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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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Snowdrops at Hopton Hall!

Posted Saturday, July 7, 2007

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Snowdrop Time at Hopton Hall:

‘I wear grey patches of snow on my drab coat’ says February

‘but I have snowdrops in my hand.’

The Romans and the Celts regarded February as the start of spring.

In times long past, village maidens gathered Snowdrops, ‘February fair maids’, to wear as symbols of their purity.

A delicate member of the daffodil family, the Snowdrop, or the Candlemas Bell, the ‘the snow piercer', a sweet, brave, dark-green stemmed plant, topped with clusters of tiny, white, nodding bells, pushes itself above the snow blanket, reaching out each February to feel the first, gentle touch of life-giving sunlight.

Like Rip van Winkle, awakening from his forty years of slumber, Hopton Hall's woods and gardens, left largely untended for forty years, now coaxed to life again by the Brogden family, promise winter’s end with miraculous displays of natural Snowdrops and Acronites, small yellow, buttercup like flowers, blanketing the woodland and its walks.

Mr and Mrs Brogden purchased the Hall and the 30 acres in which it now stands in the spring of 1996. The Hall, a 12th century Manor House, once boasted an estate of 3,700 acres, most of which are now beneath the waters of Carsington Reservoir. Now, nine years later, the restored woodland and its walks has revealed spectacular carpets of snowdrops in their totally natural environment which have lain dormant for decades and must now rival and be comparable to some of the best in the country.

It would be fair to describe the transformation of Hopton Hall’s grounds and gardens as a work in progress - the last eight years and the visible transformation bear testimony to the gradual restoration of the gardens, both formal and informal, and the five acres of woodlands which is still taking place.

The restoration project is the passion of Mrs.Eddy Brogden, who, in addition to organising the ongoing restoration work, has overseen the creation of an Arboretum, a Pinetum, two ornamental ponds and a small lake, as well as landscaping and planting hundreds of trees to create walks around the grounds to lead the visitor from one charming vista to the next.

Don’t expect to find the landscape unchanged from the time of your last visit to the Hall. Eddie, with the help of Spencer, and Steve Walker who now works two days a week with the family team, have been working like beavers, continually expanding and improving the grounds, enhancing what may seem to some to have been very close to perfect. The restoration of the walled garden, though still in progress, has been extensive, inasmuch it required 250 metres of dry stone walling, 40 tons of capping stone and over 300 tons of stone for the paths. In addition, 1500 roses and over 2000 box have been planted - so far – but it too, is still an ongoing creative project

Since the beginning of March over 60 shrubs and trees have been planted, and the moving and replanting of the long Beech hedge which separated the Pinetum from the paddock has begun, thus necessitating the replanting of 350 young Beech trees. The Hornbeam walk has been extended by a further 100 plants, so all in all the numbers of plants, shrub and trees planted this year has outstripped that of last year.

Those visitors blessed with a good memory will notice that the Laurel that stood at the end of the Laburnum tunnel has been removed. In its place now stands a new gazebo. The Laurel, though superb, highlighted the fact that the long Beech hedge did not line up with the tunnel or the path from the summerhouse, hence the need for the Beech hedge to be removed. A round, concealed garden is under construction in part of the Beech hedge. Plus, eleven new flower beds totalling 1000 square meters, have been created during the past year. Eddie Brogden is planting these with a mixture of annuals, perennials and shrubs, which will add a riot of colour during the summer months.

In the walled garden, the repair work to the locally famous Crinkle Crankle Wall has been completed and the doves which once resided the in Dove Cote have been rehoused in the two new dove cotes erected in front of the "Old Wall". Strolling through the woodland walks the visitor will see a number of completely untended areas, which are maintained in order to provide a natural habitat for the whole ecosystem. However, this policy of a sustainable eco-friendly environment and a clean, weed free garden, is difficult to balance! Nonetheless, the ‘balancing act’ has proved successful for the Hall’s ornamental pheasants to be seen showing their burnished colours in the woods have gone forth and multiplied very well this year.

Despite Februarys notoriously inclement weather, the proceeds resulting from opening of the garden and woods to the public over the past five years has enabled the Brogden family to continue their charitable donations to the local school and church, the local village organisation, CARE and the NSPCC, Mrs Brogden’s favourite charity. However, the entrance fee of two pounds fifty pence for adults, with children under sixteen free, is deliberately kept low to entice the younger generation to share in the experience of the simple, natural pleasures to be had in gardening, the gifts of nature, and the natural world. As part of this ideal the local village school have a designated area in the lower part of the garden in which they are very successfully growing vegetables and flowers entirely through their own efforts.

The restoration of Hopton, its woodlands and gardens is virtually a totally family operation. It’s all hands to the wheel, in more ways than one, especially when then gardens are open, at which time refreshments are available to the public in the Hall.

The Brogdens and their extended family regard themselves as extremely blessed to be able to restore the wonderful old garden and house to something of its former grandeur. Though a ‘stately home’ it may well be, all its members share a broader vision than just their passionate desire to create a great garden; a pocket of peace and beauty, to soothe and charm the senses in an increasingly brash, soulless, commercial world.

The whole project has been a labour of love for Bill & Eddy since they were lucky enough to buy Hopton Hall, and now the magnificent drifts of natural snowdrops are helping, in their own way, to raise some of the large amounts of money needed to continue the restoration program around these wonderful gardens.

Please take a little time to spend a few delightful hours walking with your children though Hopton Hall’s woods and gardens this February! I promise you that the carpets of Snowdrops, lit by the yellow Acronites glowing at their feet, are a wondrous sight not to be missed!

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