Snowdrops – A Perennial Treat

By Tamsin Westhorpe

To be invited to a snowdrop lunch is as good as it gets for gardeners. To be in invited to a snowdrop lunch at Sir Roy Strong’s home and garden, the Laskett in Herefordshire, is even more of a hot ticket.

The Belvedere
The Belvedere - a new addition in 2018 offering views over the garden

I’ve visited the Laskett on many occasions and had the pleasure of joining Sir Roy on local charity gardening Q&A panels, but I’ve never experienced the garden in winter. And what an experience this is. With so many possible routes around this garden, each offering a unique vista and having a different story to tell it’s no wonder that this garden is so acclaimed.

This special place reflects Sir Roy’s personality and is intrinsically linked to the fascinating lives that both he and his late wife Julia Trevelyan Oman CBE have lived. Sir Roy is a renowned historian and was director of both the National Portrait Gallery and the Victorian and Albert Museum. His wife Julia was a much-celebrated theatre and film set designer. At 84 Sir Roy Strong has made provision for the future of this beloved garden. This lunch was a chance for a gathering of galanthophiles and gardeners to meet and celebrate the fact that he has bequeathed the garden to the charity Perennial. As a hands-on gardener this charity resonates strongly with me. Perennial has been supporting gardeners since 1839 and last year alone it threw a lifeline to 1618 gardeners. Anyone who works with plants, trees, gardens, woodlands and green spaces can call on this charity for support with health issues, money worries, redundancy, bereavement and so much more. Sir Roy is certainly gifting the garden to a very worthy and appropriate cause. To think of all the people who will be helped by the future entry fees to the garden almost brings a tear to the eye.

Cecil Beaton’s sundial
Cecil Beaton’s sundial is at home in the Silver Jubilee Garden

Perennial have two other gardens under their care – York Gate in Leeds and Fullers Mill in Suffolk. The Laskett is home to an incredible collection of plants and features. The sundial in the Silver Jubilee Garden once belonged to photographer Cecil Beaton and there is a lion statue that was originally in place at the Houses of Parliament. It’s a jewel box of stories which visitors can delve into thanks to the rather ingenious podcatchers. You’ll be given a podcatcher on arrival and you simply zap it at the audio guide posts and Sir Roy will tell you the story of each part of the garden. Having his voice join you as you explore this autobiographical garden is the icing on the cake and it’s wonderful to know that Perennial will keep this gorgeous cake fresh for future generations!

Podcatchers
Sir Roy Strong talks you around the garden thanks to the podcatchers

The garden is a journey of discovery. There are 24 different areas. New to the garden is the Belvedere which was built in 2018 – climb the steps to the viewing platform and from here you can enjoy views of Herefordshire. For me the highlight is the Elizabethan Tudor Walk edged with impressive pleached limes. The Christmas Orchard at the heart of the garden offers a sense of calm and rest. It is here that on her request Julia’s coffin lay before her funeral. The trees in the orchard were planted at Christmas in 1974 and each tree has a garland of snowdrops around them. To me they look like rather magical fairy rings.

Garlands of snowdrops around the apple trees
Garlands of snowdrops around the apple trees in The Christmas Orchard

After a stroll around the garden our lunch was a warming feast which started with parsnip soup. In the centre of the tables were vases of snowdrops displayed individually. Each was labelled. With so many subtle differences between them it’s a relief to have their identity made clear. However, many of my companions at the table knew these tiny plants at first glance. The vase in front of me featured the rather dashing Galanthus ‘Mary Ann Gibbs’. I was unaware of the large variety of snowdrops that have found a home at The Laskett.

Pleached limes in the Elizabeth Tudor Walk
Pleached limes offer year-round structure in the Elizabeth Tudor Walk

The conversation at the table was of course snowdrops. These tiny plants often come with big and exciting stories of how they were found and why they were named. A book that came up in conversation was The Galanthophiles: 160 Years of Snowdrop Devotees. Written by Jennifer Harmer and Jane Kilpatrick it is full of the adventures of the galanthophiles of the past.

This perfect day was made all the better thanks to a rare blue sky. The sun will be shinning for many years to come on this important garden and for that I am truly grateful. If you would like more details about the work of Perennial visit www.perennial.org.uk or to visit The Laskett visit www.thelaskettgardens.co.uk

Tamsin Westhorpe

With over 25 years’ experience in the horticultural industry, Tamsin has plenty of practical, hands on advice to share. Her career has seen her edit The English Garden magazine for six years, write scripts for TV gardening, lecture at Kingston Maurward College in Dorset and care for parks and gardens. She is now a freelance writer and curator and gardener of Stockton Bury Gardens, Herefordshire (listed by The Times in the top 20 gardens to visit July 2017). Tamsin is also an RHS Chelsea Flower Show Judge, co-Chair of The Garden Media Guild and a prolific speaker at many high profile events. She has recently written her first book ‘Diary of a Modern Country Gardener’ published by Orphans Publishing and is the voice of the popular Candide Gardening podcast ‘Fresh from the pod’.

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