By Sally Jacobs
Spring arrives early in England. Even before the fresh leaves appear on the trees a wide variety of flowers will be flowering. This is a lovely time of year to discover the georgeous gardens of South East England as they begin to reopen for the new season.
In mid January the first snowdrops (Galanthus), pulmonaria, wood anenomes, and early crocuses will appear, carpeting woodland floors and tucked away churchyards. Gatton Park and Hever Castle have wonderful displays.
Viburnum may not be the most exciting evergreen but it earns its keep by ensuring a constant stream of white blossom throughout out the winter which contrasts well with the bright yellow berberis which starts to flower in late January.
Once into February – and depending to some extent on the severity of the winter – gardens start to exhibit a range of plants and colours. At this time of the year the bare stems of Cornus (reds) and Salix (yellows) are at their most vibrant and well set off the under planted heathers, hyacinths and hellebores (christmas rose). Hellebores now come in many different shades from white to dark crimson. With luck the scent of sweet smelling daphne and witch-hazel will be discovered.
Probably the most glamourous plant found flowering in February is the camellia. The climate and sandstones of SE England ensure the glossy white, pink and scarlet flowers are exquisite. By mid February, throughout the country in town, villages, cottages and along road verges, daffodils start appear in gay abandon. The bright yellow waving heads are a sure sign that Spring is just around the corner.
As the days rapidly start to lengthen at the beginning of March all of nature responds. The dawn chorus reaches its zenith and birds busily collect nesting materials from the debris left in the flowerbeds. The palette of colours intensifies, primula of all colours, pink cyclamen, purple iris reticularta, blue grapehyacinths (muscari), purple pasque flowers, pink bergenia, snakeshead fritillary and finally the gaudy multi-coloured tulips. In the hedgerows the apparently dead twigs sprout a profusion of white flowers – on blackthorn and cherry, whilst in the gardens the pink magnolia flowers unfold.
There are many gardens in SE England where you can enjoy these early flowers and I would recommend that you consider Beech Court Garden (Challock, Kent), Emmetts Garden NT (Ide Hill, Kent), West Dean Spring Garden (Chichester, West Sussex), Nymans Garden NT (Handcross, West Sussex), Merriments Garden (Hurst Green, East Sussex), RHS Wisley Heather Gardens (Woking, Surrey) and Pashley Manor in East Sussex is famous for its Tulip Event which will run from 20TH April – 4th May 2021 (pre-booking advised).
Sally is a garden tour specialist and Blue Badge Guide qualified for SE England, London and several other English regions