Japan is known for its sakura, ornamental cherry trees that cover the country in billowing clouds of pink and white blossoms. Their blooming is considered an annual event, not just a sign of the season. There are daily forecasts that track the developing buds and, once open, families, friends, and work colleagues participate in hanami, viewing parties to enjoy the spectacle; for a brief week or two, the entire nation goes sakura mad. The Starbucks Sakura Frappuccino aside, it’s no surprise that over the centuries this has developed into a riotous celebration of spring and a reminder of the fleeting nature of life.
While the UK does not celebrate its flowers with quite the same level of enthusiasm, symbolism, or commercial products, there are at least three woodland phenomena that are well worth seeing. The better known occur in May, with bluebell walks and the blooming of fragrant wild garlic. Right now, however, if you know where to look it’s possible to enjoy stunning carpets of late winter flowers. Hardy snowdrops and the more delicate winter aconites have already made an appearance in and around Wiltshire, and crocuses promise to be close behind.
It was the National Garden Scheme advertising their participating snowdrop gardens that originally caught my attention, especially since the opening weekend coincided with actual snowfall that kept MrElaineous and I close to home. However, once we thawed out, we ventured to our local National Trust property, the three-in-one combination of Lacock Abbey, Fox Talbot Museum, and historic village. A walk around the Abbey grounds is always a treat, but the emergence of snowdrops and yellow aconites turn the woodland into a wonderland. The village’s Stall on the Wall with its honesty box and delicious fudge were a bonus!
We may have been slightly early to see the snowdrops at their peak, but our timing was otherwise ideal as a local National Trust holiday cottage was open for visitors to have a look. This 15th century cottage along Lacock’s High Street has many of its original features (including very low ceilings and beams), and gives you an idea of what might be behind the façade of some of Lacock’s other historic buildings.
Our appetite for snowdrops whetted, we next set off for Welford Park. The estate is perhaps best known to television viewers as the filming location for The Great British Bake Off, but it is the beech woodland covered with snowdrops that really takes the biscuit. I thought it was incredible even under overcast skies, but once the sun came out the flowers absolutely glowed in the light. While it’s worth a visit to Welford for the snowdrops alone, the park also boasts lovely walking paths along the Lambourn River and the redbrick manor itself is a picture-perfect dollhouse. It has been owned by the same family for over 400 years, and their collection of wildlife sculptures made for an interesting safari while exploring the grounds.
Although not quite as fleeting as the Japanese sakura, the time for snowdrops is short—the month of February, more or less. But with the help of Lacock Abbey and Welford Park—and the other snowdrop gardens dotted around the UK—it is possible to experience a true seasonal spectacle. No Starbucks necessary.