Snowdrops at Hodsock Priory

A visit to a wonderful Snowdrop garden as winter turns to spring

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Just in case you hadn’t noticed its Snowdrop season!

And every year I go on the trail hunting Snowdrops, its my way of reminding myself winter doesn’t last forever.

Much like Tulips did in the 1700’s, Snowdrops seem to be increasing in popularity. Some of the rarer ones, like ‘Midas’ are selling for incredible prices per bulb but for the true Galanthophile it’s not about the money. The obsession is akin to being a railway enthusiast in some ways. You might travel miles to stand in the freezing cold just to catch a glimpse of a particular Snowdrop… but unlike trains there’s a chance you could end up carrying one home with you!

I will always remember my very first unusual Snowdrop, it was around 15 years ago. I’d been aware of them don’t get me wrong but they were on my peripheral vision. Small, white flower, unassuming, harbinger of spring, blah, blah, blah. They just hadn’t caught my imagination. Sadly for some, they never will… but when you get it, it’s like someone turned on a lightbulb in a darkened room. All except it’s a Snowdrop and that room is spring!

My first Snowdrop was ‘Flora pleno’ my amazement as I stared at this flower was unmeasured! In my ignorance I genuinely thought I might have uncovered something unheard of! I look back on this moment and smile at my overexcited self now. Yes it is a special Snowdrop but nowhere near as ‘rare’ as id envisioned it being.

The next time I got a real education on Snowdrops was whilst I worked at Hole Park, Quentin tried to teach me everything he knew. Given he seems to have an eidetic memory that’s quite a lot. I still count myself very much as a novice despite his best efforts but listening to someone who has a real love and enthusiasm for Snowdrops is utterly transforming. Suddenly they’re not just little white flowers, suddenly there’s a million different variations to look out for. Some subtle, easy for a novice to overlook. I would be hard pressed, in the field, to spot the differences between the flowers of Galanthus plicatus ‘Amy Doncaster’ & Galanthus elwesii ‘Selbourne green tips’ but I could spot the difference between the leaves and growth habit. I would definitely be able to tell that both are different to Galanthus nivalis, which is the one most of us think of when we think of snowdrops.

So it was with great excitement I received an invite to go and see the Snowdrops at Hodsock Priory from George & Katharine Buchanan & their team. Hodsock priory has a long and illustrious heritage which the Buchanan family very generously share, their gardens are open starting from the 10th of Feb to the 4th March 2018 for Snowdrops with the added bonus of outdoor theatre (16th to 18th Feb) included in the price of your ticket on the Sat & Sun.

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If you wish to soak up the history of Hodsock priory, learn about the kings that have stayed there (Edward I & Henry VIII are just two of the list!) the architecture and its involvement with the ‘Land girls’ during the second world war, George and his enthusiastic team give a daily talk on its history and tours of the garden. Check the blackboard by the Woodland Café when you visit for details of times.

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The gardens were laid out in the 1820s, Hodsock priory itself received a facelift by the architect George Devey in 1873, and developed by the then Head Gardener Arthur Ford and his team of 5. Arthur was a well respected gardener of his time often writing for various garden journals. It was during his time that the Italianate terraces were laid out and flower beds introduced to the fan garden. He also introduced many fruit trees. Arthurs team continued there till 1930 when the womens Land Army turned the estate into food production to help with the war effort. It wasn’t till 1967 though that the Lady Buchanan decided to fill the gardens with snowdrops a benefit that we 40 years later can really appreciate.

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Hamamelis mollis
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Hamamelis mollis ‘Pallida’
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Prunus mume beni chidori
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Petasites fragrans
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Petasites japonicus

 

The garden has many winter beauties to appreciate, not just snowdrops, You can find Hellebores in abundance, carpets of Cyclamens and Aconites. The scent of Sarcoccoca, Chimonanthus & winter flowering Honeysuckle fill the air and delight the senses and the beautiful vibrant colours of Cornus and Willow stems can be appreciated in all their glory…. But! Back to Snowdrops!

