On a glorious day in late February, starved of blue skies and sunshine, we decided to head outside to search for signs of spring. Little did we know that the Beast from the East was lurking, ready to slam us with its icy Siberian blast just as March arrived. In those last days of February, it certainly felt like spring was just around the corner.
Our destination was Kingston Lacy, a National Trust property near Wimborne in Dorset, home to a wonderful house, a massive 3,500 hectare estate, and a series of beautiful gardens to delight any heart.
First stop was the Fernery, close to the house. It was laid out in the early 1900s to provide a shady arbor near the extensive south-facing lawns. With its twisting pathways, a trickling water sculpture and around 40 species of fern, including several stately Dicksonia antarctica tree ferns, the Fernery does indeed offer welcome coolness in the height of summer. But in early February, with the spring sunshine slanting in under the tree canopy, it’s a sheltered delight - out of the wind, and with the drifts of 30 varieties of new snowdrops brightly spot-lit by the rays.
An especially arresting display greets you at the Fernery's entrance, where the snowdrops are interspersed with spiky-looking black mondo (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’), the dark spears of the shiny leaves making a striking contrast with the delicate luminous beauty of the snowdrops. It’s simple but inspired planting.
The famous snowdrops also dance through the Lime Walk. This avenue is always magnificent, but with swathes of snowdrops combining with a variety of dwarf narcissi, our visit presented us with a truly uplifting display, with carpets of blooms under the huge and ancient trees.
Kingston Lacy prides itself on planting for year-round interest, and certainly another highlight of the visit was an area featuring Japanese wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius), an Asian raspberry whose bare orangey-red stems form a colourful skeleton. Close by are planted ghostly young silver birches and the small-leafed lime (Tilia cordata ‘Winter Orange’), setting this corner of woodland aflame.
The kitchen garden has received a lot of attention in recent years, with the original glasshouses sensitively restored, and a beautiful selection of garden tools on display in the stores. Best of all, this is now a space which is being used and loved, with a lot of space now given over to community allotments. It’s wonderful to see this now-vibrant space being used to produce food, as it would have done in the estate’s heyday – although nowadays it’s on a more egalitarian footing.
However, it was the Nursery Walk which had lured us back to the estate. This area was originally created to bring colour to even the gloomiest months of the year, and it’s nothing short of spectacular when in full swing. With a huge variety of azaleas, camellias, rhododendrons and flowering cherry trees, the display lasts from Christmas to well after Easter. This time, Camellia japonica ‘Blaze of Glory’ was simply spectacular. It carried a profusion of bright red blooms against the glossy green foliage – just wonderful to see against blue skies.
There’s always something to enjoy here. In the Japanese garden, peonies and magnolia were getting ready to burst forth, and the new blossom orchard, just planted a few years ago, was also not yet quite ready to bloom, so we’ll be back soon. The estate is a beautifully planned series of gardens, always with something new to see as the seasons change - and isn’t that why we all love our garden, after all?