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Snowdrop gardens

Everyone loves the first flowers of spring; those early signs of promise that warmer weather is on its way. Tiny glowing yellow aconites with their ruff of green leaves, delicate-looking crocus and, of course, snowdrops.

Thereís no better way to appreciate these early beauties than to visit a snowdrop garden. For some larger gardens, itís a way to extend their open season, but for others itís perhaps the only time they are fully open to the public. Hodsock Priory in Nottinghamshire is a wedding venue in a stunning setting throughout the year, but only throws open the gates to the public during February and March (when the massed plantings of snowdrops draw up to 10,000 visitors) and during April and May when the bluebells are in flower.

Although the impressive gatehouse is Tudor and was visited by Henry V111 in 1541, the house was built in 1829. Made of glowing red brick, it reflects beautifully in the lake set in the formal gardens. Take a camera if you visit! Run now by George and Kat Buchanan (who live on-site in part of the house) Hodsock is welcoming and friendly with a strong emphasis on enjoying the plants and the setting. Sitting with a bacon roll and cup of tea near the smouldering bonfire in the woodland is a wonderful experience. The snowdrops are best seen massed under the trees in Horsepasture Wood, where the different varieties ensure a continuation of flowering. Paths are vague (and helpfully marked with a time length), so the feeling of wandering through the woodland is relaxed and enjoyable and new areas become visible at every turn.

The formal gardens include a wide range of fragrant early-flowering plants to provide visitors with inspiration for their own gardens as they walk around. Plants like Chimonanthus (wintersweet), Hamamelis (witch hazel), Sarcococca (winter box) and shrubby Lonicera (winter honeysuckle) fill the air with their scent.

Hellebores, iris, crocus and aconites fill the borders, followed by narcissus. Amongst all of these, snowdrops of all sizes bloom in profusion: singles, doubles, tall ones and short ones. There may be over 80 varieties, but no-one seems entirely sure and the promiscuous plants have their own ideas anyway, so there are undoubtedly countless seedlings.

The hashtag Hodsock prefer is #notjustsnowdrops as they feel there is so much more on offer, but we would also add #takehodsockhome because no visit is complete without a souvenir and the packed plant sales area is just too tempting to ignore.

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