Hodsock boasts quite a collection, listed below are some that can be seen growing there…

  • Galanthus Atkinsii
  • Galanthus Sam Arnott
  • Galanthus Worwonowii
  • Galanthus Lady Beatrix Stanley- Sir Andrew’s Grandmother
  • Galanthus Elwesii
  • Galanthus Magnet
  • Galanthus Plicatus
  • Galanthus Viridipicis
  • Galanthus Allenii
  • Galanthus Barbara’s Double -Sir Andrew’s mother
  • Galanthus Augustus
  • Galanthus Bill Bishop
  • Galanthus Brenda Troyle
  • Galanthus Hill Poe
  • Galanthus Robin Hood
  • Galanthus Nivalis double
  • Galanthus Nivalis single
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Galanthus ‘Sam Arnott’

A fantastic little thing, 2 snowdrops in their collection are named for George’s ancestors, I need to find out the story behind this!

Now at this point it might be worth looking a bit closer at the Galanthus genus

Disclaimer: I do NOT claim to be an expert but I’ll do my best to point out relevant features.

The one we all know is Nivalis but it is not as you’d be forgiven for thinking a British native. It’s thought it was introduced possibly by the Romans… they introduced a lot of things we should be thankful for, they also introduced Rabbits which I haven’t forgiven them for.. yet! There is a school of thought though that says it wasn’t introduced until the 16th century. Irregardless of this G.nivalis is the most widespread and easily available of all the species, there are others though!

Approximately 20 in the Galanthus genus, I know 20, bit of a shocker right!

What’s even more surprising is more are still being identified as new species, even as recently as 2001 G. trojanus was identified & in 2012 G. panjutinii, followed closely by G. samothracicus in 2014!

Galanthus species are split into 7 main ‘Clades’ or groups

  • Platyphyllus clade (Caucasus, W. Transcaucasus, NE Turkey)
  • Trojanus clade (NW Turkey)
  • Ikariae clade (Aegean Islands)
  • Elwesii clade (Turkey, Aegean Islands, SE Europe)
  • Nivalis clade (Europe, NW Turkey)
  • Woronowii clade (Caucasus, E. and NE Turkey, N. Iran)
  • Alpinus clade (Caucasus, NE Turkey, N.Iran)

Even if you’re keen on Snowdrops it’s a challenge to keep all this in your head but some of the names will be familiar. There are some that are worth noting specifically other than nivalis.

Galanthus plicatus, the specific epithet referring to the fact its leaves have a slight pleat to them, is sometimes called the Crimean Snowdrop. It was given this name because soldiers returning from the Crimean war supposedly brought them back with them.

Galanthus elwesii is exported in huge numbers, 7 million bulbs a year, from Turkey. Of all the snowdrop species it sports the largest flower. It also has more distinctive green markings than other species.

worononowii is an even bigger export at 15 million bulbs per year, its leaves are wider than most of the other species and a shiny light to medium green.

Then we come to the cultivars!

Generations of horticulturists have spent decades creating ‘new’ snowdrops. Heyrick Greatorex is just one example, an eccentric character to say the least. He named his snowdrops after Shakespearian characters. Sadly he was an awful record keeper! He would take the pollen from the only double flowered variety available at the time nivalis ‘flore pleno’ and crossed it with G. plicatus. The resulting hybrids became the basis for many modern doubles. One in particular which captures my fancy is ‘Hippolyta’

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Hippolyta

Yellow snowdrops often cause a stir, oddly most of these variations seem to stem from a small wild group of nivalis in Northumberland. These are now classified under the umbrella title of Sandersii Group. There are other species that lack the pigmentation that gives rise to the distinctive yellow hue in place of green. One of the best known is G. plicatus ‘Wendys Gold’ native of Cambridge it was almost lost to cultivation in the 1980’s. It’s still not easy to get hold of but when it is it’s always cheaper than ‘Midas’ thought to be a naturally occurring cross between ‘Blonde Inge’ & ‘Trym’ obtaining it yellow colouration from the former.

elwesii has given rise to one of my absolute favourite cultivars though! Imagine a flower that has the cutest little face staring back at you! This would be ‘Grumpy’. Only discovered in 1990 in Cambridge it’s still selling at a price I’m not sure I could justify to myself even if I saw it for sale but I do so love that scowling little face!

