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There are occasional moments in February, when the gloomy grey skies lift and a sparkling sunny blue sky is revealed and early spring sunshine brings some temporary warmth to otherwise freezing days. These are the best times to get out and go for a walk and after weeks of being safely tucked away indoors with the central heating on full blast and I am always excited to see what is emerging from the cold ground.
This month I visited Lacock Abbey gardens in Wiltshire, as the gardens are one of the earliest in our area to open through the National Gardens Scheme.
Lacock is a short drive from Bath and the village is extremely picturesque with many places to walk and nice pubs to linger in. The Abbey was founded in 1232 and is now owned by the National Trust and not only is an amazing building with a great mix of architectural styles as well as medieval cloisters but also has a Tudor courtyard with a rare example of a country house brewery. So far so good!
The Abbey was later lived in by the Fox Talbot family and William Henry Fox Talbot was a pioneer with his work with photography, he produced the earliest known surviving photographic negative of the latticed window in the south gallery of the Abbey in 1835 and the museum is full of wonderful old photographs and cameras.
There is also a newly restored walled Botanic garden with borders and a greenhouse. The grounds of the Abbey have far reaching views with impressive trees and lots of places to sit and ponder.
The driveway leads you past many magnificent trees into the grounds of the Abbey where drifts of snowdrops nod their heads in the spring breeze. Under one tree we found a cheerful sunny planting of winter Aconites.
These gorgeous little flowers also known as Eranthis hyemalis were originally found in the woodlands of the Balkans, Italy and southern France. They grow underneath the bare branches of trees and die back after they have seeded and the canopy above has started to grow leaf. Only 4 inches tall, they need to be grown in a mass planting. They flower very early in the year, so a large spread of them planted into a lawn is a lovely sight. Rather like Snowdrops they need to be planted ‘in the green’ meaning that the foliage is still fresh and the plants are still growing. There are many suppliers where you can buy plants ‘in the green’.
Winter Aconites will grow very well with Snowdrops but beware, as both are pretty vigorous and likely to overtake other slower growing blubs such as crocuses. Galanthus nivalis abound at the Abbey gardens and are amongst the first native plants to flower. They have hardened leaf tips, which push through the frozen ground, and they can be planted, like Eranthis ‘in the green’. They mainly spread through bulb division because of the lack of pollinating insects in the winter, so you will find that your little clump will get larger each year.
Immediately to the left, you can follow a gate through to the walled Botanic Garden, which has been recently restored. When I visited, there was a fair amount of snow still on the ground, but a visit to the greenhouse is well worth it just to take a good sniff of the flowers overwintering and growing in the relative warmth. There is enough of interest in this garden in winter however, with tall woven hazel plant supports and the last vestiges of summer grasses. A small lean-to shows information on what the gardeners are working on at specific times of year and there are benches to sit and enjoy the garden.