Last Sunday there was a rare day of winter sunshine so I decided to make the most of it and take in some snowdrops. After a very pleasant drive through the Cotswolds I arrived at Colesbourne Park. Colesbourne Park was the home of Henry John Elwes (1846-1922) who was a traveller and naturalist. During his lifetime he introduced many plants into cultivation among them was Galanthus elwesii (named after him), which he found whilst travelling in Turkey in 1874. It was Henry John Elwes who began the snowdrop collection at Colesbourne.
Galanthus 'Hippolyta' (Greatorex double, regular skirts)
After Elwes death in 1922 the collection lay undisturbed for sixty years until his great grandson Sir Henry Elwes and his wife began to identify the plants and spread them around the park. Lady Elwes has added many further species and cultivars and today over 160 cultivars can be found at Colesbourne.
Galanthus plicatus 'Colossus' (originated at Colesbourne)
As you leave the car park you immediately walk into the arboretum with a carpet of snowdrops beneath the trees. They are displayed beautifully nestling amongst moss, tiny tendrils of ivy and crisp copper beech leaves. It was decidedly cold, but the afternoon sun made the area look quite magical.
The snowdrop collection is clearly labelled and people were on hand to talk and answer any questions about them. The atmosphere in the park was friendly, and they seemed genuinely excited at the interest visitors were showing in the collection. I visited on the last weekend in January. The snow has put back the flowering of many of the plants by approximately two weeks, but this has meant that several of the early double varieties that are often missed on open days were just starting to flower.
It was a very brisk Sunday afternoon and there was a sense of more snow in the air. Apart from the snowdrops I was not quite sure what to expect from my visit to Colesbourne Park. I had not been prepared for the beauty of the woods and the beguiling blue lake beyond them. I looked for several minutes at the lake when I first saw it, as I could just not believe its colour. The lake was created in 1922. Its amazing colour is believed to be caused by suspended clay particles in the water.
The trees in the park were heavily draped with moss, lichen and ferns all adding to the enchantment of the place.
Galanthus 'Lady Belatrix Stanley'
As I left the woods and lake and headed to the back of the house I could see the traces of a formal garden. Again here just as the trees had been covered in moss and lichen so had the stonework. The garden had the feel of a place that had been slumbering for many years and was gradually blending into the landscape in which it rested.
All around the estate there were winter flowering shrubs and plants that gave interest such as the bright Cornus stems planted near the lake, Berberis branches heavily laden with berries, the delicate flowers of Lonicera fragrantissima and the alien looking stems of Euonymus alata. Cyclamen were just coming into flower along with a good display of hellebores.
Little remains of the formal garden as it was. A dormant herbaceous border lay at the back of the terrace. A few snowdrops were peeking though the bare earth. The sunken lawn was once full of rose beds but today the only survivors of the original plantings are the clipped box shapes. Although nothing was in flower the sleeping garden was quite beautiful, the moss on the steps, lichen on the wall and self seeded Euphorbia's in the gravel all alluded to a garden with an old fashioned, slightly unkempt kind of charm.
The Ice House (c.1760)
Galanthus elwesii 'Mrs McNamara'
Within the park at Colesbourne was a beautiful church. Small streams flowed close by in the shadows of the majestic trees in their green moss jackets.
Colesbourne Park is open every weekend in February and whether you are a galanthophile or not this is a hauntingly beautiful winter landscape that is definitely worth exploring.