Visit Forde Abbey in March to see a dramatic display of crocuses

PUBLISHED: 17:03 20 February 2013 | UPDATED: 22:17 26 February 2013

The Kennard family

The Kennard family

Sarah Ford visits Forde Abbey for a sneak preview of this month's stunning floral display and finds out more about the Kennard family's plans for a new Winter Garden

Carpets of crocuses

Sarah Ford visits Forde Abbey for a sneak preview of this months stunning floral display and finds out more about the Kennard familys plans for a new Winter Garden

Hot on the heels of the spectacular snowdrops which carpet the lawns of Forde Abbey near Chard each February, comes the dramatic display of crocuses in March.

Spreading over 10 acres, with the former Cistercian monastery as an impressive backdrop, the flowers put on a beautiful show and are normally at their best during the first two weeks of the month.

The flowers mostly wild Crocus vernus and Crocus tommasinianus come up with the little wild daffodils each year.

To see blankets of purple crocuses and little yellow daffodils on a sunny day is absolutely stunning, says Alice Kennard who lives at Forde Abbey with her family.

Its interesting because we used to say the last week of February was when they seemed to be at their peak; I would say its a good week later now.

Weve always had crocus here they are the wild ones; we try to take out any of the domesticated ones so dont have the very strong yellows or purples, adds Alice, who says that the Plant Fair held at the start of Crocus Week attracts about 2,000 visitors.

Forde Abbey near Chard has been a private home since 1649 and Alices family have lived here and worked the 1,600-acre estate since 1905. Alice and her husband Julian now live here with their three children, having taken over from her parents Mark and Lisa Roper in 2009. The property has been open to the public since the 1950s and the gardens are open daily throughout the year with the house open five afternoons a week from spring to autumn.

When I was a child, Forde Abbey was only open two afternoons a week so we had the place to ourselves for five days it was heaven and we were very lucky, Alice recalls.

It is more difficult nowadays to try to bring a family up when its open every day. They dont have the freedom that I had: they cant ride their bikes in the public area, for instance. But it is important with these houses that you bring your children up in them if you want the next generation to carry on.

The house, with its monastic and state rooms, is surrounded by 30 acres of award-winning gardens including the Kitchen Garden area where produce is grown for the house and tearoom, the sloping South Lawn, the Great Pond (which originally supplied fish for the monastery), the Bog Garden and Plant Nursery.

Alice admits she felt nervous taking over the garden from her father. It was his garden and I didnt dare do anything at first because I didnt want to tread on his toes. But then I got a bit bolder!

Last year I did a new part of the rock garden. But Im very organic; I dont plan - I kind of do it off the hoof. I have ideas of what Id like it to look like in the end but Im not a garden designer, Im not a person who plans to the nth degree.

Her latest project - a Winter Garden in a redundant area between the arboretum and rock garden is in its very early stages and currently resembles a ploughed field.

Alices vision for the area includes a series of small paths and a circle of white birch trees acting as a focal point.

I want to graft eight stems together to create a kind of gazebo. To me it would be very bright, white and natural. But will it work? I dont know. I havent seen it done anywhere before so it could all go horribly wrong!

I do know the Winter Garden is not going to happen over night but it is going to evolve over time. Its all fairly organic and if I dont like something then Ill change it.

Everything you see today Ive done myself, with a machine or two when I need it.

Since taking over three years ago, Alice has brought in sweet peas in abundance, and during the first two weeks of July the walled Kitchen Garden will again be ablaze with more than 70 varieties.

She first trialled the event in 2011 and it proved so successful she decided to carry on.

The flowers will look and smell heavenly when in full flower growing amongst the fruit and vegetables. I carefully label each variety adding little notes on their performance, for example how well they flower and how scented they are, which people might find useful.

Ive ordered 78 varieties this year which I planted at the beginning of February. The first year, I did it with the children over half-term as they wanted to help. But that was hard with three young children trying to keep it organised. We thought we had a system going, but as the plants came into flower in the summer, an area we thought was pink had some blue interspersed throughout. Im not sure it really mattered! We are more organised now, with no small helpers.

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