Wednesday, February 27, 2019

While many American friends and family members are still buried under snow, I’ve been spending my days off in London searching for spring.

Not to rub it in, but we’ve had a fairly mild February, except for some chilly mornings, so I’ve been wandering through gardens in the city and outlying areas. One of the first signs of spring are the dainty white snowdrops, which usually bloom from January to March. I’ve also spotted purple crocuses as well as sunny yellow daffodils and narcissus as well as camellias and even magnolias.

Did you know that there are 23 species of snowdrops (Galanthus sp.) as well as more than 3,000 recognized cultivars?  Although snowdrops are not native to the U.K., they are plentiful and were first introduced from mainland Europe in the early 16th century.

Battersea Park
During the first week of February on my morning jog, I stopped in my tracks when I saw some pretty blooms near one of the ponds in my favorite neighborhood park – Battersea Park. The park features a lot of green space and a couple of more formal gardens while the spring bulbs seem scattered through the park’s wooded areas.
Chelsea Physic Garden
Despite living so close to the Chelsea Physic Garden, I had never been to London’s oldest botanic garden until recently. The garden, which has bizarre opening hours, has a nice collection of snowdrops. You can see the little white flowers by taking a walk through the half-acre grounds, which are home to more than 150 species of plants. 

Kew Gardens
This famous botanical garden is the obvious place to get your snowdrop fix — almost all of the 20 known varieties can be seen here. You'll find most of Kew Garden’s snowdrop collection in the Rock Garden and the Alpine House in the north-east corner of the gardens as well as a wooded foothpath in the northwest corner. Again, don’t go here on a nice weekend during a school break.
Myddelton House Gardens
After nearly 90 minutes on public transport, I finally reached the overground train stop to access Myddelton House Gardens in North London. The long journey was worth the wait because these gardens are like a fairytale! Plus, the admission is free! (A donation is suggested, and I was happy to give a couple coins because this place is magical.)
Also, the gardens feature a small, but wonderful café with hearty soups and delicious-looking cakes. I had a generous serving of potato-leek soup with a brown bread roll and butter for less than £5.

Myddelton House, built during the reign of George III in 1812 by the Bowles family, is a lovely former manor house estate with sprawling gardens and a greenhouse. One of the Bowles ancestors, E. A. Bowles, born in 1865, became one of the great gardeners of the 20th century. What you see today are the restored gardens and manor house from his era.

Capel Manor College Gardens
From Myddelton Gardens, it’s only a 10-minute walk to another nearby garden called the Capel Manor College Gardens. The college is housed on a working estate where students can gain hands-on experience in land-based studies such as horticulture, garden design, floristry, etc.

The history of Capel Manor dates to the late 13th century, but was only owned by the Capel family during the 14th century; and later, the land was surrendered to the Crown during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. There’s a complex history here and you’ll find recreated ruins of the old manor house in the college gardens.

Honestly, the gardens here were a bit barren in mid-February with a few spring bulbs like snowdrops and crocus here and there. From the photos, I think a late spring or early summer visit to Capel Manor would be better.

Eltham Palace and Gardens
On another cycling trip in London, we made the 13-mile journey from Clapham Junction to Eltham Palace and Gardens in East London, which is probably best known as the childhood home of King Henry VIII. Today, this English Heritage property is a unique marriage between a Tudor palace and a 1930s millionaire’s mansion. Although we didn’t find any snowdrops in the gardens here, the palace was an interesting place to visit.

Day Trips from London

RHS Garden Wisley
In order to get good tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show in May, I recently joined the Royal Horticultural Society which was offering a 12-month membership for the price of nine months. The RHS sponsors the Chelsea Flower Show, and I’ve been dying to attend for the past three years.

Anyway, Wisley is RHS’s flagship garden, which covers 240 acres of landscaped gardens in rural Surrey. Nearly one million people annually visit RHS Garden Wisley, which is a pleasant 20-minute bike ride on half paved country roads/half dirt path from the West Byfleet train station. (Otherwise, the gardens are probably best reached by your own car.) But if you want peace and quiet, do not visit here during a half-term break. My visit was somewhat ruined by hundreds of screaming children running wild throughout the gardens.

But I did find lots of snowdrops, crocus and even bring pink and white blossoms of camelias. Take the Wisley Winter Walk through the Seven Acres to find interesting flowers and shrubbery such as the sweet smelling Lonicera fragntissima and the Grandiflora.
Polesden Lacey
Another slightly-out-of-the-way destination featuring snowdrops from January to March is Polesden Lacey. I took the train from Clapham Junction to Box Hill, and then cycled/walked my bike up a steep, 400-foot hill on the country road that leads to the National Trust estate. You can even rent mountain bikes at the Box Hill station and choose a less hilly route than I did. I was a hot, sweaty mess by the time I reached the gardens only 30 minutes later.

Polesden Lacey, the weekend party house of Edwardian socialite Maggie Greville in the early 1900s, features a beautiful manor house surrounded by gardens and green fields. Definitely worth a day trip from London. Along the Lime Walk exiting the property, you’ll find 4,000 snowdrops that were planted last autumn.
As you make your way back to the train station, make a slight detour to the Stepping Stones Walk where you find a few snowdrops along the river as well as some wonderful views at the top of the hill.
Hope you enjoyed today's early spring photo journey from in and around London!



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