I succumbed and bought myself Magnet & Atkinsii recently on a trip to see Waterperrys Snowdrops, I would be seriously hard pressed not to buy Hippolyta if I saw it. My list of ‘wants’ is becoming longer each year for what is essentially a plant that flowers for just a couple of weeks & I will never have enough to create the full effect of the magnificence that a large swathe of these tiny nodding miracles, promises of warmer days coming.

That’s why I need places like Hodsock, they’ve got that in spades! … you see what I did there right?

Spades… Snowdrops… spades?

Ok, I’ll shut up, here’s the Snowdrops!

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My Zygopetalum

A love of Orchids is all consuming, the flowers and scent from my Zygopetalum are one of the reasons why

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I’m a great lover of orchids, as some of you may know, I own about 20 now. The vast majority are Phalenopsis, given the nickname of the moth orchid, it could now be happily called the supermarket orchid. Most are rescues as I can’t bear seeing them thrown away simply because they have finished flowering. It pains me to see a good plant go unloved when I know it will go on to thrive once more with just a bit of tlc.

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For years though I have been hankering after 1 orchid in particular. I’ve never dared buy it for myself, terrified I might lose it! That is the zygopetalum.

Back in February an All horts visit to Kew gardens was organised by @gardenwarrior (twitter handle, his real name is Andrew) to see the Orchids there. These visits to various gardens & events are always great fun as not only do you meet wonderful, like minded, enthusiastic horts but in such inspiring places!

This visit for me was particularly special though as it coincided with my birthday woo-hoo!

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We happily trotted round the glasshouse oohing & aahing as appropriate at what is a truly impressive display of Orchids when the scent of one caught me unawares!

Sweet, so very sweet! And musky, you almost smell it in your throat…I’m not sure if that makes sense but honestly you do! It was a familiar scent and immediately I was looking for the zygopetalums!

Not all orchids are scented and as a rule of thumb the bigger & showier a flower is the less scent it needs but zygo’s break that rule!

Lime green with maroon spots they are about an inch across. To my mind they look like little happy faces with purple flecked beards, like punk gnomes.

My friend Justin (Twitter handle @allotment7b ) , who knows a lot more about orchids than me, had very generously said he would buy me one from the shop for my birthday! Imagine how excited I was! Any orchid I wanted!!

Now I did have several “favourite” orchids in mind, one of which is a purple Vanda, these are relatively tricky to look after successfully in a normal home but are absolutely luscious!

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Vanda

Another I had in mind was a Paphiopedilum or slipper orchid. As I think I already have one in my collection of rescues though it seemed wasteful to not get something different. Even when they do look this good!

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Paphiopedilum

I eventually settled my mind on a zygopetalum which after raiding the unpacked cages of orchids in the shop I found and the wonderful Justin bought for me.

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Look at the stupid look on my face! Such joy!

For weeks it flowered it’s head off, making my bedroom smell amazing & in fact the whole house! Eventually it finished and I worried I wouldn’t be able to keep it happy. I forced myself to NOT fuss over it. Most orchids die from being loved too much! I lost my first one this way. I’ve found they much prefer being ignored for the most part. I water them with rain water if I can get it, if not I’ve been known to fill up the sink & plunge them in for an hour or so. I keep a bottle of water to go stale as an alternative. I bought a mist to encourage them to flower which I use intermittently & I also have a feed which encourages leafy growth which I use every few months but I worry about overfeeding as the build up if salts from these in the growing media can kill them just as quick as abandoning them altogether!

