Spring blooms 'despite weather'
Heavy winds and rain battering Britain are having little effect on gardens - with spring flowers already beginning to bloom, experts have said.
Milder temperatures, with only three ground frosts in some places, have allowed flowers to flourish despite low light levels and saturated ground.
In Cornwall, an extremely rare rhododendron magnificum plant, which is notoriously difficult to grow, has flowered for only the second time in 30 years.
An annual Valentine's Day flower count by the National Trust found the extended wet and windy weather had not hugely affected Britain's blooms.
But many flowers were still holding back for drier and brighter conditions, the study of 23 National Trust properties across the South West showed.
Ian Wright, South West National Trust Gardens Adviser, said gardens in the region were usually the furthest advanced in the UK with early spring blooms.
"The Met Office has said its been the wettest winter since records began, however, despite some rather wet and windy weather, our annual flower count has shown that spring is very much starting to peep its head through the rather soggy ground and all thanks to the current very mild conditions," Mr Wright said.
"Our gardens in the South West are already a profusion of blooms at ground level with masses of snowdrops and crocuses.
"When you look up you can see bountiful blooms from camellias, and soon the rhododendrons and magnolias."
Mr Wright said gardeners were stunned to find a rhododendron magnificum plant at Trelissick, Cornwall, had flowered for the second time in 30 years.
The plant was discovered growing in the remote, rain drenched Adung Gorge in Northern Burma in 1931 by Frank Kingdon-Ward - the only location where it is known to grow in the wild.
It is one of the rarest rhododendrons in cultivation, very tender, difficult to grow and only found in a few of the mildest gardens.
"Elsewhere, snowdrops and cyclamen seem a little later than usual, but are now flowering their hearts out despite the wet weather," he added.
"So to appreciate the spring blooms you might need to get down on your knees and get dirty as the smaller flowers often are the brightest lights in nature's annual spring flower show.
"The usual show stoppers are showing promising signs; there is a profusion of buds on camellias in particular, which are just beginning to open.
"Magnolias are also showing promising signs for a spectacular, if slightly later than normal, show.
"So let's keep our fingers crossed for a frost-free finish to winter."
Mr Wright said the study found encouraging signs of spring, with bountiful displays of snowdrops at Kingston Lacy in Dorset and masses of cyclamen and spring bulbs at Killerton in Devon.
In Cornwall, 554 blooms were counted compared with 546 in 2013.
In Devon, there were 651 this year, compared with 632 in 2013.
An Aloe which is a succulent plant on St Michael's Mount in Cornwall is in full bloom.
"Comparing the number of plants across our gardens on a set day every year gives us a real insight into how our gardens respond to weather patterns, and is a useful 'barometer' for the season ahead," Mr Wright added.
This year, 1,205 plants were recorded in 18 gardens in Devon and Cornwall, compared with 1,178 in 2013.
But in 2008, 3,335 plants in bloom were recorded - marking the earliest spring recorded.
A total of 1,464 plants were found in gardens across the whole of the South West, compared with 1,455 in 2013.
The highest number of flowers in the South West were at Saltram, near Plymouth, Devon, with 154 blooms.
Lanhydrock in Bodmin, Cornwall, saw the biggest drop in numbers of blooms, from 136 in 2013 to 89 this year.
Tommy Teagle, head gardener at Lanhydrock, said: "The season at Lanhydrock is much later than previous years and I've recorded rainfall every day for the last 63 days but we have plenty of buds waiting to flower when the weather eventually improves."
The Cornish gardens that took part in the count were Cotehele, Lanhydrock, Trerice, Trelissick, Godolphin, St Michael's Mount, Glendurgan, Antony and Trengwainton.
Arlington, Overbecks, Buckland Abbey, Castle Drogo, Coleton Fishacre, Greenway, Killerton, Knightshayes and Saltram in Devon, were also counted.
Gardeners and volunteers at Kingston Lacy in Dorset, Barrington Court and Montacute in Somerset, Courts Garden in Wiltshire and Tyntesfield near Bristol, took part in the study.
Snowdrops were noted at 85.2% of gardens, with primroses at 52.5%, daffodils in 33% and camellias at 13.6%.
Tulips were only recorded at 1.1% of gardens, along with rhododendrons, also at 1.1%.
Magnolias were not found at any of the sites.