A celebration of crocuses at Swarthmoor Hall. Ulverston
PUBLISHED: 00:00 21 January 2015
© Phil Portus / Alamy
As Valentine’s Day approaches we have a special reason to appreciate the arrival of crocus flowers, writes Linda Viney
Swarthmoor Hall crocus
Slate sign for The Labyrinth
The 16th Century Swarthmoor Hall is still a centre for Quakers
Crocus open to to the sun
The delicate pulmonaria
Shy bowed heads of hellebores
Lively primroses show spring is almost here
The Living Quilt in The Courtyard
Leaves on a tree bursting to life
The crocus has been associated with love since the days of ancient Rome when it was a key part of a fertility festival. According to legend, an imprisoned doctor and Christian called Valentinus sent the blind daughter of his jailer a crocus. It’s healing powers brought her sight, and her first vision was the flower and Valentinus’s note ‘From your Valentine.’
For us, it is a welcome sign as the flowers banish winter as they start to bloom. Most of us will have a few in the garden or a forced pot of them indoors. Today, there are so many different colours from the more usual purple to striped, white and orange, the latter not often lasting long before the flower heads are taken by blackbirds.
Various friends kept telling me to visit Swarthmoor Hall, near Ulverston, where a field carpeted in them was a sight to behold so last year that is where I travelled to. It was certainly worth the trip.
The hall was constructed in the late 16th century by a wealthy local landowner and lawyer, George Fell, of Hawkswell, and after his death it was inherited by his son, Judge Thomas Fell. When the founder of the Quaker movement George Fox came to Ulverston and paid a visit to Swarthmoor Hall, he gained the avid support of Thomas’ wife, Margaret, and for many years it became the centre of the movement until Fox established the Swarthmoor Meeting House on land he bought nearby. Margaret became known as the Mother of Quakerism.
Today the hall is used as a Quaker retreat house and holds a fine collection of 17th century furniture. It has been described as a hidden gem with the grounds set within 130 acres of farmland. I was here to see the gardens and grounds which have an aura of tranquillity and the field of purple crocus - the main purpose of my visit - brought a cheer to those of us who strolled round the perimeter of the field. Within the field surrounding is a labyrinth marked out with stones. People often think it is another word for a maze but in fact it is a single winding path, meaning you don’t have to make a decision which way to go. You just follow the path which leads to the centre, in this case a tree, and the path takes you out again.
At the far end of the field were some beehives and several piles of logs left to decay, nearer the hall an area containing bird feeders and bird baths, all signs they are aware of the environment and nature. There is a small orchard and a long narrow border edged with stone where soft fruit is grown. Alongside one of the natural dry stone walls is a vegetable garden where on the day I visited the red stalks of a ruby chard were lit up by the sun.
Signs of spring were all around including the first yellow trumpets of a few of the naturalised daffodils set in the grass starting to open. Alpine troughs grouped together were in another area coming to life. Primroses are another sign of warm days ahead. Closer to the hall are more formal gardens, including a quiet garden which has been developed as a place for meditation, reflection and outdoor Quaker worship.
Here the blue and pink delicate flowers of pulmonaria along with the shy bowed heads of hellebores somehow added to the peace. The Courtyard Garden features a living quilt which is a copy of the one on the bed in the Fells’ bedroom, this time the colours come from plants and bulbs. Natural stone found on the land has been used to its full potential, with numerous seats and secluded areas offering plenty of opportunities to reflect.
Whatever the month, this really is a place you shouldn’t miss.
All about the hall
Where is it?
Swarthmoor Hall is just outside the market town of Ulverston - a 25 minute drive from junction 36 of the M6. Satnav users should key in LA12 0JQ
How much to get in?
Entry to the gardens is free, local people often come to the hall to wander, picnic or sit and enjoy a moment of peace and quiet.
When is it open?
The gardens and grounds open every day in daylight hours and the hall is open from the end of February to the end of October Monday to Friday 10.30am to 4.30pm and Sunday 1.30pm to 4.30pm.
There are plans to develop a café and meantime, during house opening hours, there is coffee, tea and cake in the Friendship Room in the old hall. There is also seating outside.
Swarthmoor Hall provides a free brochure for visitors who wish to do a self-guided tour and there is a wheelchair accessible hard route through to the meadow from the east side garden.
Throughout the year they run special events from their annual plant sale in May to a Teddy Bears’ Picnic in July, as well as a variety of courses. They also offer self catering and bed and breakfast accommodation. For any information - including how to volunteer - see swarthmoorhall.co.uk.