The strong sun on my window sill scorched one of the leaves of my beloved zygo back in June, also caused one of my others to abort flower production. It was the week I was moving & my well meaning housemate closed the windows and cooked them all in my absence. I could’ve cried… but hey! They survived! In the next few weeks as we all settled in to Ulting wick I repotted a few of my beauties & in the process noticed flower buds forming on the zygo!!

SUCH EXCITEMENT!!

I tweeted Justin to let him know.

That’s the thing about giving someone a present of a plant it’s a joy that keeps going.

He had given me my hearts desire & now it’s  scent fills the little cottage. It’s smiley punk faces greet me every morning. I have no idea what I did to make it so happy but it obviously is!

Zygopetalums were first found in 1827 by a chap called Mackay from Brazil. He gave one to the esteemed orchid expert of the day sir William Hooker, who promptly created a new genus for it. They can be found growing in cloud forests of south America and are classed as both epiphyte & terrestrial giving them the ability to be flexible in their growing conditions. The growing media need to be free draining, I tend to go for some of the more difficult to get hold of stuff which I buy from the Orchid experts at shows. This is a mixture of perlite, charcoal, bark and a few other bits.

If you’ve never tried growing Orchids before don’t be put off giving them a go, the Phalenopsis are probably the most forgiving, here’s a tip to getting them to reflower, leave them on a window sill where the temp will drop overnight. This triggers the flowering response, I found out by mistake and all of mine proceeded to flower their heads off for the next 12 months!

Heres a few of the loveliest you may consider…

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Cut Flowers – A guest blog by Bohemian Raspberry

The first in a series of Guest blogs. Written by some of the best bloggers IMHO out there on the internet at the moment, this time its Michelle from Bohemian Raspberry

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Michelle is a Garden & Lifestyle blogger at the Bohemian Raspberry. Focused in sharing the experiences and passion for gardening, growing your own food and cut flowers for complete beginners to experienced gardeners alike.
This bubbly Northern lass produces candid and sometimes brutally honest blogs, both written & video clips, relating to her own life and experiences, also some hilarious outtake video blogs.
If you like what you see here go give her a Follow on Twitter or on wordpress.
At this point i’ll shut up & let Michelle talk to you about one of her passions…

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The wonderful world of cut flowers has increased in popularity over the last couple of years and for good reasons too. People don’t want air miles adding to their carbon footprints by having exotics flown in from overseas. Some want to help support our wildlife and ecosystems and others want to be a bit more frugal, as having fresh blooms on the table each week soon mounts up in costs.

More and more people are tempted to grow their own beautiful blooms and I understand why, flowers are a very powerful thing. They lift peoples mood, you’ve heard the chatter at the beginning of spring where the anticipation of the first flowers are emerging and the glee and excitement it brings knowing the dark colder months are now a thing of the past. We give flowers to help heal a sick friend, we give flowers to the person who’s affections we are trying to win, birthdays, weddings, celebrations, basically flowers are LOVE and who would not want them as a part of their daily lives to wake up to on a bedside table or admire over dinner, or as welcome home on a sideboard after a long day at the office!

Well I have grown cut flowers for a few years now and I am going to share with you some advice on how to get started yourself.

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Designing a cutting patch doesn’t take rocket science, but it does require some common sense.  The first thing I suggest to people before they run for the seed catalogues is think about the types of arrangements and flowers they love. Have a flick through Pinterest or your favourite florists gallery and see which flowers twang your heart strings. Next, you want look at what flowers they are teamed with, there is no point in growing flowers that clash with each other. For instance you wouldn’t find a tropical flower like a bird of paradise with a soft English rose, it just wouldn’t work.  You also want to be thinking about the seasons too, which flowers bloom when.

