Thats enough introduction - on with the plants!
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... out in the garden.
8th January 2012
A damp week at this time of the year is a delightful thing. It hasn't been cold, it hasnt been icy. We haven't had six inches of snow, we have had six inches of snowdrops.
At this time of the year I expect to spend a couple of weeks peering at the noses of snowdrops, hoping they will produce flowers to cheer the garden. This year things have no sooner appeared through
the soil than they are up and flowering. I bought this snowdrop a few years ago from a DIY store and have always assumed it was G.woronowii but a friend has just pointed out that
it is rather early and rather large for that species. I suffer from historical confusion with the green leaved species. When I grew up they were all called G.latifolius unless
you were looking at them at Kew. In that case you made up a name according to the day of the week. There were two rules of identification. First, if it has green leaves it is G.latifolius.
Second, never go to Kew. Life was simple and satisfying.
Research over the last 50 years has shown that the idea of G.latifolius as we knew it in gardens is a fiction and those plants are now treated as G.woronowii. Perhaps this a just a good form.
I would be more convinced if it had shiny leaves (these are distinctly matt). The leaf colour is right for G.ikariae or G.transcaucasicus but it doesn't have the air spaces
within the structure of the leaf that are typical of G.ikariae. Using Aaron Davis (The Genus Galanthus) it keys out as G.woronowii or G.transcaucasicus (right inner segment mark
for the former, right leaves for the latter, depends which character you give most weight to) so I am inclined to accept that it is a freakishly early and good G.woronowii.
I have one other flower of G.woronowii open, so it isn't unacceptably early. It looks nothing like this!
8th January 2012
Galanthus 'Lady Beatrix Stanley'
A very distinctive double snowdrop which originated in the garden of Lady Beatrix Stanley at Sibbertoft and was distributed as G.caucasicus 'Plena' for a long time.
G.caucasicus is another one of those taxonomic ideas that has now disappeared, in this case into G.elwesii. It has tiny green marks on the inner segments, unlike the usual range of
variation in G.elwesii, so it has been absorbed but it has made a bit of a bulge.
This is an excellent double snowdrop in a traditional form. The outer segments are regular and appear pointed and the inner segment make a neat rosette. The small triangular ovary on top of the
flower is probably not functional. Certainly I have never seen it set seed. Last time I looked I couldn't find any pollen either but perhaps it produces some occasionally.
Effectively the plant is sterile but fortunately it is vigorous and easy to propagate by division so it is now a common plant in collections. I find it a very satisfying plant to grow.
It is reliable and distinctive and those are both valuable characteristics in a snowdrop.
8th January 2012
Galanthus 'Godfrey Owen'
This is a much more modern snowdrop and shows a new form of expression for a double flower. Previous doubles have had three outer segments enclosing a central blob. This could be made up of a mass of inner segments
or a mixture of inner and outer segments. 'Godfrey Owen' produces six outer segments and six inner segments and makes a very tidy flower (an occasional spare part can be put down to excess enthusiasm).
It was discovered by Margaret Owen in (or about) 1996 in Shropshire and is named after her late husband. Galanthomania is no new thing, but we are currently surfing on a giant wave of new varieties
and it is a great delight to be able to get things like this that are clearly distinct and add something new to our expectations from snowdrops.
This is available because of developments in the propagation of snowdrops in the last decade. The technique of chipping bulbs was developed for the Narcissus industry to allow large
numbers of bulbs to be produced rapidly from a small original stock. The technique has been adapted to the smaller bulbs of Galanthus. As a result, enthusiasts are able to obtain new varieties within
years of their discovery rather than decades later (it took 40 years before 'Lady Beatrix Stanley' was well enough distributed to need a proper name).
Naturally the availability of new plants fuels interest in the genus, and the more interest the more new plants are spotted. In theory it continues until snowdrops take over the world. It happened
once before with tulips, but we may have learnt something from the era of tulipomania. If you are so filled with excitement that you think it is worth spending hundred(s) of pounds on a new snowdrop
then understand that there may be tears before bedtime. Snowdrop chips are a great innovation and good plants become common very quickly.
8th January 2012
Are you sick of snowdrops yet?
I never get tired of them, but I find the secret is to take it slowly. I am quite obsessive enough to gorge until I burst and it helps to keep a sense of perspective. They are only snowdrops
and it has to be faced, they do all look the same (not everyone is prepared to sacrifice their knees and dignity). It is a great pleasure every year to watch Galanthus nivalis emerging. I have it planted
around the garden. My first stock came from an enchanting orchard in Launceston where the owner was happy to sell a few clumps of bulbs. I started to move them into a single carpet under the trees a few years ago, and have added
plants from other sources. It is interesting to see that the plants from different origins come up on different schedules. This one is from the original Launceston orchard and is always the earliest. It is flowering
when plants from a bulb farm in Lincolnshire are just poking through the ground.
Galanthus nivalis marks the start of the mainstream snowdrops, we are no longer looking at the earlies, this really is spring, not just the promise of it. These are a week earlier here than I have photographed them
before and there is a slightly pale and bulimic look to them but they are tough, and will survive the cold weather that is (presumably) still to come.
In the middle of the 19th century snowdrops first became fashionable among gardeners. Slight variations in G.nivalis have led us kicking, screaming and drooling to the modern age.
It is fair to say that this is the face that launched a thousand chips.
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