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Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 20 February 2017 by Tim Ingram

The Snowdrop Day(s)...

Snowdrops are not innocent:
They fight for what they win.
Beauty's what comes out:
Blind energy goes in. 

J. B. Pick
from Well? (Drumlins, 1988)


My last Diary entry acts as a prelude to the 'Snowdrop Day'. If you think of the Snowdrop Day as a moment of theatre, which in many ways it is, then it can take different forms. It may be the small group of friends sharing their enthusiasm and fascination in these plants by walking around the garden and observing that variety, hidden to most people who view snowdrops just en masse in woodlands. Or it may be a larger event; opening the garden for charity, as we do, when many more people view them - as an audience will a play - and come away with some appreciation  of what they've seen. Or the simple staging of a display at a Market - as we do in Faversham - (or at an Alpine Garden Society Show or the Early Spring Show held by the RHS at Vincent Square), where these things combine within a Society you may belong to and contribute to.

In the case of snowdrops this 'theatre' can last over many months because there are species and cultivars flowering from October to March in British gardens. But really for the less informed (average) observer the 'Snowdrop Day' happens over a relatively small time in February, when the majority of snowdrops flower and make that impression in the garden that this picture shows.

It will be obvious that my interest in snowdrops goes deeper than this - simply because my interest in plants in general does - and yet like theatre it is this 'play' snowdrops make in the garden which brings the nature of these plants to its personification.

So this entry takes a meandering course through looking closely at snowdrops over the past few weeks, observing their variation in our garden and abroad and, I suppose, viewing them with somewhat of a theatrical eye...


These three pictures were taken at the Plant Fairs Roadshow 'Snowdrop Day', held at Hole Park Garden at Rolvenden in Kent (not far from Tenterden), where I gave the talk summarised in my last Diary entry. Virginia Oakes has written a lovely overview of the day on the Kent Hardy Plant Society website (that she runs), 'Was it February Folly?' In a warm room snowdrops open their flowers beautifully and make a much more intimate impression for the visitor. It is easy to view and compare their variety and appreciate them individually (in the same way as viewing plants at an Alpine Show). This only gives a partial impression because there is no view of the real 'garden' situation or their ecology, which is the more important way of understanding them. But it is the way we generally tend to view plants as discrete entities, especially within a Society which places a strong emphasis on presenting them in this way at Shows. 

At the Early Spring RHS Show in London over the years, the way snowdrops are staged and displayed naturalistically with other plants brings out more effectively how gardeners will grow them. These are some pictures taken at the RHS show on Tuesday 14th February 2017 of the two fine displays made by Harvey's Garden Plants and Avon Bulbs: the first showed them in combination with hellebores, epimediums and ferns; the second more discretely, and very exquisitely - theatrically.

As a visitor, just as in the garden, the eye is drawn to particular plants for different reasons, but including those derived from personal experience and having read about species and cultivars and their origins. On Roger Harvey's stand this plant of 'Amy Doncaster' drew my eye especially, named for a fine plantswoman - who it would be nice to know more about. There were plants of this for sale so it has now been added to our garden.

Another superb drift was 'Marjorie Brown', which in the garden is late flowering and has especially glaucous blue-grey leaves (not well illustrated in my photo) and which make fine contrast with the bold flowers.

The small snowdrop 'Porlock No. 2' brings to mind several famous plants-people who have made gardens in this small place in NW Somerset, along with the regional origins of many snowdrops.

And Galanthus 'Maidwell L' recalls Oliver Wyatt (Headmaster of Maidwell Hall School), and noted Galanthophile, who also selected the really fine cultivar 'Kite' (which was named by E.A Bowles).

Finally a few more examples taken from Roger Harvey's display.

The colourful foliage of epimediums combines very effectively with snowdrops in this particular view.

Avon Bulbs stand was especially beautiful, notably when you personally begin to envisage trying to do something similar - a direction snowdrops can take you, just because of how exquisite their detail is in winter. Avon showed many very striking cultivars, including this one (in present circumstances unfortunately named) 'Trumps'.

Another similar plants, 'Philippe Andre Meyer', is close to 'South Hayes' - a famous plant from Primrose Warburg's garden. This also illustrates that the fascination with snowdrops is not limited to the UK; there are many good snowdrop gardens on the continent and in North America, and a notable botanical interest amongst gardeners in Russia, the Ukraine and elsewhere, and wherever snowdrops are native and carpet woodlands and wild places.

A typical and finely stage grouping from Avon Bulbs with the interesting Irish variety 'Kildare', which heads in that oddly popular direction of a 'green' snowdrop (but snowdrops are all about contrasts and differences).

Amongst these it was nice to see an example of the species snowdrop G. gracilis, which may appeal to the more botanically inclined (though there will be few if any gardens with more than just G. nivalis that restrict plantings to species alone!).

To finish, two entomologically named cultivars 'Wasp' and Dragonfly', one of which we grow and the second it would be nice to acquire once its price has equilibrated to a lower level! 

On a sunny day it is remarkable to watch bees and bumblebees working over snowdrop flowers and some are quite renowned for their scent. Galanthus 'Ginns' Imperati', named for an eminent member of the AGS, is especially noted for this, and a fine snowdrop in its own right, resembling 'S. Arnott'...

(to be continued)

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