Snowdrops at Welford Park

PUBLISHED: 11:39 16 March 2011 | UPDATED: 15:39 20 February 2013

A carpet of snowdrops at Welford

A carpet of snowdrops at Welford

The ancient estate of Welford Park, near Newbury, is famous for its carpets of snowdrops this time of year.

The ancient estate of Welford Park, near Newbury, is famous for its carpets of snowdrops this time of year.

Originally a Norman monastery, Welford Park, near the West Berkshire village of Wickham, has been in the same family since the 17th century and is best known for its extensive snowdrop woods.

Snowdrops are in the Amaryllidacea family and the name comes from the greek 'gala' and 'anthos' meaning milk flower. That they have been grown in this corner of the county for a long time is indisputable, but there is some disagreement about their actual date of arrival.

The true origins of Snowdrops

"The RHS would have it that snowdrops in this country date from around 1735 when they were named by Linneaus," says Welford's current incumbent, Deborah Puxley. "However the Romans used them for healing and the Norman monks would have decorated the church in white for Candlemas so I think that the monks may have planted them earlier than that."

Clearly more than 400 years is a long time for a colony to expand, but nothing can prepare for these endless white drifts of snowdrops. Not content with mere clumps, the entire beech wood floor is carpeted with moisture- and shade-loving Galanthus nivalis. And there are small spreads of G 'Elwesii' and G 'John Gray' too. "But they are not so easy to grow." explains Deborah.

People flock in their thousands

In recent years snowdrop spotting has become quite the thing and, like Victorian holiday makers to the seaside, people flock to snowdrop woods in their thousands. Ranging from hardened snowdrop enthusiasts to families with young children seeking a good day out, they come in their droves.

So why this recent cross-generational enthusiasm for galanthophilia? Fashion and sheer profile have something to do with it.

"And we are also the first garden to open. People have cabin fever and need to get out. There are reunions, children roll down banks and there is the most marvellous coming together of the local community. The atmosphere is fantastic!" says Deborah with enthusiasm.

And it would be hard to beat the spectacle of sheer numbers. When grown by the acre, the scent of snowdrops is remarkable and although considered a staple for damp woodland there are varieties that like sun too. Research into ancient remedies has also resulted in new medical uses and drugs derived from Galanthus are now used as a treatment for Alzheimer's Disease.

At Welford Park this little flower shrugs off its traditional modesty and comes out singing and dancing as the very first herald of spring. Snowdrops - get them while they are hot.

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