10th February 2019
Galanthus koenenianus .
Spring has been bounding around the garden with the enthusiasm of a puppy with a new toy. As with all puppies, the detailed behaviour has been diverse
though in the case of spring it hasn't involved shitting on the carpet (to my knowledge). The temperatures have been high, not measured against the seasonal norm but
against recent memory. The sun is shining and I have opened the back door to let the warm breeze blow through the house. If I did things like spring-cleaning
then now would be the time. The garden is wet. The ground compresses as I step on it walking around with a camera. Every picture taken is a compromise
between clarity and wet knees. In the occasional sunshine the light levels have soared, the misery of struggling with dark pictures is over for another year.
It is easy to retreat to the greenhouse in the less joyful moments. Spring passed through here weeks ago and stirred the dormant promise. Galanthus koenenianus
has returned this year and I can at last see the distinctive ridges on the undersides of the leaves. I can't smell the equally distinctive perfume but I have been told
that is no bad thing. A recently discovered species from north-eastern Turkey, it grows in woodland on the north facing slopes of mountains and receives high rainfall
throughout the year. It isn't common in cultivation and so I decided to grow it in the Nerine house, favouring the warm Turkish part of the equation rather than the
constant moisture element. It has returned this year and if it increases I might try a bulb outside however it is quite cool out there, other Turkish species struggle
so I have my doubts. Reports of constant rainfall in habitat sometimes mean that an unprepared botanist was caught in a storm and feeling very fed up about it.
10th February 2019
Galanthus fosteri .
Galanthus fosteri demonstrates the point about climate, at least to my satisfaction. It comes from southern Turkey and although I am told it prospers outside for some people
I am not one of them. I watched it slowly dwindle in the garden until I decided to rescue the remaining single leaved bulblet and grow it in the Nerine house.
This uninspiring picture is the result. For three or four years I have had a single leaf in the pot, enough to cherish and persevere with but not enough to cause rejoicing.
This year I have two leaves. It represents success in a tiny, inconspicuous way. I have a long way to go before there is any hope of a flower but this year there is a suggestion that I
am moving in that direction after a couple of years when I had to content myself with stasis.
The Nerine house provides a protected corner for one or two of the most fragile snowdrops. Naturally that means I cannot move in there for them. The available space
has been entirely utilised. I saw a couple of autumn flowering snowdrops that I would have liked at the Myddleton House snowdrop sale this spring and I didn't buy them.
I know there is no space left. The question is, am I prepared to build a snowdrop extension to the Nerine house or am I going to accept a limitation on the madness?
Common sense suggests the latter but I'm not very good with limitations. They fester in the back of my mind until one day I feel compelled to build a giant new greenhouse
in the shape of a turkey. If I'm going to thumb my nose at common sense it helps to have a sense of humour about it.
10th February 2019
Galanthus nivalis Sandersii Group .
It is, in case there was any doubt about the matter, snowdrop week. It is a difficult time to identify, much clearer once it has passed. I think of Galanthus nivalis
as coming to a peak for Valentine's Day. Perhaps this is the week of the year when the first bees start foraging and the snowdrops simply cash-in on the promise of sex,
like the major retailers. Whatever the reason, Valentine's Day is about the mark. A week later and the first flowers will be browning at the edges, the leaves will be leafier
and the stems will be droopier. The nations lovers will put the kettle on for a last cup of tea and turn their minds to the prospect of work in the morning.
So this is snowdrop week, sparkling with novelty and optimism, flowering boldly against the dark memory of winter. The yellow flowers of the Sandersii Group of
G. nivalis really shine in the sun. In duller weather they can appear less enthusiastic but there is a simple solution, don't go and see them in the rain!
Most of the yellow ones originate in a naturalised population of snowdrops in Northumberland and a number of clones have been discovered and named over the last century or so.
In the early years they had a reputation for being feeble but there has been some Darwinian selection in action. The feeble ones have died out, only the strong survive.
This one came to me as 'Sandersii' but it seems unlikely that it is the original discovery from 1877, more likely a later seedling or selection valued for its vigour.
It is never going to be a thug, but the clump is increasing in a very satisfying way.
10th February 2019
Galanthus woronowii 'Elizabeth Harrison' .
The latest wave of snowdrop appreciation has rumbled on for several decades now, even reaching the notice of the general public from time to time when a record price is paid
for the latest wonder. Yellow snowdrops are highly collectible, the pale colour is distinctive and for the most part it is reliable I am going to draw a veil
over 'Lady Elphinstone' and her reckless and rarely realised chromatic promises. Once we had a firm grip on the yellow G. nivalis forms, the appearance
of yellow forms in other species was inevitable. G.plicatus and G. gracilis followed, and the most recent has been a yellow form of G. woronowii
almost certainly introduced when wild populations of the species in Georgia were "commercialised" following the imposition of quotas on bulb exports from Turkey.
'Elizabeth Harrison' was discovered in a garden in Perthshire, probably growing from an imported bulb. It caused a sensation at the time, the first bulb to be sold
reached a record price on e-bay when purchased by Thompson and Morgan in 2012. Their difficulty in propagating it has been well documented but they have probably earned a lot
more than the purchase price from the publicity value. In the meantime the original stock has been increasing well and bulbs are now more widely available.
I finally bought one in autumn last year, planted it out with a care that approached reverence and am delighted that it is both growing and yellow. When I
look back at the hysteria the original sale produced, my £30 seems quite reasonable.
10th February 2019
Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno' .
Fortunately I laugh. Some people find it easy to be miserable, I sometimes struggle even when it would be appropriate. I have an informal price limit that I apply to snowdrops.
Any more than £30 and I am prepared to wait a few more years. 'Elizabeth Harrison' finally dipped below the line in autumn and several years of deferred gratification
were realised. I was happy about it.
When I was struggling to get the hellebore border to perform as I wanted, I added a few double snowdrops to the mix to see how it went. I bought three pots in flower from the local garden center.
It was a trial. I was very pleased with the result, decided that if I added a few more each year I would eventually have a carpet. Unfortunatley my patience is irregular.
Almost as soon as I had thought of the idea I went out and ordered 1000 more double snowdrops from a nursery in East Anglia. I spent a happy afternoon planting them out
and the following year I could see that they were going to establish and grow away. A year on they had speckled the ground with white but it was hardly a carpet. I bought another 1000.
They have been in for two years now, the original plants have formed good clumps, in places my carpet of snowdrops is developing. I have a couple of rugs anyway.
They are common but they do have a big impact when they come up in the border. I like them. I'm looking at the nursery's website again. Would another 1000 be excessive?
So I laugh at my timidity spending £30 on 'Elizabeth Harrison'. I have spent ten times that on these common old doubles, and I think I have had ten times the value.