Arrangements are usually made up of a showstopper, a middle note and a backdrop and in display a palette from a subdued colour mix, a balanced colour mix to chaotic and flamboyant colour mixes, the choice is entirely yours, but you do need to choose well, so it does pay to do your homework here and when you have made your selection you are good to grow!

Although it is relatively simple to grow cut flowers when it comes to designing your patch there are a couple of things you will need to think about. The first is time. How long do you have to dedicate to your patch?  As blooms are pretty straightforward to grow yes, but you will need to dedicate time to dead heading, pruning, watering, feeding and mulching your blooms, especially in the height of the summer months. Once you have established how long daily or weekly you have to dedicate to your cutting patch you can then plan how much space you can give over to growing them. Will you have a patch in the garden, a small patch on the allotment or even a full allotment of cut flowers however the choice is entirely yours and shouldn’t be overwhelming.

Once you have decided the size and time you can devote to your new cutting patch there are a few other considerations to make too. One is site location. Most blooms tend to like the sun, and if you are growing for good stem lengths you will also want t take into consideration wind, is there any protection from strong winds, as the last thing you want is to nurture a plant from a sprout for it to never make the vase due to wind damage. Another consideration is soil. Like most growing, if you want good strong healthy plants then soil is key, most blooms prefer rich free draining soil. So if you feed your patch with a good layer of manure and compost, your blooms will reward you later and if you have heavy clay soil add in some grit for drainage.

You are then ready to plant up, the most cost effective method of growing cut flowers is from seed, if you were to by plugs from a nursery, which there’s no stopping you if you don’t want to faff about with seedlings but it most definitely adds expense to the project.  It does bode well to pay attention to the type of plant you are sowing and the care it needs it’s no good sowing tender annuals in March, planting out a couple of weeks later for a late frost to zap them.  It’s also wise to make successional sowings so you have a steady supply of short lived plants through out the season by making new sowing every 2 -3 weeks.

Once your plants are growing away you want to feed them, first with a nettle tea solution this will help promote good bushy and sturdy growth and help fight off the slug and other potential pest damage that may threaten them. Then from midsummer once the buds appear you want to be feeding your plans with comfrey tea to encourage strong and abundant bloom harvests.

With regular harvesting your blooms will prolifically perform for you spitting out new shoots for fun, all you need to do is water well twice a week, now I’m talking a good drink not a sprinkle, pick or deadhead and that’s just about it.

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Here are some marvellous bloom suggestions that make excellent cut flowers to get you started.

Annuals

Cosmos bipinnatus

Nigella

Ammi Visnaga

Centaurea cyanus

Helianthus annus

Lathyrus odoratus

Antirrhinum

Perennnials

Eryngium planum

Scabiosa

Rosa

Lavandula

Bulbs & Corms

Dahlia

Tulipa

Anemone

Hyacinthus

Ranunculus

Lilium

Foliage

Euphorbia oblkongata

Skimmia japonica

Ribes sanguineum

Eucalyptus gunnii

Hedera hiber

Moluccella laevis

Biennuals

Digitalis purpurea

Dianthus barbatus

Erysimum

Dipsacus

Lunaria annua

The Winter Garden – part 2

To any of you who havent stumbled on me before let me take a moment to say Hi & welcome!

I asked Twitter what they would like me to blog about & gave 3 options, this was the one that quite frankly came out streets ahead, which of course is the one I was most dreading writing.

This may sound odd coming from me but the concept of a garden totally skewed towards the winter months was something that until recently hadn’t really come up in my radar. Why? I’m not quite sure?

In most of our gardens it would be nigh on impossible to dedicate an entire garden or even section of garden to just plants that look or smell good in the winter. Most urban gardens just don’t have the scale needed for this but what we can do if we want to incorporate this into our lives is perhaps take one or two of the choicest plants and use those.

A common misconception with gardens in winter is everything stops, nothing grows, nothing changes and nothing flowers. This simply isn’t true. Winter can be an amazing time to be out in the garden and if planned correctly can be full of scent, colour and flowers from December through to the end of February when Spring creeps up on quiet feet.

