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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 08 February 2015 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 290.

Snow and snowdrops

Unlike last winter, when we had no snow at all, this winter we have had several coverings, although none have lasted more than a day or two. The most impressive was ten days ago, when we had about 4 cm of rathet wet stuff. It was pretty while it lasted though.

Snow and snowdrops

The pond froze over and the (rather posh, National Trust) ducks got covered.

As did the hamamelis, which seems quite impervious to any such indignities.

We have had only a few sprinklings since then, but it has frozen every night without fail and things have not really moved at all so it is proving quite a delayed snowdrop season.

Not so 'down south' it appears as when I visited the excellent AGS snowdrop day near Stratford on Saturday, it seemed that their snowdrop season was in full swing.

By virtue of my interest in 'Northumberland yellow' (Sandersii) snowdrops, and some past published findings on the subject, I find myself in the rather odd position of having an 'Entree' into the rarified inner sancta of the Galanthitterati without being in any sense a 'Galanthophile'. In fact until yesterday it was my proud boast (which I probably repeated several times too often) that I had never bought a snowdrop. Face with arrays of fascinating rarities, I finally succumbed to the extent of purchasing two of the cheapest plants on offer. When I say that I could have bought four excellent dionysias for a more modest outlay, you will sense the extent to which I was totally gobsmacked by the totally insane prices quoted and which folk are prepared to pay. 'But you don't have to buy them if you don't want' I hear you say, and that's right, I don't, and in the future probably won't!

I have to say that there is a potentially sinister side to Galanthomania, for now the bubble has swollen to the present extent, it is likely to lead to irrational greed. The theft from Colesbourne of 'Carolyn Elwes' (the snowdrop, not the lady!) some years ago is a famous example. However, I heard rumours yesterday that a group of Dutch pillagers have ravaged many of the north Northumberland sites for wild yellow snowdrops, which are now being offered over the internet at obscene prices. I would remind them, and everyone else that they are felons, that all yellow snowdrop populations are on private property, and their removal without the landowners permission is illegal and should result in a criminal record and a hefty fine. Doubtless, their publicity over the internet should stand as sufficient evidence of these malefactions. Possinly we could get Interpol involved? I am only partly joking, in fact not at all, its no joking matter.

Next weekend I am leading a walk to look for yellow snowdrops and it will be interesting to see how many remain. In the meantime, those who wish to see yellow snowdrops 'in the wild' can visit Howick Hall estate on the Northumberland coast where for a fee you can join expertly led snowdrop walks. Check the internet for dates and more information.

In this context, it is worth noting as I have on a previous occasion in this forum that two south Northumberland sites for yellow snowdrops have unexpectedly revealed themselves recently in a district where they were previously unknown. I have visited both this spring. In the first, on a rather early date I found four yellows, and a friend has found another three. We visited the other site this afternoon and I was delighted to find 10 yellow snowdrops, the maximum count on previous occasions having only totalled three. Here is a small patch with four together.

In the context of earlier remarks, I need hardly say that I have no intention of revealing the location of either of these populations. Todays site is also distinguished by the presence of some large populations of Galanthus elwesii and naturally I looked hard for evidence of hybrids. Of course I found none, not least because I think G. nivalis and G. elwesii rarely if ever cross. G.nivalis crosses readily with G. plicatus, and the latter crosses with G. elwesii.

The G. elwesii here are very variable in size, leaf width and inner tepal marks. Some only have apical marks (var monostictus), some apical and basal marks, and many have a continuous X-shaped mark covering most of the tepal.

Returning to the Stratford meeting, one of the most interesting things I learnt was how many new yellow clones have emerged over the last decade or so. As I was giving a talk on yellow snowdrops and had not heard of quite a few of the novelties, this caused me not a little embarrasment! Several of these were on show. I was really impressed with G. 'Ronald Mackenzie', not least because I met and talked to the man himself! He agrees with me, I think, that this super plant is a straight G. gracilis, but yellow. This of course raised another question which I debated at some length with Joe Sharman, namely 'what is G. gracilis?' (according to both of us, probably just a form/race/subspecies of G. elwesii), but none of this stops 'Ronald Mackenzie' being a super plant. Apparently it is very difficult, and the general feeling was that Jane Leeds' plant photographed here was a triumph.

Another novelty to me was Galanthus 'Ecusson d'or' which was found as a singleton in France. What a super yellow snowdrop this is! Definitely superior to all the Northumberland yellows.

In fact, far from north Northumberland being the sole source of yellow snowdrops, it seems that singletons have not only been found in France but also in Italy, from where Peter Erskine has introduced a plant which has spawned many seedlings, in the Czech Republic, Germany, and possibly elsewhere. But everyone  with whom I discussed this is agreed that away from Northumberland only singletons have ever been found. This suggests that although the 'yellow' nuclear mutation occurs from time to time, only in Northumberland has this variant become established and is able to survive  as a low percentage of the population.

To finish with here are a few more snowdrops I enjoyed yesterday. Firstly a poculiform which I think is 'Godfery Owen'. It is said to be an elwesii but looks like a plicate to me.

Second, a wonderful green-tipped elwesii which I think is 'Selborne Green Tip' (I did not take notes at the time and should have done so).

Third, the delightful species G. fosteri.

Galanthus fosteri

And finally a really interesting flower on the familiar wierdo Galanthus 'Trym' in which a petal has reverted. I guess snowdrops really ARE interesting after all!

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