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Snowdrops at Raveningham

PUBLISHED: 09:34 31 January 2017 | UPDATED: 11:44 02 February 2017

VARIETIES: Raveningham Hall, home to the late Priscilla Bacon, where you can enjoy varieties of snowdrops that she introduced to the garden

VARIETIES: Raveningham Hall, home to the late Priscilla Bacon, where you can enjoy varieties of snowdrops that she introduced to the garden

Archant

Snowdrops, lighting up gardens across Norfolk, are part of the story of a gardener, galanthophile and philanthropist at one stately home

Snowdrops at Raveningham Hall Snowdrops at Raveningham Hall

Every spring, drifts of snowdrops glisten across the gardens of Raveningham Hall.

Hundreds of thousands of the beautiful flowers cluster beneath trees, swarm over banks and line paths and borders. There are more than 150 varieties here, with subtle differences in shades of white, height, petal shapes and markings. All are a joy to see, sparkling in the February landscape, but some of the loveliest are the pretty, full-flowered, gracefully bobbing heads of galanthus Priscilla Bacon, named for the woman who nurtured the Raveningham gardens for more than three decades.

Galanthus is the Latin name for the snowdrop family. Lady Priscilla Bacon was the woman who lived here and loved this garden.

She was the mother of Sir Nicholas Bacon, who runs the estate now, and was not only well-known across the surprisingly large and active world of the galanthophile, but also for her work fundraising for a hospice to serve the people of Norfolk.

The Priscilla Bacon Lodge, in Norwich, still specialises in end-of-life care, and the flowers she planted are still lighting up springtime at Raveningham.

Snowdrops at Raveningham Hall Snowdrops at Raveningham Hall

Sir Nicholas grew up helping in the Raveningham gardens and is currently president of The Royal Horticultural Society.

He says: “Everybody is a gardener in some shape or form and certainly from my earliest memories of picking and packing radishes for the Norwich retail market, I became involved with the growing, picking and selling of many types of vegetables and cut flowers and plants.”

Today he often spends his weekends gardening.

“The essence of garden is the evolution of a landscape and the fact that it is never complete. I’m still buying and planting all the time and my successor in title will be jolly lucky!” he says.

Sir Nicholas is officially the Premier Baronet of England, meaning the family baronetcy of Redgrave can be traced back further than any other in the country, to 1611. He is also Baronet of Mildenhall, a Deputy Lieutenant of Norfolk, president of the Norfolk Beekeepers Association, and was elected president of the Royal Horticultural Society four years ago. He and his wife Susan, whose sculptures enhance today’s gardens, have four sons.

Snowdrops at Raveningham Hall Snowdrops at Raveningham Hall

The Bacon family has lived in Raveningham since 1735, their 18th century hall surrounded by farmland, woods, parkland and the gardens, including wildflower meadows and a walled Victorian kitchen garden. The 19th century Boulton and Paul glasshouses, a conservatory and melon pits are all still used.

Lady Priscilla Bacon transformed the gardens, collecting rare species from around the world, and Sir Nicholas has continued her work with a new lake, arboretum, stumpery showcasing tree ferns, and a garden designed in honour of illustrious family member Sir Francis Bacon, from the first Elizabethan age, and his essays based on the passage of Time.

The Priscilla Bacon snowdrop should be flowering at Raveningham throughout February and into March – among more than 150 other varieties of snowdrop. “It was named in her honour on the basis that she had recognised the value and significance of specialist snowdrops for a very long time,” says Sir Nicholas.

He says his mother loved snowdrops for their visual variety, because she was introduced to them by a great friend and because a species with varieties flowering from autumn through to late spring makes an excellent garden plant.

Snowdrops appear right across the Raveningham gardens – and Sir Nicholas too, loves the whole garden rather than any particular section. “I very much look at in the whole, because even though Susan and I established the Time Garden, the Arboretum and the Stumpery, nonetheless the greenhouses, the vegetable garden and other aspects are all very much something that we have developed,” he says.