Part 1 (which can be viewed here The winter garden – part 1 )looked at the trees and shrubs which make the cold dark days a little brighter. In part 2 we will look at the smaller denizens and its structure.

Ground cover

Eranthis hyemalis – Winter Aconite

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I’ll be the first to admit that im not totally in love with acid yellow flowers but for the bravest intrepid bees that venture out on the odd bright warmish day we get in the winter these are absolute stars! Bees are attracted to yellow flowers over any other colour, weirdly they apparently see it as blue (im not sure who worked this out or how?) which means also that blue flowers work well for them too… but im digressing again!

Eranthis is a member of the buttercup family (Ranunculacea) and like a lot of plants can be poisonous. Dont panic, it’s not going to jump out of the flower bed and force itself down your throat… at least I don’t think so? It, like all plants, needs to be treated with respect. I know a lot of people get extraordinarily worried about poisonous plants being grown in their gardens but a good rule of thumb is just dont eat them! Teach your pets and children not to eat stuff and everyone is happy. I grew up in a garden filled with toxic plants as did our pets, none of us died. My mum taught us from before I can remember to treat plants with respect. Too often I see children in public gardens running over carefully weeded & dug borders, snapping plants & generally running riot. Is this a new thing? I know that we as children would have been given a sharp clart for wrecking someones hard work in this way never mind the potential danger of running into a plant with virtual teeth… ooh, I think im having a soap box moment… apologies, I’ll get back to the Aconite!

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Eranthis is a european native and has been known and used for centuries. Gerards Herbal, one of my favourite “mad” books includes it under the title of ‘English wolfsbane’ and gives it the title of Aconitum hyemale due to its leaf shape and seed head which are not dissimilar to those of the Aconite family. It grows from tubers in deciduous woodland so is tolerant of a little shade.

Erica – Winter Heather

As the name suggests the Erica family has slightly special needs in the form of ericaceous (acidic) soil but if you’re a gardener who lives on chalk, fear not you can easily grow them in pots of ericaceous compost but the Erica family is more tolerant than the Calluna family of Heathers of less acidic conditions.

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Unbelievably, considering I worked in a garden which had an entire area devoted to Heathers called ‘The Policy’ ( I never did find out the reason it was called this, supposedly it was because that’s the Scottish name for a heather garden? I’ve always understood thats the highlands? 😉 ) I haven’t ever really got excited about them and consequently haven’t taken many pictures of them.

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That said when you get a good display together it can be very impressive, even the odd Erica dotted around can be exceptional in its small way. So a few Heather facts!

Calluna is a distinctively different species from Erica as it flowers in autumn as opposed to Erica which flowers in spring but there are many that will flower a bit earlier and make a wonderful addition to your winter garden. In particular look out for cultivars of Erica carnea,  Erica x darleyensis and Erica erigena. 

One of the most important things for keeping your heathers looking good is consistent pruning. This should be done directly after flowering, if you have a small patch I would use secateurs (but be very careful not to catch your other hand with them, it’s easily done!) for a larger patch shears or even a hedge cutter. Cut right back to the point where you can still see growing leaves but a warning, don’t cut into old wood. like many small shrubs they won’t regenerate! Its well worth doing though as it keeps your heathers youthful and giving a good, compact flower display.

Snowdrops

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Now THIS is where i get a bit* excited!

*a lot

I’m not even sure I can put my finger on the moment this happened exactly, maybe it was the moment i was given some double snowdrops from ryton, maybe even before then? I can tell you when my appreciation became full-blown though, working with Quentin Stark at Hole Park, his love of them is infectious. A true Galanthophile!

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Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Flore Pleno’

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I don’t even count myself as a Galanthophile more an avid lover of these beautiful, delicate, transient, denizens of our gardens that hail the coming of spring. I’m unable to tell one  from the other… unless its ‘Mr grumpy’… or ‘flora pleno’…. but then they’re easy!

