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Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 28 January 2014 by Tim Ingram

The 'Ultimate' Snowdrop Sale

The 'Ultimate' Snowdrop Sale

Perhaps gardeners fall into two camps regarding snowdrops? There are those who simply love them for the extensive drifts found naturalised in different parts of the country and that can make a wonderful show in the garden too. And there are those for whom they develop the appeal of serendipity as more and more variation is discovered and treasured in the garden. In both cases they light up the winter garden in ways that no other plants can and forge strong friendships between gardeners as well as once in a while, covetousness. Here are two contrasting examples of the appeal of snowdrops at Myddelton House; drifts of nivalis following a stream very naturally, and a distinctive clump which the eye is drawn to for its soft yellow-green ovary and markings.

The 'Ultimate' Snowdrop Sale

It would be hard to find a more ideal venue for a sale of rare snowdrops than E. A. Bowles’ garden at Myddelton House. This garden at Enfield, on the northern outskirts of London and readily accessible from the M25, retains that personal character which is so much a result of the interests of the true plantsman. Although Bowles was privileged in a way few gardeners are today, his garden still has the feel of many of our much smaller private gardens now - the detail of plants comes first; their variety and oddities. This is the garden of someone who was simply fascinated by plants and wanted to learn as much as they could about them, rather than the more flamboyant gardens of his aristocratic contemporaries. And of course Bowles was also an avid collector of bulbs, notably crocuses and snowdrops, which remain such a feature of the winter garden now for so many members of the alpine garden societies too.

Collecting snowdrops builds steadily and is a specific example of that general sharing of plants that always goes on between keen gardeners. Sharing goes only so far, and then a value is put on the plants which in the case of snowdrops is a true reflection of their worth, even if many gardeners may be astonished by the prices that can be paid. They commemorate people and places in ways that few other plants can do in the same way, and connect gardeners uniquely over time. Only when you discover that you can converse in the language of the real aficianado do you really discover what snowdrops are all about.

The snowdrop sale at Myddelton brings together an almost overwhelming range of snowdrop cultivars, and growers from far and wide. Within an hour or so the initial rush dissipates and there is the chance to talk to people more easily, and to see those plants that empty pockets now make necessary for next year’s list; for example this striking form ‘Louise Ann Bromley’, grown by Wol and Sue Staines.

For the nurseryman, just as much as the gardener, snowdrops come at an important time of the year: they are only part of the winter garden, but the part that more than any other brings even non-gardeners out in their droves to established gardens. Few of these would give a second glance to the cultivars on sale at Myddelton, and find this passion extraordinary. But then they have little interest in other plants either except in their general surroundings. It is the keen plantsperson and alpine gardener who picks up on detail and finds the origins of plants of absorbing interest.

Bowles was a gentleman gardener who most of us would envy in this more competitive age. None-the-less he was very much a hands-on gardener as the quote in this sign by the rock garden shows.

This part of the garden is now romantically over-run with snowdrops and with plans for renovation; it is entirely separated from the rest of the garden by a grassy meadow planted with bulbs, and for this reason has a discrete charm.

The garden might be summed up by this iron gate which captures its loose freedom and amateur nature well - only those whose gardens are a little weedy and overgrown in places, and always finding a place for something new, will discover it and turn up again next year, with an eye for another snowdrop or two, followed by a look to see how the rock garden is progressing.

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