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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 23 February 2014 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 263. Snowdrop special.

Out of Africa

Yes, I know, nearly a month, so maybe folk have said 'those Richards are off again', and indeed we are fairly recently returned from very foreign parts, Tanzania no less, where we have been on a wonderful game reserve (the little-known Selous, down in the south-east, where we stayed at Impala camp, highly recommended), and then some r&r in Zanzibar (great coral!). It is possible, nay likely, that both these venues have great flowers, but not in early February which is at the end of the dry season and almost nothing was blooming.

However, I need hardly say the animals were fabulous, and here is a short selection before we knuckle down to serious business. Firstly, a new-born elephant, with its (rather small, teenage first-time mum) and her much older and more experienced midwife. They were surrounded by hyenas and the midwife was anxiously trying to get the baby onto its tottering feet.

Out of Africa

A lioness with the remains of an Impala ('just a snack!').

We were charged by a crocodile (we were offshore, in a boat).......

No, not funny.

The garden of Eden.........(giraffes and hippo)

But not if you are a young bull giraffe, full of testosterone, fighting for your life with your main weapon, your neck........

Snowdrop bonanza

Enough holiday pix, back to the present. We returned home to find that it had continued fairly mild, without serious frosts, it had rained, but not like the south, and that one of the best snowdrop years for some time was in full swing, neither early or late, I would say, but the plants well-grown, and in rude health. Here is Galanthus 'Straffan' (big) together with some standard nivalis, and Leucojum vernum.

Snowdrop bonanza

It goes without saying that snowdrops combine well with hellebores, as the lenten roses usually peak at about the same time. Here is part of the main snowdrop border. The second picture is at the far end of the garden where masses G. nivalis and G. woronowii (left) complete with Helleborus 'Early Purple''.

Elsewhere, snowdrops also dominate one of the 'D' beds at this time of year. They vary, but the bulk are that wonderful and vigorous oldie Galanthus 'S. Arnott'.

In yet another spot, snowdrops border a primula bed, where Primula moupinensis is now in full flower. The tall Galanthus woronowii is 'Pats Giant, with 'Straffan' again to its right.

In recent years I have acquired rather more snowdrops than previously (for many years, this garden boasted quantity rather than diversity) and I intend to feature some of these next. John Good has beena generous donor, and I am inedbted to him for several fine plants, including Galanthus 'Sophie North', an elwesii clone or hybrid which was named for one of the children who were tragically killed in Dunblane.


John also gave me 'Merlin' with its distinctive all-green inners.

I have long grown one of the Atkinsii snowdrops, Galanthus 'James Backhouse' which was growing in my mother's garden (although I may have less now than formerly), but John's gift of another, 'Backhouse Spectacles' is new to me. The authors of 'Snowdrops', the Galanthophile's bible, are rude about this, 'one of the most undistinguished snowdrops in cultivation', but it seems vigorous, at least. I was looking for something akin to lorgnettes on the flower, but apparently the name merely refers to the place in the garden where Mrs Backhouse habitually left her glasses.

Much more distinctive is Susan Tindall's Galanthus plicatus 'late form', which has indifferent flowers, but magnificent foliage and seems to grow much better than other plicatus here (other northern Irish snowdrops seem to thrive here too).

I am also delighted with a good poculiform snowdrop, gift from Cyril Lafong in 2010.

Another recent acquisition has been Galanthus 'Blewbury Tart' which I acquired mostly so that I could compare it with my own introduction which I christened 'Mini Muffin'and featured (and exhibited) last year. As seen, Mini Muffin is shorter and more upright in growth, and flowers at least a week later. Here is 'Blewbury Tart'.

Another of my recent introductions is 'Warden Bridge' (Warden is a village near here, on the Tyne; in fact the bridge is on the South Tyne and the village on the North Tyne). This was spotted as being large and vigorous, amongst myriads of 'normal' snowdrops, but is also has a distinctive inner mark, like a bridge, hence its name.

In this varied mix of snowdrops, you will see the famed  G. woronowii 'Elizabeth Harrison' at the centre, far side, together with  some yellow G. nivalis ('Sandersii'), G. 'Warei' with green outer marks, G. 'Straffan'and others. The second picture features on of the better 'Sandersii' clones (all are seedlings and vary quite a bit).

And the others

OK, time for just a few pictures of other things which are at their best now. I am still growing a number of Iris reticulata clones of which I am very fond. I have featured several in recent years, but not I think 'Clairette' which may be my favourite of all.

And the others

Having lost a large Corydalis popovii in the 2010 freeze, I was delighted when a three-year old seedling flowered for the first time last year (when I featured it). It has done so much better this year! What a good plant this is for the very early alpine house.

Last, but by no means least, it is some years since I had a good display from Rhododendron 'Christmas Cheer'. Fingers crossed that the present run of frost-free nights continues!

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