SPRING flowers mark the start of the growing season in a colourful sequence, repeated without fail each year.

First the snowdrops, then daffodils, anemones and narcissi, and finally a gorgeous tidal wave of bluebells.

After the gloomy winter months, these early flowers are taking advantage of the gradually lengthening days, before too many leaves appear on the trees, blotting out much of their light.

A good place to watch one version of this spring parade is at Kingston Lacy, a National Trust property which opens its gardens to the public every weekend in the early spring, specially for this purpose.

Masses of snowdrops are already in bloom, carpeting the ground beneath the gigantic old trees. They are expected to continue flowering throughout the month.

These will be followed by daffodils and many other spring flowers, with thousands of bluebells for a grand finale.

In addition to the spring bulbs, there will also be anemone nemerosa and lilies of the valley (both national collections) and other woodland flowers.

All this takes place in a magnificent setting: a period garden with a 250-acre landscaped park beyond.

The outlines of a formal parterre can be seen next to the house and there are huge avenues of trees dating from the 17th Century: the Lime Walk and the Cedar Walk.

There is a fernery, with a collection of British native ferns from all over the country, and an area known as Nursery Wood - a developing arboretum, where individual specimen trees have been planted, many in loving memory of a person who has died.

Visitor Services Manager Hazel Curtis is used to welcoming spring visitors. "Typically we have about 500 people per weekend during this period," she said.

"Those who are visiting for the first time in the spring often return later so they can see inside the house and enjoy the summer flowers. There are also many bronze statues in the grounds, and these are covered, to protect them from the weather, until the beginning of April."

Kingston Lacy House, a grand 17th century residence, does not open to the public for its main summer season until April 1, but the grounds are open on Saturdays and Sundays from 11am to 4pm throughout February and March. Admission costs £2.50 for adults and £1.25 for children. (National Trust members are admitted free.)

The shop is also open on Saturdays and Sundays, and so is the restaurant, which has been set up inside the former stable block. Tables are arranged inside individual booths - originally the horses' stalls!

Later in the year you will be able to combine a visit to the house, with a garden tour to admire the roses, hybrid azaleas, rhododendrons and many other flowering plants.

Kingston Lacy is not too far from the Southampton area. It is just west of Wimborne Minster on the B3082 and it is well signposted from the town. For further details, call the Kingston Lacy information office on 01202 883402.

The gardens are "wheelchair friendly" with fairly level, gravel paths, although the grounds are so extensive that it would be hard work, I suspect, to push a wheelchair on a complete tour.

In fact, money is being raised for a motorised buggy, which will make the whole area accessible to less mobile visitors.

I noticed that there were many young children visiting Kingston Lacy with their parents, and the well-maintained paths are ideal for buggies and pushchairs. Dogs are also welcome in the park and woods, so you could make this a spring family outing, with Fido too!

Converted for the new archive on 25 January 2001. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.