Every year Saltram House head gardener, Anthony Cockell, leads the important Valentine Flower Count. It always takes place on 14 February and visitors are invited to join in and lend a helping hand.

Valentine's Day is often associated with flowers as admirers and lovers send their loved one a rose or flowers, usually anonymously. At Saltram House all the different flower species in the extensive estate gardens are actually hand counted as spring produces the earliest signs of life. The count is an important source of non-scientific data about plants and provides comparisons from one year to the next on what flowers are in bloom and when.

Join in the Valentine Flower Count at Saltram

Flower counts are actually held at 52 National Trust gardens nationwide every year, including 24 National Trust properties in the southwest. The findings are collected and analysed to provide useful data, facts and figures. The Valentine's Day Count goes back to 2006 and it actually began in Devon and Cornwall with other NT properties joining in more recently.

At Saltram in 2013 there were 136 different species of plants actually in flower in mid-February. This is one of the highest numbers in the country, but that is probably due to Saltram's location in Devon on the banks of the River Plym. Devon generally has much milder winters than other locations in the UK, and the warm, tidal Plym waters also help keep temperatures mild and frosts at bay at the Saltram estate.

In comparison, Knightshayes Court at nearby Tiverton only had 88 varieties in bloom, reflecting its higher and more exposed position which means that spring comes a little later there. Lanhydrock in Cornwall also had 136 flowering species as it has a very sheltered position too.

Flowers in bloom for the Valentine Flower Count include bulbs such as crocus, snowdrops and cyclamen. There may even be healthy buds on the camellias, azaleas, early varieties of rhododendrons as well as the showy magnolia trees.

Results of other National Trust Valentine Flower Counts

Surprisingly some Valentine Flower Counts were held with snow on the ground in 2013, for the first time ever. Overall the number of flowers counted was significantly less than in 2012 due to the late snow and hard winter, but there were a few surprises.

In Hidcote, Gloucestershire there were very few flowers in bud due to the snow on the ground. Arlington Court had a wonderful display of snowdrops, as did Saltram. Magnolias were showing promise of early blooms at Trelissick. The wet previous autumn meant that magnolias and rhododendrons produced exceptional spring displays at Lanhydrock, Trelissick, Killerton and Trengwainton.

If you want to see more unusual species, head to St Michael's Mount where a succulent aloe was actually in flower in the microcosmic climate created by this rocky island location in Marazion Bay. At Coleton Fishacre, another sheltered coastal property in Devon, a gazania from South Africa was also in flower.

Surprising facts and figures from Valentine Flower Counts at Saltram

Figures taken from 16 National Trust Valentine Flower Counts in Devon and Cornwall show there were 1,178 plants in flower in 2013, compared to 1,745 in the milder February of 2012. The earliest spring ever was in 2008 when 3,335 plants were in bloom as recorded by that year's Valentine Flower Count.

If you want to be part of this important record keeping while enjoying a fun day out, head down to Saltram between 2pm and 3pm on 14 February. Normal admission fees apply, but it's all in a good cause.

As Mike Calnan, head of National Trust Parks and Gardens said, “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.”

We'd love to hear your comments on the Valentine Flower Count at Saltram, especially if you have participated. Would you have expected 136 different species of shrubs, flowers and trees to be in flower in mid-February?