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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 04 March 2015 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 291.

Anglesey Abbey

Popped down to Essex last weekend to visit the Harlow Show. As I was Show Reporter, I shan't repeat myself here. Rather, I took the opportunity on the Friday afternoon to call in on Anglesey Abbey, just east of Cambridge. This is a garden I have often wanted to visit, not least at snowdrop time. I was blest by a lovely afternoon, and most snowdrops still in fine fettle, although some of the earlier elwesii were through.

It is perhaps a measure of the vast popularity that snowdrops are currently enjoying that the gardens were remarkably busy for a Friday afternoon in February. At a rough guess, 1000 people were there, although the place is large enough to absorb them comfortably. The National Trust have done an excellent job with superb tea-rooms and visitor centre, and I thought the Concession entry price of £7 (non-member) was, for once, fairly reasonable. Of course the house was shut.

Anglesey Abbey boasts 200 varieties of snowdrops, and it is certainly true that many famous varieties arose or were first identified there. In fact, I have no idea how they can even guess at the number. For one thing, no varieties are labelled in the garden, with the exception of a handful of informative illustrated labels in the Winter Garden. For another, in certain areas, notably the Woodland Walk, G. elwesii and G. plicatus grow intermixed in great masses with a great number of hybrids which have doubtless self-seeded, any one of which might be named as a new variety should the opportunity arise.

Having said this, there are some very distinctive plants, not least the remarkable G. 'Anglesey Abbey' itself. This vigorous plant occurs in quantity in several areas. It is very strange with its narrow green leaves, reminiscent of G.angustifolius or G. cilicius and its very white but rather untidy semipoculiform flowers.

Galanthus 'Anglesey Abbey'

One of the most vigorous and plentiful varieties was given the accolade of an illustrated label in the Winter Garden. This is G. 'Hobson's Choice', which has rather rounded inners and is a fine big plant, probably a plicate hybrid I should think. It is not in 'Snowdrops' (the Galanthophiles Bible).

Galanthus 'Hobson's Choice'

Another labelled plant is one of the most familiar G. elwesii varieties, 'John Gray' which was planted in quantity in the Winter Garden.

I have had to guess at other distinctive plants, using the excellent keys in 'Snowdrops'. G. elwesii 'Jamie Boughton' is not hard to pin down, because it was selected at Anglesey Abbey.

Galanthus elwesii 'Jamie Boughton'

G. elwesii 'Abington Green' comes from another garden near to Anglesey Abbey. The large green inner mark is easily recognised.

Galanthus elwesii 'Abington Green'

Well, thats probably enough new snowdrops for the time being. However, I cannot pass on  without noting how great masses are planted in many areas of the very extensive grounds. In some cases G. 'S. Arnott' is grown by the thousand but more often they are merely 'bog standard snowdrops', and none the worse for that. I was however intrigued that I never saw G. woronowii which dominates in my own garden, nor did I see any yellows. Here is the house, with snowdrops to the fore.

Here is the main walk to the house, followed by a general view of the Woodland Walk.

In some areas, aconites (Eranthis hiemalis) were also massed under trees.

There were of course many other plants to see, even at the end of February. The Winter Walk is justly famous, with oodles of great planting ideas.

Here is that lovely Hamamelis mollis close-up. It must be a late variety. Mine has finished.

Hamamelis mollis

Iris ''Katharine Hodgkin' is popular and vigorous, but I have never seen it planted to such excess, dominating several borders.

Iris 'Katharine Hodgkin'

These winter walk borders contained some real quality plants, for instance Fritillaria raddeana, so much the nicest of the imperialis crew.

Fritillaria raddeana

The frit was not labelled, and neither was this early daffodil, but the short wide corona and concolorous flowers leads me to suggest that it is the Tenby daffodil, Narcissus obvallaris.

At the end of the Winter Walk, approaching the Lode Mill, is one of the best examples of the use of Himalayan Birch, Betula utilis jacquemontii I have seen.

I loved the way some of the birches were underplanted with deep red bergenias.

The Lode Mill itself is a delightful spot (but isn't every water mill a lode mill?, I can't see how you can have a working mill without a lode; however).

This is the upstairs interior.

On the way back, the carefully (and I should imagine painfully) managed Rubus cockburnianus caught my eye.

And just time for a cup of tea before I continued on my way to Harlow.

Finally, can someone tell me what this charming dwarf shrub is please? It was not labelled. It looked a bit like a syringa, but apparently not. Tim Ingram informs me it is Ribes laurifolium. Thank you Tim.

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