The snowdrop volunteers of Wentworth Woodhouse – they divide, and won’t be conquered!
Dig, divide, plant, repeat! The Snowdrop Mantra is chanted every February by Wentworth Woodhouse’s army of gardening volunteers.
Every year, but this… Lockdown means the volunteers cannot get together to continue their annual task of splitting and replanting the year’s snowdrops to increase their spread.
But thanks to their backbreaking toil over the last three years, the Rotherham stately home being regenerated by a preservation trust will have picturesque snowdrop scenes to cheer up local people taking exercise. Its Open Garden days, a vital source of income for the Trust, resume for daily visits from February 6 after a fortnight’s closure to allow maintenance of pathways. Visitors are welcome provided current government guidance is followed and supporters remain local. By February 6, Wentworth’s snowdrops will be in full bloom.
The flower symbolises winter nearing an end and hope for better times ahead, Five varieties stretch across several acres of the gardens – from the most common Galanthus Nivalis, to the honey-scented Galanthus Atkinsii.
The march of the valiant ‘first flower of the year’ was the vision of tenacious head gardener Scott Jamieson and his right-hand man Andy Smith. Many hours of labour freely given by the two groups of volunteers known as the Tuesday Welly Wangers and the Wednesday Bramble Bashers made it reality.
“Snowdrops start a chain reaction in the garden calendar. Hundreds of hours went into last year’s snowdrop-moving season alone. Thousands of bulbs were transplanted and we are enormously grateful to our volunteers for their dedication. It’s hard work but a wonderful way to involve groups from all walks of life in the continued growth and development of the gardens. In the process, gallons of restorative tea are made and friendships grow.” – said Head Gardner Scott.
Wentworth Woodhouse volunteers have also been greatly assisted by members of the charity ArtWorks South Yorkshire, local businesses involved in Corporate Responsibility Days and by the garden team at Clumber Park.
Steve Ash, 58, from Anston, became a member of the Welly Wangers in 2017 after seeing the Trust’s appeal on Facebook.
“I hated gardening with a passion but I’d retired from work, really missed being part of a team and wanted to support the Trust’s vision,” said Steve, formerly sales and marketing director for a global digital media company.
The idea of being outdoors and finally learning how to garden appealed too. We work every week, all year-round but the snowdrop-lifting season has become the most-loved ritual. We get a 4-5 week window and have now transplanted hundreds of thousands of bulbs. It’s actually quite therapeutic and Scott makes you feel you’re an important part of something – that you’re leaving a legacy for generations to come. This is the first time in three years that we can’t continue that ritual. We are very disappointed but we will be back!”
Welly Wangers Garden Volunteer Steve Ash gives the lowdown on the snowdrop ritual:
Just before the snowdrop buds start to appear, we begin several weeks of preparing new locations, clearing weeds, branches and brambles and tons of leaves. This gives transplanted snowdrops the best chance of coming through the following year. WWPT’s gardeners Scott and Andy select the plants to be split, usually in the more remote areas of the garden, and dig out barrow-loads for us to work with. We break up huge clumps of up to 100 snowdrops into nice little clusters of three or five. We work with them while they are ‘in the green’ – with leaves and often with flowers still flourishing – which gives us a four or five-week window. This way they naturalise more quickly and this gives better coverage the following year.
Our focus has been on filling in areas of the grounds where there is only the occasional snowdrop and on the avenue of beech trees leading to the mansion’s West Front. The avenue was the family’s private route to the house via Doric Lodge, which stands near Wentworth Garden Centre on the road to Thorpe Hesley. We’ve planted thousands of bulbs around the Punch Bowl near the South Terrace and on the bank – the area of the garden which was spared from open-cast mining. In three years we must have planted hundreds of thousands of bulbs and we work as a team. Those unable to work on their hands and knees do the splitting and dig the holes.
We work in all weathers – snow is the best fun. Thanks to Dame Julie Kenny, who funded a cabin in the Stables courtyard for us, we now have a warm place to head to for a cuppa at break times.
• Wentworth Woodhouse’s gardens will reopen on February 6 for local people to enjoy during their permitted outdoor exercise. They will be open every day during snowdrop season until February 28, then each weekend.
• If you would like to visit, but are unsure about the current government guidelines on travel, go to Government Official Website before buying your tickets.
• Snowdrops are expected to be in bloom from early February.