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A stroll through the snowdrops at Arley Hall in springtime

A carpet of snowdrops greets visitors to Arley this month. <i>(Image: Picasa)</i>
A carpet of snowdrops greets visitors to Arley this month. (Image: Picasa)

The gardens at Arley Hall stand proudly among the finest in the country, and we are very fortunate to have this horticultural gem in the heart of the Cheshire. As well as being a location for several successful TV programmes such as Peaky Blinders and the new Netflix series Fool Me Once, starring Joanna Lumley, Michelle Keegan and Richard Armitage, they are arguably most famous for their double herbaceous borders, which appeared on a plan of the Arley estate in 1846. This leads to the belief they are the oldest in England, predating even the ones at Kew, and throughout the summer, thousands of visitors admire the colourful spectacle.

So why, you might ask, am I choosing to write about them in the somewhat dreary month of February? The answer, quite simply, is snowdrops. The woodland walk at Arley is one of the best places to see snowdrops in Cheshire, and it is a destination I visit every year. At the start of the walk, I always seek out the beautifully scented witch hazel, Hamamelis x Intermedia ‘Pallida’, which is covered in bright yellow crinkled flowers in February. This is one of my favourite winter flowering shrubs and as the walk continues, it’s easy to spot more varieties in different shades of yellow, orange and red. The real stars of the show, however, are the dainty little Galanthus nivalis, commonly known as snowdrops, scattered like a carpet across the woodland floor.

Great British Life: Hellebores on the Woodland Walk. Hellebores on the Woodland Walk. (Image: Alison Moore)

Head gardener Gordon Baillie reveals these snowdrops have been meticulously divided and replanted over the years to create the magnificent display we see today. Add to this the colourful hellebores, early rhododendrons and the fragrant Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’, and I can’t think of many better places to lift the spirits on a dark winter day.

I also love to see the other areas of the garden at this time of year. It’s fascinating to observe the simplicity of the herbaceous border in winter, with its yew hedges and buttresses that divide the border into four sections. The miracle of nature means in spring new growth will appear and the cycle of colour and scent begins again. Of course, the reality is much hard work is required to ensure this high standard is maintained. Gardener Dave Groom who has worked at Arley for more than 25 years is charged with maintaining these borders, which involves, lifting, dividing and mulching the perennials to achieve the best results in the peak of summer.

As winter transitions into spring, the spotlight shifts to the rhododendrons, of which there is a magnificent collection, the beautiful magnolias and the many varieties of narcissi and other spring bulbs. I love the view of the distant fountain in the walled garden, through the curtain of magnolia trees, or turn around and get a glimpse of Ilex Avenue stretching towards the ha-ha.

Great British Life: Looking through the magnolia to Ilex Avenue. Looking through the magnolia to Ilex Avenue. (Image: Picasa)

If winter and spring are a joyous time in the gardens, then summer is its crowning glory, and I couldn’t possibly write about these gardens without giving you a little taste of summer. The planting is designed to give a long season of interest. From the ethereal blue poppies in June almost hiding away at the end of the Furlong Walk, to the mixed borders of the walled garden filled with mature shrubs, climbers and an abundance of colourful perennials, and finally to the sheer exuberance of the herbaceous borders themselves, the whole garden is an absolute joy to see.

Great British Life: The herbaceous border pictured in September. The herbaceous border pictured in September. (Image: Alison Moore)

As a frequent visitor to the gardens, and also to the PlayZone with my granddaughters, I have an annual pass which costs me just £40 a year and gives me a discount in the café and also the excellent Arley Hall Nursery located near the car park. Just perfect for February and the first of this year’s snowdrops.

Great British Life: The Walled Garden in May with the striking red of Lychnis Chalcedonica. The Walled Garden in May with the striking red of Lychnis Chalcedonica. (Image: Alison Moore)

Events at Arley for 2024

o Spring Plant Fair Sunday, March 24

o Guided Bluebell Walk Saturday, April 29

o Arley Garden Festival Saturday and Sunday, June 29 and 30

o East Garden Children's Theatre – Jemima Puddle-Duck, Sunday, July 21

o Walled Garden Theatre – The Importance of Being Earnest, Thursday, July 25th

 



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