Colesbourne Park

'England's Greatest Snowdrop Garden'

This page gives a brief introduction to the various parts of the gardens at Colesbourne Park, starting at the entry gate and follows the suggested counter-clockwise route.

The Wood

This mixed beech and Norway spruce wood was originally planted as a shelter belt. It has been thinned to give the open wood of today, with mature sycamores and maples amongst the other trees. In February it is full of snowdrops, especially G. nivalis, but also G. elwesii and some Greatorex Doubles.

George's Garden

Commemorating the late George Elwes, this is a glade surrounded by a shrubbery using plants that give interest during the winter and spring for their stems, foliage and flowers. It is interplanted with vigorous herbaceous plants and bulbs. Below the big lime tree is an extensive planting of snowdrops, winter aconites, cyclamen and daffodils, giving a long season of interest.

'The Arnotts'

We use this name for the area planted with the magnificent drift of Galanthus 'S. Arnott' (right) for which Colesbourne is famous. The paths cross here; one leads behind the 18th Century icehouse and circles round on the other side of the icehouse hollow, while the other runs parallel with, and offers two access points to, the drive.

The Icehouse Hollow

Once a Japanese garden, this area has gradually turned into grassland surrounded by some interesting trees, including a Cryptomeria japonica brought back from Japan in a cigarette tin by H.J.Elwes, and a Paulownia tomentosa grown from seed collected by Ernest Wilson. The bank below the ice house is often called the byzantinus bank for the population of self-sowing Galanthus plicatus ssp. byzantinus that dates back to HJE's time. The other slopes have been planted with numerous bulbs to extend the season of interest and beauty. Of particular interest are Fritillaria meleagris 'Alba' and the pale trumpet daffodil 'W.P.Milner'.
At the end of the hollow is a grotto, of unknown date. The original patches of
G. 'Lord Lieutenant' and 'George Elwes' are close by, while an extensive patch of G. 'Colossus' grows under the trees towards the drive. Near to it is a stand of Petasites japonicus, a butterbur relative that attracts a lot of interest when visitors see its large flower heads sitting sat ground level during February.

The Spring Garden

On the opposite side of the drive to the icehouse hollow is the Spring Garden, started in 2003. Formerly a grassy area below trees, this has been turned into a display area for choice snowdrops, hellebores and other woodland plants. Other bulbs and plants carry the display on through the rest of the year. A transition from the wild garden to the formal areas, it has a broad central path framing the view of the gateway to the formal garden. The choicer snowdrops line this path in well-labelled clumps, enabling their differences to be easily seen and compared.


The Formal Garden

The formal garden around the house retains essentially the same layout as created for the 1850s mansion, with lawns, terraces and balustrading, and a central axial vista to the bridge over the river Churn. Among these features is the grand herbaceous border on the terrace running West from the house. It contains a diversity of herbaceous perennials, augmented in the season with tender perennials and annuals, giving a good show until the frost. Earlier in the spring the plantings of daffodils and tulips are beautiful, often combining with the early red flowers of Prunus mume ‘Beni-chidori’. The raised front lawn is made over the cellars and foundations of the old mansion, while on its original level the sunken lawn once had rose beds in it, of which the only survivals are the clipped box shapes. On the other side of the front lawn a former rose garden is awaiting redesign.


The Courtyard

This is an intimate family space, surrounded by walls and a pergola covered in roses and honeysuckle. The hollow walls are planted with choice snowdrops so that they can be kept under close observation.

Plantings along the drive

The banks above the drive at the front of the house have been planted with Crocus cultivars to create a tapestry of colour. Beyond the gate, with its pair of scented winter honeysuckles Lonicera × purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’,  the lawn is planted with choice trees, including Japanese maples, and with drifts of snowdrops, especially 'James Backhouse'.

The Lake and its banks

The lake was created in 1922 when the Hilcot Brook was dammed to provide hydrolectric power for the big house. It is famous for its blue colouring, even on the dullest days. This is believed to be caused by suspended (colloidal) clay particles in the water. The banks are covered in snowdrops, daffodils and wild flowers such as wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa) and bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scriptus ). Close to the water we have planted the snowflakes Leucojum vernum, L. aestivum, and Fritillaria meleagris. Especially conspicuous on the dam are dogwoods and willows with different coloured stems, and there are two areas of ornamental planting with boggy areas at the water’s edge full of primulas and other moisture-loving plants. A good path runs close to the lake edge, but at the house end are steps that may be difficult for the infirm.

The New Pinetum

On sloping ground above the lake is a collection of young conifers planted in recent years by Henry Elwes to form a continuum with the now mature specimens planted by his great-grandfather. The surrounding grass has been planted with daffodils, especially N. 'Topolino', which closely resembles the wild N. pseudonarcissus, and the Tenby daffodil, N. obvallaris. Larger patches of snowdrop cultivars line the grass path leading to the New Pinetum.

A note on maintenance

Above the drive we treat all areas as a wild garden, with bulbs and wild flowers blooming in spring and autumn, but mown-off when appropriate in summer. Below the drive are the formal gardens, subject to more intensive horticultural activity and care throughout the year. The garden staff consists of Arthur Cole, Head Gardener and Will Fletcher, and Sir Henry Elwes does most of the mowing.