There are also some amazingly beautiful ones with a yellow ovary instead of the usual green or glaucous tint. 2 of the most easy of these to get hold of & the most reliable are G. plicatus ‘Wendy’s Gold’ and G. nivalis  ‘Sandersii’ syn.’Lutescens’. The gold snowdrops can be a little unstable and subject to reversion but that makes them all the more desirable to collectors. Their rarity pushes the price they can command and if you can breed a stable form you could almost retire on it. There is one I would love to see in the flesh and that’s a double yellow called  Galanthus nivalis ‘Lady Elphinstone’ Cadwalader, amazing! For all I’ve just raved about these yellow snowdrops I’ve never actually seen any! I’m hoping this will change this year though as Im going to Chelsea physic gardens snowdrop fair.

A quick latin bit! Galanthus literally means Milk Flower, love it, Gala = Milk & Anthos, the second part slightly mangled to fit = Flower. When followed by  nivalis = ‘of the snow’

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I wish I could remember everything Quentin tried to teach me so I could relay it to you with confidence but I do remember clearly the passion he spoke about them with, which somehow communicated itself to me to the extent that you will see me crawling round on the ground, camera in hand squinting to try to spot the miniscule differences between one little white flower and another almost exactly identical little white flower.

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And there ARE differences! The picture above shows that clearly and compare to the one below…imag2906

Snowdrops aren’t native to Britain though as much as we think of them as a naturalised wildflower. Some think that the Romans introduced them, others will tell you they weren’t introduced from Europe till the 16th or possibly 15th Century, depending on who’s telling you.

Leucojum vernum

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Sometimes called the giant snowdrop (or spring snowflake) as it stands at about 30cm and being related, Leucojum flowers slightly later which gives you a marvellous continuity when planning your garden. They will tolerate shade quite happily & waterlogged soils a rare and valuable trait for difficult areas.

They will flower right through from February till April giving bees a good source of nectar. Various members of the Leucojum genus have recently been moved to the Acis genus but Leucojum vernum & it’s later flowering cousin L. aestivum (summer snowflake) have remained for which I’m very glad as I adore saying the name, try it! It’s a wonderful word!

It’s a much underused plant, I’ve rarely seen them grown but once established is pretty much bomb-proof!

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Helleborus

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This is a massive subject! I’m going to try to stay tightly focussed & not ramble too much… but this is me and … well, forgive me if I do because they are SO beautiful!

The genus consists of around 20 species of both herbaceous and evergreen plants so there literally is a Hellebore for every situation.

22 species are recognised and divided into 6 sections.[7]

Caulescent species

These four species have leaves on their flowering stems (in H. vesicarius the stems die back each year; it also has basal leaves).

Acaulescent (stemless) species

These species have basal leaves. They have no true leaves on their flower stalks (although there are leafy bracts where the flower stalks branch).

Other species names (now considered invalid) may be encountered in older literature, including H. hyemalis, H. polychromus, H. ranunculinus, H. trifolius.

As you can see it’s a big subject! So for the sake of this blog we’ll stick with the orientalis and their hybrids. I remember clearly my very first Hellebores. I bought them as little tiny plugs. I didn’t realise I wasnt supposed to just stick them straight in the ground. I had decided to revamp a border that had been full of an awful euphorbia. I dug it out, plonked some ferns in the deep shade then my hellebores, poor tiny things they were, guessing how much space they would eventually need. In my inexperience at the time I thought it would be a marvellous idea to move a large peony that had sat in the back garden to the front where it would be in partial shade. I didn’t know it wasnt supposed to like being moved. I popped it in and hoped for the best as to be fair it had done nothing in the back garden. Looking back I have no idea how I achieved it but not only did they all survive but in fact thrived! So much so I converted my Dad to loving hellebores too (that was next years birthday present sorted!) The peony incidentally flowered its head off producing huge highly scented blooms of the very palest pink, I’ve never been able to replace it, every year the local kids would come and ask me for one or two of them to give to their girlfriends or mums etc. I loved getting them involved, they were good, if a little misdirected kids…. but that’s for another story!

