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Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 03 February 2015 by Tim Ingram

A Winter's Tale

A Winter's Tale

(© Robyn Ingram)

Last year I reported on the snowdrop sale at Myddelton House, which we attended for the first time. For those who have a strong interest in these plants the season starts much earlier with the autumn forms of G. reginae-olgae and pre-Christmas flowering selections of G. elwesii in particular. We don't have many of these but the arrangement below, photographed on the 9th January this year, shows a mix of slightly later cultivars (and it has been quite an early season for 'early' snowdrops in general).

By the end of January at the Myddelton sale many more snowdrop cultivars are flowering with still several weeks to go before the general appearance of G. nivalis in woodlands and gardens. So the snowdrop aficionado can be pretty well primed with these plants a good bit before winter has run its course. This seems as good a reason as any to get a little excited by them and pick up a few more for the garden each year.

In fact on the rock garden thousands of snowdrops were flowering, with the foliage of all sorts of later bulbs promising a colourful display to come. This year we looked a little more closely and began to see more variation. This clump is pretty typical (very like, if not actually, 'S. Arnott'). Most gardeners would be content with that.

Then something a little taller, more elegant, and with quite striking blue-glaucous foliage. Well I wouldn't mind that too.

Sometimes the the ovary and inner markings are paler green, but not yet yellow (similar to the even more striking plant that illustrates my Diary title page on this website), and this has gently seeded around in one part of the rock garden.

By comparison with the variation of garden cultivars at the sale this is small fry, but it shows how discriminating is the gardener's eye.

In the grassy field running down to the rock garden was this single clump of Narcissus pseudonarcissus, and this does seem pretty early - there were no flowers evident last year. But E.A. Bowles, being the gardener that he was, is likely to have picked out especially early and unusual forms of common bulbs such as this (and snowdrops). John Blanchard in his 'Guide to Wild Daffodils' mentions an Irish form, 'O'Mahoney's variety', which sometimes flowers in January. Later on when the bulk of this simple and beautiful daffodil is in bloom the meadow must be a delight.

Narcissus pseudonarcissus

Many of the best naturalised stands of snowdrops are in the cooler and moister northern and western parts of Britain, and the far south-east corner is not so well known for these plants, or for Galanthophiles. But there are some good gardens and collections here which I hope to show in the next few weeks. Graham Gough at his garden and nursery Marchants, on quite heavy loam (and also on chalk at Newhaven at the south coast) has grown them for many years. He has a very good eye for plants, and these four, all distinct in their way, illustrate something of the problem that John Good alluded to in his last Diary entry. They are all worth picking out and growing but just add to the multiplicity of potential named snowdrops already available. A good rejoinder is that these come from a distinct and long established garden (some date back to Washfield Nursery, renowned in Plantsman's circles) and so have local horticultural significance.  

This next is a plicatus seedling that came up close to the vigorous and smaller flowered 'Augustus'.

And a really special and delicate form of the less known and grown species G. gracilis (characterised by those twisted leaves).

And finally a seedling G. plicatus selected for particularly prostrate and glaucous leaves.

For me these are all simply nice plants from a gardener who I respect greatly and would very much like to grow in my garden too. In fact only one has been named and Graham references many of the snowdrops he grows either just botanically as species (a name only being given after long deliberation) or by using the names of the people they have come from; probably more sensible and natural ways of referring to them, but which doesn't sit so easily with the wider snowdrop world or the urge to collect! Some prosper better on chalk, others in the heavier soil at the nursery and at once you see how gardeners will be drawn to forms which suit their particular garden best and often to those exchanged with friends or bought locally.

Just picking out different selections and establishing them under an old hedge like this at Marchants is one of the loveliest ways of growing them, and gives a great deal of pleasure to anyone passing by. (Peter Moore, so famous for growing and selecting Cyclamen at Tile Barn near to Benenden, did much the same on the verge outside his nursery, which always gave a thrill on visiting even before discovering the plants in his glasshouses!).

*****

This winter has been a good bit colder and drier than last year - our lowest recorded temperature so far has been -5°C on several nights - but still relatively mild. Today has been our first snowfall, very light but enough to show what makes early flowering woodland plants so delightful and interesting in the garden, and worth gardening with! These are a few examples growing beneath the rows of dwarf apples, along with the snowdrops...

Helleborus odorus and Galanthus plicatus 'Wendy's

The diminutive and quite rarely grown species Helleborus dumetorum.

Helleborus dumetorum

And by comparison a young plant of the recently named Helleborus abruzzicus.

Helleborus abruzzicus

Plus a double form of Helleborus x hybridus from Lorna Jones at Hertfordshire Hellebores, more likely to appeal to the nursery visitor!

Cyclamen coum, from Tile Barn, just beginning to flower with us now...

Cyclamen coum

Galanthus plicatus 'Gerard Parker' (and seedlings) with the Soft shield fern, Polystichum setiferum.

Galanthus plicatus 'Gerard Parker'

And a 'woodland' part of the garden planted with Cyclamen hederifolium and snowdrops in variety. In the foreground a more varied hybrid swarm from G. plicatus 'Gerard Parker, some crossed with G. nivalis, which we must lift and segregate. Behind the stems of Hydrangea aspera subsp. sargentiana on the right is a good group of G. 'Anglesey Abbey', a very distinct form of nivalis for its green leaves and semi-poculiform flowers (i.e. with some inner petals just like the outers which makes it 'whiter than white'). An early flowering form of Aconitum napellus fills much of this area up later on, the leaves just beginning to appear now and attractive right through to flowering time, after which it can seed a little too freely! The later flowering Monkshoods are not so tolerant of our dry summers.

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