into your life. Check our website for more details www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Nature’s floral barometer indicates the onset of spring

National Trust annual flower count taking place at Trengwainton Garden

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).

Oh! Roses and lilies are fair to see;

But the wild bluebell is the flower for me. Louisa A. Meredith

National Trust bluebell wood

Imagine yourself here, walking along this path on the Godolphin estate in west Cornwall… Kathy Doyle posted from Godolphin last year: 'I can see the very first flowers starting to come through, very exciting, still awaiting the grand show.'

There’s something about bluebell time, isn’t there? Those rolling carpets of purpley-blue under new beech leaves, that sweet fresh green scent, bring a spring to your step and a feeling that winter is past. The Trust looks after some of the country’s most important bluebell woods; a quarter of the woodland we own is ancient or semi-natural – the perfect environment for our native bluebells to flourish in.

The first appearance of the flowers is keenly awaited and anticipated, but whether it’s going to be mid-April or mid-May depends on all kinds of factors such as how cold the winter has been and whereabouts in the country you are. This is why the Trust gives a helping hand with its online Bluebell Watch. Keep an eye on the Trust’s website from late March onwards, and you will start to see updates from staff at gardens and woodlands throughout the South West letting you know where are the best places to see bluebells this spring. You can also follow updates on our Twitter page and our South West blog, and upload your favourite bluebell photos.

A glance through last year’s Bluebell Watch postings shows that the first in the country was made by Andrew Wrayford, warden at Buckland Abbey in the sheltered Tavy Valley, who wrote on 14 April: ‘I spotted the first few bluebells out yesterday – follow our “Blue Walk” to see them…’. He was followed two days later by Mike Hardy, warden on the Lizard, who had seen them on the Penrose estate, near Helston: ‘The first flowers are finally showing today, in full sunshine but still with a chilly easterly wind. Will they all be in full bloom for Flora Day, Helston’s celebration of the arrival of spring on 8 May? The clock is ticking…’.

Ode to the Bluebell by Ian Wright, Garden Adviser for Devon and Cornwall

England without bluebells? 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?

But for the bluebell, that time of glory is the commutation of months of preparation, much of it going on unseen. The bluebell starts to grow in the late summer, hidden away underground, its clock ticking towards spring. The bluebell’s sole aim is to set its flowers before other plants that are more temperature-dependant can compete, and before the tree canopy above shades out the forest floor.

You would be mistaken if you thought this iconic plant of spring is untouchable. It faces real challenges in the form of climate change which may give other plants a chance to compete at the same time or even losing its unique identity by hybridising with its invasive Spanish cousin.

But for all this, the bluebell remains one of our real champions of spring, so I urge you to make the effort to go and visit a wood near you, and stand still in awe at nature’s sheer beauty.