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There have been some amazing advances in the breeding of hellebores giving us a colour pallete that spans from an almost black right through to pure white with reds, pinks and even yellows in between. Not just the colour range but also the flower shapes, singles, doubles even anemone flowered, it’s incredible!

Whilst at Hole Park we entered a few of the classes in the local flower show, this is a great way to see some of the best on offer, especially if your flower club has enthusiastic members.

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As you can see we only came 3rd but the level of competition was high.

I also visited Great Dixters plant fair that same weekend where they had a selection of amazing doubles, one of which now resides outside my old cottage…imag3096

THIS is the hellebore that if I could only pick one is the one though, it’s gorgeous picotee edge, delicate colouring and the shape, wonderful…

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Hellebores are subject to a few odd myths, apparently they are used in the summoning of devils, who knew, they have also been used to “cure madness” but honestly I don’t think I’d try either!

Theres a couple of important things to remember with this type of hellebore, come December cut all the leaves off, completely. Be very careful not to damage the flowering spike which will just be starting to emerge. The reason we do this is threefold.

  1. To prevent infection from fungal diseases such as Hellebore leafspot, this not only looks awful turning the old leaves black in splotches but can also given the chance mar the flowering spike. By removing old leaves you are removing the chance of fungal spores spreading but remember dont compost them otherwise they will just return!
  2. Removing the leaves prevents a wee timorous beastie from hiding under them and making a feast of your flowers! For mice, hellebore flowers are a valuable source of food. Removing the leaves makes it more difficult for them to use them as camouflage from predators.
  3. Removing the leaves allows us to appreciate the beauty of these winter treats with an unencumbered view and does the plant no harm, so make this one of your December “To-Do’s”

 

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Iris

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Finally we reach the wonderful, delicious Iris. Unlike the summers blousy displays of bearded Iris the delicate Iris reticulata, the dwarf Iris, gives a show which bewitches and enchants all in its own right. Originating in Russia it’s well able to thrive in cold conditions but appreciates having dry feet through the summer. Once established you will find that flowering will improve with a hot dry summer, which mimics it’s natural environment. Planted in a south-facing border will also increase the flower power. dsc_0191

 

I would recommend planting en masse if at all possible, 1 or 2 in a pot look fine but in a border they can very quickly get lost and lose their impact

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Climbers

Clematis Cirrhosa

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If I had to pick just 1 climber to include in the winter garden forget Jasminum nudiflorum – Winter Jasmine, its acid yellow flowers are too much for me and lets face it you see it everywhere but consider this gorgeous alternative.  A gentle lemony scent accompanies these understated freckled bells. As if these weren’t enough to recommend this wonderful plant the flowers are followed by lovely fluffy seed heads which are a great attractant for finches to feed on or birds to use as nest material, amazing!

Grow it against a south-facing wall where the winter sun can encourage it’s scent and enjoy this low maintenance climber throughout the year.

Other things to consider in the winter garden

It’s not just flowers that make a garden interesting in winter though, the gardens bare bones are exposed so when planning consider how it will look when stripped down.

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Hedging and topiary are of incredible importance in this situation, they will provide focal points and backdrops that create interest and lead the eye, structures like rose arches and in fact the roses themselves can be used to bring interest if pruned and trained in a creative way. Waterperry’s near Oxford is a great example of how this is done, Sissinghurst adopted these techniques as previous Head Gardeners were trained there. I myself used these techniques at Hole Park.

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Consider also how some plants can be used, phlomis and globe artichokes in particular look amazing in the snow.

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As do grasses, so think about leaving a few things around that can stand till spring to bring movement and structure to your winter landscape.

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Finally I’ll leave you with a few of my favourite wintery pics! I’ve got spring seed sowings on my mind now…

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