Plants in the Garden: February
Started by: Tim Ingram
John & Carolyn Millen's gardenGo to latest contribution by Tim Ingram, 21 April 2013, 21:36. Go to bottom of this page.
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A sunny February day and snowdrop time. Carolyn and John Millen, who run the Mid-Kent Group of the AGS, always open their garden in early February for the NGS, and visitors come as much for the hot homemade soup as for the amazing collection of Galanthus that Carolyn and her daughter have amassed in a relatively short time. They are mostly grown in lattice pots in raised beds to ensure that named varieties are kept segregated and they can be easily lifted and divided or twin-scaled.
A year or two ago there were some 200 plus varieties; this year over 400(!), and like many snowdrop gardens the interest just grows and grows. Visitors vary; many just love seeing these plants so early in the year, but would have no idea that some might cost £20 or £30 a bulb. Others, sad to say, have been just as bitten by the bug and enviously look at the latest and most fashionable variety. It makes little difference, the plants look great either way - and what else would bring out so many gardeners in the coldest days of the year?
The point of snowdrops, though is the stories behind them, so beautifully described in the book by Matt Bishop, Aaron Davis and John Grimshaw, and in more recent books, like these two that Carolyn laid out in her lounge for visitors to look through. There may be the tendency to say, ?Well all snowdrops look much the same don?t they??, but when it is one that has arisen in your own garden, then like a child it is special and has its own character.
Galanthus ?Benhall Beauty? is an old variety named for John Gray?s garden - nice but rather long-stemmed and prone to fall over; ?John Tomlinson? was named for the plantsman it came from by Chris Brickell (who himself has the most wonderful collection of snowdrops that have come from many of the most respected plantsmen over past years); ?Rogers Rough? is named for Richard Bird?s garden, not too far away from John and Carolyn, near to Goudhurst in Kent (and Richard also has some superb snowdrops, many unnamed selections from Washfield Nursery); and ?Fenstead End? came from Chris Grey-Wilson?s garden. So snowdrops say a lot about people as well as being beautiful in their own right.
Carolyn grows many of these, along with smaller plants derived by twin-scaling, in a series of raised beds just outside the back door of the house. For the afficiando excitement can come just by seeing a name on a label(!) - even more when you can see ?Diggory? or ?Lapwing? flowering in small groups. Many of these choice and special varieties are best displayed in this way - they would be lost and overlooked in woodland borders and not so easily compared, which is after all what makes them so intriguing and often controversial. At the side of the house the growing collection has requiried a series of sleeper beds - these contain a host of Galanthus completely new to me, such as ?Hercule?, but also the nice species rizehensis which can do nicely in the garden. ?Round the back? are greenhouses and frames where young twin-scales are grown on and new plants collected (like the most fascinating parts of alpine nurseries where all the real action goes on).
John may be as bemused as many, such as my wife, that a gardener can be keen to grow so many snowdrops, by when they fill the garden with flowers in winter their charm is captivating. However, in the alpine house is a nice collection of saxifrages, oxalis and other small alpine cushions, which start flowering not long after the snowdrops have finished.
A nice day out for the alpine gardener in February!
Just a quick update on John and Carolyn's garden, after a meeting to discuss an exhibit at the Kent Garden Show. The chalky well drained soil in their garden is ideal for many alpines, and there is the largest Lithodora zahnii I've ever seen growing on the rock garden! Along with it are some super clumps of Pulsatillas and a rather nice plant of Gentiana acaulis in full flower. Nice to see on a sunny spring day.