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A busy month – February 2024

March 11, 2024
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Working on the rock garden at Harlow Carr

Another month has passed by in a flash, and I have done lots of exciting things this February

The main snowdrop season is now in full swing, and I admit I am becoming a Galanthophile. Being surrounded by so many keen snowdrop collectors definitely has an affect. I attended the annual AGS snowdrop event and used my annual leave to visit a few snowdrop gardens while down south. I also visited the National Collection of Snowdrops in Cumbria. I was fortunate to spend a week at RHS Harlow Carr, and help out with building their new exciting limestone rock garden. During the week I attended a masterclass on air layering rhododendrons as well. Back at RBG Edinburgh the first bulbs have started to flower and we have been busy changing over the alpine house displays for the general public to enjoy. Day by day, as we walk around the frames, lots of treasures are coming into flower.

Bulbs in the alpine display house at RBGE

Bulbs in the alpine display house at RBGE


With bulbs bursting into life in the alpine department, watering is key. We regularly check the the pots, and we damp down the sand plunge beds. The snowdrop collection is in full flower now. Many varieties have made it into the front alpine display house for the RBGE Snowdrop Festival. There are guided tours that take place to show the general public the snowdrops from all around the gardens.

The Hepatica collection is looking rather good. The plants have been moved to an area with more light and once flowered they will be put back in shade. Last year’s old foliage has been removed before the flower buds burst into life. Once the hepaticas have flowered, new foliage will emerge.

In February, lots of other early flowering plants are also making their way into the display house. There’s so much at the moment to choose from.

A great variety of early spring flowers at RBGE

Back at RHS Harlow Carr

After a week’s work experience at Harlow Carr last autumn, I had the opportunity to come back. This time, I was able to help during phase two of building their exciting new limestone rock garden. It has been a great experience for me, working with the enthusiastic team at Harlow Carr and with Tim Roberts. He is known by many for the great rock gardens he has created over the years. Tim has great vision and is a master of placing rocks.

Placing rocks with Tim. Photo credit Sam Booth

The gardens are built on heavy clay and with so much recent rain, we were soon working in soggy mud. We didn’t dare stand in one spot for too long or we would be leaving our boots in the mud! This didn’t stop us from placing the rocks. Working beside Tim, I learned a lot about how to create a rock garden and about placing rocks. It was all valuable experience for me, as I’m sure being in the alpine world, I will be playing with rocks in future. I will feel much more confident and excited to carry out rock work in future.

It has been very useful to see Tim move rocks around by by using a giant crowbar or with machinery (making sure to strap them correctly beforehand). Tim analyses the rocks to see where the strata lies, what is the top, what is the bottom and he works off angles when placing them. I look forward to seeing the rock garden completed and planted up in the near future. Many thanks to the Harlow Carr team and to Tim for letting me help and for sharing their knowledge.

The new rock garden at Harlow Carr seen from the top

Air-layering rhododendrons

As well as working with the rocks, I had opportunity to attend a masterclass with Andrew Willocks. He is a horticulture specialist at Harlow Carr. During this informative session I learned lots from watching his layering technique. After he showed us, we had a go at air-layering ourselves. If successful, the new plants will be ready to be potted up in two years’ time.

Later that day I worked with Aimee Beth in the woodland. She decided it would be the perfect opportunity to go around the woodland, air-layering a number of rare rhododendrons that are hard to get hold of. Many were the only specimen in the garden so propagation is crucial to make sure these plants are not lost. One such was Rhododendron souliei, an attractive species with saucer-shaped, pink flushed flowers, originally from Sichuan, China.

Andrew Willocks air-layering rhododendrons

A visit to Margaret and David MacLennan’s snowdrop collection

I have always wanted to visit the Plant Heritage National Collection of Galanthus in Cumbria. This year, I was fortunate to visit with Jim Jermyn and Aaron Marshall. On arrival, as we went into the back garden, there was no national collection to be seen! Margaret said, “Come on, let’s go through the magic gate.”

Joshua Tranter (left), Aaron Marshall, Margaret MacLennan, David Maclennan (right)

Through the gate we were greeted with rows of raised beds, filled with snowdrop varieties. They are all growing in aquatic planters and plunged into sharp sand. I was astounded by the quality of the collection and by the precise organisation. This attention to detail is crucial for national collection holders. We learned a tremendous amount from the visit and from the huge enthusiasm and passion they have for snowdrops. Margaret and David were so happy to pass on their knowledge.

Over lunch we talked about the future of snowdrops and the introductions of new varieties. After a good look around the national collection we jumped into our cars and headed for their allotment. You are probably thinking allotment – growing fresh produce to eat. Their allotment is packed with more snowdrops. The idea behind this is they plant a number of varieties in frames and leave nature to do its thing. In time, exciting seedlings may occur. When the snowdrops have gone dormant, the beds are mulched over every year.

All in all, we had a great day sharing our passion for snowdrops and gaining knowledge and enthusiasm for this genus.

Snowdrops on the allotment

Plants of interest

Colchicum luteum

I’m not a huge fan of most colchicums but I rather like this species for its elegant yellow flowers. It is native to central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet and the Western Himalayas.

Colchicum luteum

Colchicum luteum

Helleborus thibetanus

Photographed at Ashwood in the hellebore stock tunnel. A deciduous perennial, native to China. A French plant collector discovered this hellebore in 1869. However, it wasn’t brought in cultivation in Britain untill 1991.

Helleborus thibetanus

Helleborus thibetanus

Primula x gothoburgensis

As seen growing at Branklyn Gardens in Perth, Scotland. A cross made at Gothernburg Botanical Gardens between Primula renifolia x P. megaseifolia; this is a wonderful free flowering plant with plenty of vigour. It’s a shame it’s not widely available yet.

Primula x gothoburgensis

Primula x gothoburgensis