‘Spring is on the way; you can smell it’, say National Trust Gardeners

The National Trust’s garden teams in the south west of England have conducted their annual flower count for Valentine’s Day and although spring seems to be on the way, what is noticeable is how many scented plants are already out in flower at this early time of year.

Gardeners from across National Trust gardens in the south west recorded 1,737 plants blooming in this year’s 12th annual Valentine’s Flower Count, which is 34% down on last year’s figure of 2,644. However, while numbers are down on 2016, they are still higher than the previous three years.

For the second year running, Saltram in Devon had the highest number of flowers recorded with 176 blooms (193 in 2016).

The more normal and cautious approach of spring compared with last year, means that we can enjoy the early flowering plants for a bit longer as the cooler conditions will help extend the flowering season of the earlier blooms and later flowering plants are on hold for warmer, sunnier conditions.

Ian Wright, the National Trust’s Gardens Advisor in the South West, said: “Our gardens are full of buds ready to burst into flower. Although our survey shows that spring isn’t here quite yet, when it does arrive it will be a good one.

“Alongside the usual signature plants of spring such as magnolias, camellias and rhododendrons, what is often overlooked is the amount of plants that have highly scented flowers at this early time of the year. They’re all out there advertising their presence by pushing out scents like perfume counters in a department store trying to attract their insect customers, which are few and far between at this early time.

“We have reports of daphne, mahonia, winter flowering honeysuckle, and witch hazel to name but a few, all of which give off sweet heady aromas and can be enjoyed at many of our gardens such as at Killerton, Knightshayes, Cotehele and Hidcote. Some types of snowdrops and other early spring bulbs add to this annual attack on your senses producing subtle and beautiful scents.”

Valentine's Day Flower Count 2.jpg

Figures from the Met Office confirm that 2016 was one of the warmest two years on record. Such changes to our weather pose the single biggest conservation challenge to National Trust gardens and places. How we all garden, whether in a National Trust garden or at home, what plants we grow and where, may need to change.

In 2008, 3,335 plants in bloom were recorded in Devon and Cornwall, marking the earliest spring so far recorded.

Gardens in the South West are usually the furthest advanced in the UK with early spring blooms, but this year numbers are down on last year which shows our spring may be back to normal for this year at least with 907 less blooms.

In Cornwall 595 blooms were counted compared to 897 in 2016. In Devon there were 707 blooms this year compared to 1041 in 2016.

Ian Wright added: “Comparing the number of plants across our gardens on a set day every year gives us a real insight into how our gardens respond to weather patterns, and is a useful ‘barometer’ for the season ahead.”


The National Trust’s South West regional gardens which took part in the flower count were:

  • Cornwall: Antony, Cotehele, Glendurgan, Lanhydrock, Trerice, Trelissick, St Michael’s Mount, Godolphin.
  • Devon: Buckland Abbey, Castle Drogo, Coleton Fishacre, Greenway, Killerton, Knightshayes, Overbeck’s, Saltram, A La Ronde.
  • Gloucestershire: Dyrham, Hidcote, Snowshill
  • Somerset: Lytes Carey, Tintinhull, Barrington Court, Tyntesfield. Prior Park, Dunster
  • Wiltshire: Avebury
  • Dorset: Kingston Lacy. Max Gate.

Gardeners and volunteers count the different species and varieties in bloom in their gardens.  For example, if there are two plants of the same variety of camellia, then this is counted as one not two. The same rule applies to bulbs. A plant is counted if it is showing colour with one bloom.

Valentine's Day Flower Count 3.jpg

A survey conducted with National Trust supporters via social media in February found:

The most popular spring flower in the south west is the:

  • 1st: Snowdrop – for the fourth year running.
  • 2nd: Daffodil
  • 3rd: Primrose
  • 4th: Tulip
  • 5th: Magnolia

Spring flowers in bloom in our supporters’ gardens at the moment are (last year’s figs in brackets):

  • Snowdrop 79% (76%)
  • Daffodil 52% (84%)
  • Primrose 46% (47%)
  • Cyclamen 32% (25%)
  • Camellia 23%
  • Rhododendron 3% (6%)
  • Magnolia 1% (9%)

The National Trust is a conservation charity founded in 1895 by three people who saw the importance of our nation’s heritage and open spaces, and wanted to preserve them for everyone to enjoy.

More than 120 years later, these values are still at the heart of everything the charity does. Entirely independent of Government, the National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 775 miles of coastline and hundreds of special places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

More than 20 million people visit every year, and together with 4.5 million members and over 62,000 volunteers, they help to support the charity in its work to care for special places forever, for everyone.

For more information and ideas for great seasonal days out go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk



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