Snowdrops at Raveningham Hall Snowdrops at Raveningham Hall

Four decades of care

Fundraising for a hospice in Norfolk began 40 years ago, and the Priscilla Bacon Lodge opened on Unthank Road, Norwich, in 1979, named for Priscilla, Lady Bacon, who had been very involved with establishing the facility. It is run by the NHS to provide end-of-life care for people across the county.

A new charity, called Priscilla Bacon Hospice, has been set up to support the development of palliative care services in Norfolk. It has a charity shop in Drayton, near Norwich, with plans for more.

Snowdrops at Raveningham Hall Snowdrops at Raveningham Hall

When to see the blooms

The Raveningham Gardens snowdrop season runs throughout February from 11am to 4pm. Closed Saturdays. On Sundays February 12 and 19 proceeds will go to Priscilla Bacon Lodge.

Garden entry is £5 for adults, £4.50 for concessions and free for children under 16. A tearoom serves soup, light refreshments, home made cakes and drinks.

The 18th century walled kitchen garden with its large glasshouses will be open and visitors will also be able to enjoy views across the new lake, and the contemporary sculpture in the gardens.

Raveningham Hall, between Loddon and Beccles, NR14 6NS; 01508 548480; www.raveningham.com

Snowdrops at Raveningham Hall. Snowdrops at Raveningham Hall.

Snowdrop Festival

A Snowdrop Festival links millions of the beautiful flowers gracing gardens across Norfolk.

The National Gardens Scheme is celebrating its second annual festival of snowdrops across the country. The gardens at

Raveningham will be open for the festival on Sunday, March 5, from 11am to 4pm. Admission £5, children free, and home-made teas available.

The gardens at Horstead House, Mill Road, Horstead, near Norwich, will be open as part of the Festival on Saturday, February 18. Millions of snowdrops carpet the woodland and riverside areas. The garden is open from 11am to 4pm and admission is £4 with free entry for children. There will be homemade teas available.

A circular woodland walk takes visitors through the stunning snowdrops at Bagthorpe Hall, close to East Rudham, near Fakenham, on Sunday, February 26. The gardens are open from 11am to 4pm and admission is £4, children free, with soup made from vegetables grown on the estate farm available.

Ninety different types of snowdrops will be on show at Chestnut Farm, West Beckham, near Sheringham, on Sunday, February 26 and Sunday, March 5. The garden is also packed with many more late winter flowers, and scented shrubs.

The gardens are open from 11am to 4pm, admission is £5 with children free. Refreshments will be available.

George Plumptre, of the National Gardens Scheme, says: “During our first Snowdrop Festival in 2016 many of our garden owners were overwhelmed by the amount of visitors that attended their openings. Many remarked that visitors were perfectly happy to wrap up warm and brave the elements to see the stunning view of hundreds of snowdrops on display in a garden.

“Whether you want to admire the different varieties of snowdrops or just have a walk in lovely surroundings, visiting a National Gardens Scheme garden in February will be the perfect escape.”

The entrance fees to each garden support nursing and caring charities including Marie Curie and Parkinson’s UK.

Details of all the gardens opening for the Snowdrop Festival can be found on the National Gardens Scheme website www.ngs.org.uk

Harbingers of spring

From grand gardens to ancient ruin-studded meadows, and country churchyards to wild woodland, snowdrops are harbingers of spring. Snowdrop walks and snowdrop days Snowdrop Sundays have become a highlight of the year at Thorpe Market, near Cromer. Every February St Margaret’s church is surrounded with snowdrops and aconites. And every Sunday this month visitors can admire the award-winning conservation churchyard, browse the second-hand books stall, meet visiting local artists and enjoy hot drinks and home-made cakes.

Open every Sunday from 1pm. Free entry, www.thorpemarket.org.uk

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