Grey skies seem an endless trait at the moment and it was indeed a particularly dull day when I set off from London along the dreary M4 to visit Welford Park.
Open for six weeks during the flowering period, today a Wednesday, was given over to the NGS. Was it perhaps a little too early in the season for the snowdrops and aconites? Not everyone thought so as there seemed to be plenty of cars in the car park.
I crossed over the busy road and walked along the chipped bark trail towards the gatehouse, a little concerned at the regimented line of planted snowdrops but at least content that they were in flower.
Turning the corner, my spirits were lifted not only by sight of the gentle covering of snowdrops either side of the drive, but also the seemingly curious interest displayed by a Muscovy drake, combined with the warm welcome from the NGS Berkshire team who were braving it in the cold.
So what had attracted me to Welford Park on this utterly bleak day?
Well, it happens to be one of the founding gardens to be open back in 1927, and secondly, apart from a beautiful house and the promise of drifts of snowdrops, it is has been the setting for three years of that wondrous contest The Great British Bake Off.
If you look very carefully you can see the marks left by the marquee.
And here are the very steps that our Mary would pop up and down. I say our because, after all, Mary Berry is the NGS President. At the top of the steps is Heather, who heads up NGS Berkshire. Overwhelmed by the size of the Tulip Tree behind her I fail to enquire into her baking skills.
We take a look at the enclosed garden by the side of the house. Reserved for those special cultivars of snowdrops it will be at its best in the summer. I wonder if stressed bakers might have slipped in here for a few moments of calm.
and perhaps found a little wisdom as we did, perched on a fork.
After grabbing a cup of coffee we pass by a garden gate charmingly framed by giant galanthus:
We are then joined by Peter, and more importantly his terrier Spike:
Snowdrops adorn the banks of the River Lambourn:
they grow both near:
and also stretch far:
more and more…….
We are amazed. Tiny as these flowers are they create quite an impact when they are growing in such quantity. Contemplating whether trusty Spike might be more of an aconite chap, it is at this point that I discover that Peter, the great Crocus chief, is an NGS Trustee himself.
Crossing back over the river and heading back towards the house we pass under the mistletoed lime avenue:
under which there are even more snowdrops, and an abundance of aconites:
Swathes of yellow in front of a perfectly proportioned house:
and a warm glow of cornus by the Bake Off lawn:
Without drawing Spike’s attention, we quickly passed by the dog cemetery and headed for warming soup.
Knowing that the garden owner is married to the Lord Lieutenant I asked her if she grew the snowdrop bearing that name. She had, and along with several other special snowdrops. Mrs Puxley related the story of how one day, a visitor rushed up to her waving a particularly precious flower in her hand: “I don’t know if you realise it but you have a very rare snowdrop” she reported breathlessly. Mrs Puxley could hardly believe that the visitor had possessed the temerity to pick her treasured bloom, and she nearly cried.
Another visitor had picked snowdrops for her buttonhole, “I hope you don’t mind” she haughtily said “but you do have so many”. Indeed Mrs Puxley did mind and asked her to remove them questioning what would happen if all the 10,000 visitors picked them.
I suppose in six weeks of opening there is likely to be some collateral damage but hopefully never on NGS open days!
With my purchase of a snowdrop named‘Brenda Toyle’ (who was she?), I set off for home. Daylight rapidly diminishing as I leave through the open gate, so noble in stature. A long drive home but it was so worth it.