Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 08 February 2016 by Tim Ingram
Preparing for a Snowdrop Day...
Preparing for A Snowdrop Day
For the past few years we have opened the garden in February for the National Gardens Scheme, specifically for the growing collection of snowdrops which presage the woodland plants to come. The weather is always uncertain, and the garden always needing a lot of work to make it reasonably presentable so early in the year, and this winter has been especially wet and blustery. But the plants make up for it, so these are some pictures of parts of the garden that are beginning to develop a nice balance, parts where it is very much still work in progress, and the detail of some of the snowdrops and other plants.
To start a couple of pictures of a rainbow - over the neighbours' garden - which was nice to see after a particularly unpleasant spell of wind and rain.
It has been a mild, if very wet, winter and the snowdrops are several weeks earlier even than last year, which means that many will be going over when we actually open - one of the vageries of working with plants. These are a mixed collection from a week or two ago in pots...
The most successful part of the garden at this time of year is where snowdrops have been established longest, particularly around a cobnut planted in the 1980's. The snowdrops here began from four or five cultivars that Rosemary Powis gave me maybe 15 years ago, and later on several from Val Bourne. This is 'Galatea' planted at the base of the nut making a fine clump.
Early flowering forms of G. elwesii have gone over and now putting on strong leaf growth but later cultivars, such as the very distinctive 'Wasp' (which I showed in an earlier entry), are now coming into their own...
Probably the most successful of all cultivars here has been G. plicatus 'Augustus', seen here on the left below a medlar. This has hybridised with G. nivalis planted along the hedgerow at the bottom of the garden, and G. plicatus 'Trym', to produce a swarm of different plants, a number of which look especially interesting (there is for example a strong upstanding hybrid in front of 'Augustus').
Another is this derivative of 'Trym' (which has produced a host of similar offspring), which does look especially distinct and which Alan Briggs has persuaded us to call 'Trym Ingram'. (Of course every garden has its own snowdrop, one of the reasons for the proliferation of cultivars, and one of the excitements of growing them!). We will describe this properly, in relation to some of its cogeners, next year.
Most of the hellebores in the garden have come in the past from Elizabeth Strangman (and Graham Gough) at Washfield Nursery, and as seed from Jim and Jenny Archibald and from Ashwood Nursery. This pale primrose clump I particularly like for the contrasting dark flower stems and good shaped flowers.
And elsewhere a good pink form from Hertfordshire Hellebores.
Like snowdrops, the wealth of (in this case deliberate) breeding of hellebores has led to an overwhelming diversity. Still though the species, and plants that retain similar charm, give the most natural impression in the garden, even with the drama of novelty, and this picture shows Helleborus odorus (a plant grown from wild seed by David Stephens) growing with Galanthus plicatus 'Wendy's Gold' under the apples.
It is difficult to retain these true species in horticulture without careful segregation from other hellebores in the garden, and fresh collections of seed from the wild, which more than anything is a strong rationale behind the specialist plant societies and plants-people's interest in plants. For the nurseryman they attract a much more limited and refined audience.
This picture shows a more general view along one of the rows of apples, now at snowdrop and hellebore time, and later filling in with other woodland plants such as epimediums, forms of Saxifraga fortunei, ferns, trilliums, erythroniums, podophyllums, anemones... and many more. These make this part of the garden one of the most exciting of all times in spring, if needing a lot of care and weeding later on into summer and autumn.
In another part of the garden, which has grown a very good crop of nettles through the year, it is very much work in progress. This is steadily being cleared and in fact nettles are relatively easy to remove if not too long established and are indicators of good fertile soil, which this certainly is!
This part of the garden is actually especially warm and sheltered and would be a very good place for many bulbs, and notably lilies which we find less easy elsewhere where the ground dries out much more in summer. Originally edged with wood, which has begun to degrade after a decade or more, this is being replaced with a strong flexible plastic edging which should last a good more few years. More sun-loving snowdrops such as forms of G. elwesii will be planted in the light shade of the tree to the left and a bigger range of genera such as Lilium, Fritillaria, Scilla and Narcissus to the right of the path, along with choice clump forming perennials and probably a few shrubs (we are thinking of Magnolia [Michelia] laevifolia here, and almost certainly daphnes). Further to the right needs a lot more clearing of nettles and brambles in an old fruit cage which will be modified with raised beds for growing stock plants for the nursery. An ongoing project for the summer.
Behind the tree (an old cherry) in the last picture is a longer established shady area which is full of snowdrops, cyclamen and a wide variety of other woodlanders (and unfortunately cow parsley which needs rigorous weeding out and dead heading, but does make a fine froth of flower in the centre of the bed in early summer - thus a garden can have a mind of its own). This is a delightful area from now on, which with gradual incorporation of more choice woodland species can only get better. After clearing in the autumn this gets an annual top-dressing with good compost, building up that woodsy soil which is so beneficial for many plants.
To the right of this path are these two groups of hybrid snowdrops between G. nivalis and G. plicatus 'Gerard Parker' which could do with lifting and segregating when they die down in the summer. All are striking and amongst them a few which are particularly distinct and worthy of watching over time.