Visits with interesting plants

Hever Castle re-opens for spring and snowdrops

Hever Castle re-opened on February 9th 2022 for the snowdrop walk and I went along on the 12th to enjoy the display and hear a talk by renowned garden writer and galanthophile Val Bourne.

A handy map given out at the entrance shows you where the best snowdrop displays are to be found. They’re largely clustered alongside the various pathways running through the garden which makes the walk easy in any weather and means you don’t end up tramping over the emerging daffodils which are naturalised in huge swathes in many of the grassy areas. We started along the top path, Anne Boleyn’s walk, and wound our way downwards towards the castle.

There was a good display in all the areas although in places they didn’t seem to be quite at their peak yet. This is good news for anyone planning to go later in the month as you won’t have missed them. When looking at snowdrops, especially when they’re growing in such large numbers, I find it part of the fun to forget any preconceived idea that they all look much the same (something I tended to think for a long time!) and get your eye in to see the differences. As Val Bourne pointed out in her talk, the different species grow in different ways and suit different places. There are also many natural hybrids created by bees. In fact some of the most well known and popular hybrids such as G. ‘S. Arnott’ have been discovered among a collection in someone’s garden, in a churchyard or by the side of a road. So keep your eyes peeled because you might spot something new.

In the recently planted wooded valley area near the top gate, the snowdrops grow in company with the early flowering daffodil ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ giving more than a hint of spring, especially on a sunny day. As we made our way down the hill towards the castle the clumps of snowdrops seemed to get bigger. Val Bourne told us that while most snowdrops are best grown on a slope, not all varieties are as good in woodland as G. nivalis, with G. elwesii happier in sun (she suggested using these to underplant roses or in a peony bed, both lovely ideas), and G. woronowii, native to Turkey and the Caucasus, best grown in sun. They don’t all develop into large clumps either, so if you want your bulbs to multiply and spread make sure you buy varieties such as ‘Magnet’ which is sterile but produces offsets, or ‘Trumps’ which, as Val says, makes clumps.

Some of the most striking displays are found close to the castle and moat, as well as in and among the winter garden by the half moon lawn, where some of the more unusual varieties have been planted among the winter shrubs (such as Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ below). These include G. plicatus ‘Wendy’s Gold’ with it’s yellow markings and ovary, the robust G. plicatus ‘Colossus’ and green tipped G. elwesii ‘Green Brush’. Some of these snowdrops can cost eye watering amounts (over £1000 for one bulb in some cases), especially when they’re first introduced. However, Val Bourne pointed out that they do tend to come down in price over time and the really good ones which grow well and are less likely to die come down in price more readily than those that are temperamental and hard to keep.

Should you start to get tired of the snowdrops, this is a rich and varied garden with plenty of other plants to look at even at this time of year. In the pictures below are two camellias (name unknown) growing along the covered walkway behind the loggia, as well as crocuses, hellebores, a skimmia in the winter garden, overlooking the moat, an Edgworthia chrysantha, also in the winter garden, that is as beautifully shaped as it is scented (one of the best I’ve seen) and some purple primroses planted with what I think is probably a Carex, maybe C. oshimensis ‘Everillo’ or just possibly it’s Acorus gramineus. You could get a very similar look with either of those anyway.

If your interests are more historical than horitcultural there’s plenty for you to look at as well. The Italian garden is particularly rich in antiquities, brought here by William Waldorf Astor. These include what is thought to be the oldest piece, the square Cinerarium below, made to hold cremated remains and dated to the 1st century AD, and the Loggia fountain, its design inspired by Rome’s Trevi fountain, where I chose to take a short break.

Hever Castle is now open daily from 10.30am, closing at 4.30pm (last entry 3pm) until March 26th and then closing at 6pm (last entry 4.30pm) until 29th October.

I’m going to leave you with the beautiful sight of the bare stems of a rhododendron and a magnificent wisteria, and the idea that bare stems can be just as beautiful as flowers.

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