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Snowdrops, surprises and stunning architecture

17th January 2017

Snowdrops, surprises and stunning architecture

Discovering Deene Park

The fun of Christmas is long behind us now, and although we’ve survived January, doesn’t this winter seem endless? Well, I have the perfect antidote to banish the winter blues. For two very special days in February treat yourself with a trip to Snowdrop Sundays at Deene Park, one of Northamptonshire’s most cherished stately homes. 

I first heard about Deene Park because of its snowdrops. I love snowdrops, poking their brave little heads above ground when the weather is doing it’s worst, and Deene Park has thousands and thousands of them in February, all over their beautiful gardens and pleasure grounds. Deene Park is much more than just a winter walk in February though, and I jumped at the chance to visit and to walk through the gardens with Andrew Jones the Head Gardener to learn more about this special place.

Deene Park is one of those wonderful places still owned and lived in by the family that built it. Over 500 years ago Sir Robert Brudenell, then barrister to Margaret Beaufort, Henry VIII’s grandmother, acquired the land and made his home here. Since then the Brudenell family has been part of the upper echelons of society and part of the royal circle, and so their home was built and furnished to match their status.  Deene Park was the seat of the dashing 7th Earl of Cardigan, famed both for leading the Charge of the Light Brigade, and for marrying his mistress, the deliciously named Adeline Horsey de Horsey. This latter fact was a huge scandal in the days of strict 19th Century morality, Queen Victoria was neither amused nor impressed! 

A tour around the house gives you at least seven beautifully appointed rooms, full of history and the domestic detail of the Brudenell family, who are still in residence today. The collection includes Crimean memorabilia as well as unusual and beautiful family treasures and portraits.  This is what really sets Deene Park apart from other historic houses where everything is meticulously tidy and somewhat impersonal. 

The house is surrounded by formal gardens, and set in imposing parkland. The Brudenell family ladies in particular have made the gardens into the county treasure they are today. 

Andrew Jones gave me a wonderful tour around his domain. He has been the Head Gardener here since 2001, initially working for Marian Brudenell, who had a great vision for her gardens, rescuing them from early 20th century neglect following the wars. Charlotte Brudenell is the current custodian, and she too shares her mother-in-law’s passion. Andrew loves these gardens, and he described the cycle of flowering throughout the year from the first spring bulbs, through to the brilliance of the summer season with scented roses and herbaceous plants, followed by the glowing autumn colour. Despite the winter’s chill, I felt that I could see it all too, and will certainly be returning in the summer months! 

Andrew describes the gardens as continually evolving, but staying true to the ideals of the quintessentially English country garden. And at this time of year, that means...snowdrops!

The garden in winter reveals the formal garden design beautifully, which includes a parterre quirkily adorned with topiary tea pots, long borders and a circular hedged garden. This is the home of over thirty named varieties of snowdrop, many fancy and frilly, hunted down by Andrew over the years. The wilder areas of the garden known as the pleasure grounds, include an ornamental canal and a woodland walk. They are covered with Galanthus Nivalis, the oldest and most commonly naturalised snowdrop. Wherever you look the little bulbs bravely show their faces to whatever the February weather brings. Most of the paths around the house and formal garden areas are suitable for wheelchairs and buggies, and the pleasure grounds are also accessible if you are intrepid and have an ‘off road’ style model.

An additional attraction is the Old Kitchen. A tea room set in the historic kitchen of the house serving light lunches and traditional refreshments, including homemade scones. I have heard very good things of the walnut cake too, one of my favourites. So natural beauty, snowdrops, a little bit of history, magnificence, and cake too. It's the perfect way to spend a Sunday! 

A wander through the grounds is the perfect antidote to the February fug. Blow some fresh air through your lungs, absorb some sunlight and soon you will be feeling refreshed and ready for springtime.

So scores on the doors for my visit?

Mysteries and histories? 5/5 absolutely world class top notch stuff here!

Outstanding natural beauty and snowdrops 6/5 (plus 1 because of the fantastic Andrew Jones and his encyclopaedic horticultural knowledge shared with me)

Surprise Factor 5/5 It’s such a privilege to look inside anyone’s home and this one is a delight filled with amazing family stories

The house and gardens are open to visitors on Sundays and Bank Holidays throughout the summer months. Please check on the website for more information on opening times and prices, and for Snowdrop Sundays. Private tours are welcomed pretty much throughout the year by prior arrangement.

To find out more, please visit www.deenepark.com

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