The story of snowdrops at Rode Hall

PUBLISHED: 21:29 14 November 2009 | UPDATED: 11:39 28 February 2013

Snowdrops at Rode Hall

Snowdrops at Rode Hall

Our gardening consultant, Sam Youd, reveals why this little flower grows in such abundance in the grounds of Rode Hall

Unreliable, unpredictable and downright promiscuous was how one female horticulturist described, no not herself, but the snowdrop collection in her care.

Then she added that although snowdrops look pretty and delicate they do have a dark side. So, fascinated by this description, I decide to track down another female who also has had a great deal of experience in the handling and management of the snowdrop, Lady Baker Wilbraham, wife of Sir Richard of Rode Hall.

Over the past few years Sir Richard and Lady Baker Wilbraham have been opening their garden to the public in February so that people can enjoy their extensive collection of snowdrops. So why the great interest in snowdrops and how did it all start?

Apparently it was started by another woman, one of the family, Sibella Egerton (a relative of the Tatton Egertons) who married Randle Wilbraham. Sibella introduced the snowdrops to Rode Hall planting them in the Old Wood around the 1800's.

Over the years several estate workers dug a few up here and there to plant in the garden of their cottages, so increasing the numbers across the estate. By the mid 90's the Baker Wilbrahams were looking for ways of raising money for a charity. Being a practical and enthusiastic pair they decided to make a feature of these snowdrops flowering around the place in the very early spring when there is not much to see in any other garden.

I love the way Lady Baker Wilbraham described the snowdrop after arriving from her home in Scandinavia to Rode Hall. She said: 'It was the first indestructible flower to appear in the spring which reminded me that summer was on the way'.

She started the task of searching the estate 'for pockets of the original snowdrops' carefully lifting, dividing and replanting them. Her idea of opening her garden for snowdrop walks came to fruition four years later and since then an increasing number of people turn up. In the past few years the Baker Wilbrahams have added an event called 'Snowdrops by Candlelight'.

Snowdrops have become more popular despite the many strange legends and folktales relating to the plants reputedly introduced by the Romans. There was a belief that cutting them and bringing them inside would cause the imminent death of a member of the household. Apparently the flower resembles a death shroud. These days the snowdrop has gained a new respectability and an extract of their sap Galantamine is being used as a treatment for Alzheimer's.

Lady Baker Wilbraham also attributes the rise in popularity of the snowdrop to the recent winters. She said: 'They are something to be enjoyed after all the dark days and no matter what the weather does once above the ground, the snowdrops never fail to perform their magic.'

Popularity also increased due to the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of the Iron Curtain. This meant that more species were introduced from Russia and the Crimea.

Interestingly, over 150 years ago, one of the family, General Sir Richard Wilbraham, sent his young daughter a pressed bunch of snowdrops during his military service in the Crimea. These pressed snowdrops still exist, just another example of the long history of this flower at Rode Hall.

At present the Baker Wilbrahams have about 50 types of snowdrops including one or two of my favourites: 'Arnott' with its yellow centre and beautiful scent, 'Merlin' with an entirely green inside to the flower, Straffen and Atkinsii.

Another favourite little gem is a double snowdrop with yellow markings called 'Lady Elphinstone'. This was a chance find in 1890 by Sir Graeme Elphinstone of Heawood Hall, Nether Alderley, a property once owned by David Beckham. So the list of all this wonderful varieties goes on.

So when you visit Rode Hall this month to enjoy the snowdrops look out for Sir Richard and Lady Baker Wilbraham - they will be busy helping to cater for the needs of the visitors. How will you recognise Lady Baker Wilbraham, she will be the one who looks like a gardener. She is often asked by visitors: 'What are the family like to work for?' Interesting and enthusiastic I think would be the answer.

Latest from the Cheshire