It’s Snowdrop month at Lytham Hall. Shame nobody told the snowdrops.
If Tolkien called trees Time Lords snowdrops must be the Taking Their Time Lords. Nobody wants to poop a party, least alone a gallant galanthus (as posher gardeners call them) but who can blame them for keeping their heads under cover while Jack Frost is still about?
The good news is it means the snowdrop walks, which started a week early in a spirit of sunny optimism, will run into next month.
That means the best is yet to come for the next two Sundays. There’s even talk of offering an additional walk in March if the snowdrops are still showing off.
And by then other bulbs will be emerging too. Some crocus are already out. In 2008, daffy daffodils were out as early as January. During the spring, rhododendrons flourish, a legacy of the ground cover designed for the hall’s game birds.
So it’s not so much s(no)drops as slowdrops at Lytham Hall as the carpet of white which effectively rolls out the red carpet to visitors every Sunday is simply a little backwards in coming forward this year.
Resident expert Alan Ashton reckons there’s never been a better time to go. The show is about to commence. “They’re quite a choosy little flower, they pick their moment, and once in bud they like it to stay just a bit cold, then a bit warm, so they always keep us guessing. I think they’re a sight for sore eyes.”
Alan’s president of Lytham Town Trust so one of the key figures involved in the campaign to not just preserve and conserve the hall and estate but make it vibrant enough to give joy to countless generations to come. He wants that side of things under wraps – for the time being. But the snowdrops are very much part of the bigger picture. They help bring people in, not just to walk all over the place and exclaim over the tiny bell like flowers, but visit the tea room, and check out what’s to come for the hall and grounds, with a packed programme of promenade performances, concerts and community events.
Alan, a former horticulturist, is 85, but thanks to a set of brand new knees is up for a brisk stroll through depths of darkened woodland for glimpses of the more elusive species. And if you’re lucky an even more elusive resident goshawk. Most of us have passed the imposing gateway on Ballam Road almost directly opposite the Axa insurance building and wondered what lay behind those cobbled walls.
Locals tend to stroll or drive right in at any time of year regardless of official opening times. It helps to have a proprietorial air and a dog. But even the regulars dally on the long drive through the grounds when the land and paths are covered in frost. And with the winter sun low in the sky the outlook is dazzling.
Even when you know precisely where it is the first sight of the hall with its doric columns and palladian splendour never fails to catch one offguard. One moment the estate stretches out as far as the eye can see and then – it’s there. As the present hall has been since the 18th century – although a settlement was on the spot six centuries earlier.
Friends of Lytham Hall – and specialist historians and architects too for that matter – hail it the finest Georgian house in the North West, the wonder being that its not been picked off for luxury housing redevelopment or specialist holidays in the stately homes of England market. The hall, once owned by the extravagant and ultimately impoverished Clifton family, has Grade One Listed Status and its parkland is also registered with English Heritage.
It’s effectively our own Downtonia – albeit from a later period. The Hall is owned by Lytham Town Trust (Charity No. 1000090) and managed by Heritage Trust for the North West (Charity No. 508300).
Alan’s not the only gallant galantophile, as lovers or collectors of snowdrops (genus Galanthus branch of the Amarylldaceae family) are known. Having travelled the world Blackpool-born Mike Atkinson is back on familiar Fylde coast turf – this time as catering manager for the hall and an overnight expert on snowdrops having been pressganged into a walk with me.
Mike admits: “Every caterer wants to escape the kitchen but we’re usually out of our comfort zone when we do. Here it’s a positive pleasure. I’m more than willing to muck in with what we call the tourdrops. My spirits lift when I see the beauty of the estate. I used to work in the Caribbean but I don’t think we always value what we’ve actually got on our own doorstep.
“This is beautiful. The hall is magnificent too. The potential is immense, and the message is getting out. As a catering manager I’m determined a real go of it. By all means come to see the snowdrops – but please stop for tea and say hello to me too.”
Snowdrop walks February 19 and 26, admission £2.50, £1 child, tea room open 11am-4pm