ags logo

A Quick Visit to Blackthorn

February 20, 2019
Content Sidebar

A couple of weeks before the AGS Pershore Early Spring Show, Robin White asked me if I could take a few plants for him, for sale on the members’ sales stand, as I had previously offered to do so. I was very glad to agree.

Robin and Sue White used to run Blackthorn Nursery, which was a very highly regarded alpine nursery, but which closed in 2008, though Robin continued to sell plants at shows until about 2012. I have been extremely fortunate to be allowed to visit regularly in the years from about 2012 onwards, and have been documenting the gradual transformation of their property from working nursery to a private garden. Members of AGS local groups in the south of England will know that I have been giving a series of talks discussing the garden at different times of year.

However, for the last two years, beset by other demands on my time, I have not found an opportunity to visit, so I was very glad to be able to do so on this occasion, a few days before the show, to catch up with developments in the garden. Here are just a few highlights.

Iris unguicularis  ‘Peloponnese Snow’

The first plant I encountered in flower, in a sand bed in the potting shed/polytunnel, was this lovely white form of Iris unguicularis, apparently discovered by Robert Rolfe, and distributed commercially by Robin and Sue. Robin says it does better with protection from winter wet; I made a mental note to inspect my own plant, which has been dwindling, and to rescue it from the garden.

Anemone heldreitchii

In the alpine house I found this lovely pink form of Anemone heldreitchii. Robin tells me the colour is wrong in the photos, and this strain is a softer, paler pink, but they all came out the same.

Romulea komsbergensis

Growing happily in a sand plunge in a cold frame (and actually also in a sand bed in the open garden) was this lovely South African Romulea.

Amana edulis

Also in the sand bed in the open garden I found Amana edulis flowering happily in the middle of a large Armeria.

Spring Bulbs

The early spring bulbs were blooming everywhere, with banks of snowdrops (mainly G. ‘S. Arnott’), Crocus tommasinianus, Cyclamen coum, Narcissus and Helleborus.

Galanthus  ‘Washfield Warham’

Looking closely at some of the highlights (mainly plants I haven’t photographed there before), we have a large patch of G. ‘Washfield Warham’.

Galanthus woronowii  ‘Elizabeth Harrison’

This has established happily in deep woodsy soil in a shady spot.

Helleborus purpurascens

Always a lovely species.

Helleborus x hybridus

Most of the hellebores in the garden are hybrids; Blackthorn was one of the first nurseries to develop garden-worthy strains of hellebore hybrids, and they used to sell tremendously well. My favourite on this visit was this red form with hanging, deep crimson globes of flowers.

Helleborus aff. cyclophyllus

This plant, from seed collected in the wild nearly 40 years ago, is a parent, along with H. orientalis, of the strain of yellow flowered hellebore hybrids which Robin developed.

Helleborus x. hybridus

Some of its descendants are planted out in big clumps in the garden.

Narcissus  ‘Bowles Early Sulphur’ x. cyclamineus

Robin raised and sold this hybrid Narcissus; it does wonderfully well in a semi-shade woodland situation in the open garden.

Narcissus  ‘Bowles Early Sulphur’

Here, the first of its parents.

Narcissus cyclamineus

And here is the other.

Narcissus cyclamineus hybrid

In one of the shade beds another N. cyclamineus hybrid has established itself and grown into a small clump.

Alpine Meadow

A large area to the south-west of the house has been laid to grass, but that has been starved and seeds of various bulbs and other plants have been scattered, with the intention of producing a meadow of flowers. As you can see, this effort is starting to produce results and the grass was full of flowers in February. I know from previous trips that these blooms will be replaced by others as the season unfolds. Unfortunately, by this point the afternoon had grown rather cloudy and I only got one shot with sunshine.

Daphne  ‘Perfume Princess’

Underneath the oaks on the south-eastern boundary there is a large semi-shaded bed, full of leafmould, and here we have a new Daphne hybrid between D. odora and D. bholua from the Jury family in New Zealand, marketed through Thompson and Morgan in the UK.

Galanthus  ‘Melanie Broughton’

Beneath the feet of the daphne, we have G. ‘Melanie Broughton’.

Galanthus  ‘Primrose Warburg’

Crocus tommasinianus and Galanthus ‘Spindlestone Surprise’

Enjoying some spring evening sunshine.

Cyclamen coum

For many years now, Robin has scattered seed of Cyclamen coum, F. meleagris and a few other easy, shade-loving plants, in a small copse on the north-western edge of his property. This has now resulted in an abundance of bloom. In February, there is a wonderful display of Cyclamen here – a fitting place to end a quick tour of the garden.

Image of Jon Evans Jon Evans

Jon lives and gardens on the north side of the Hogsback on the border between Hampshire and Surrey, on a heavy clay soil. He is a long standing member of the AGS and has been treasurer of the local group in Woking for many years. He is especially interested in bulbs of all sorts, particularly those from South Africa, and is progressing slowly towards his Gold Medal at shows, at the rate of roughly one first per year.

However, he is best known within the AGS as an enthusiastic amateur photographer. For about 10 years he was responsible for organising the artistic and photographic section of the AGS shows around the country, and also for organising the show photography. During this period, he set up and ran the AGS Digital Image Library. He is still actively involved in plant photography, both at shows (he visits many shows each year to catalogue the extraordinary achievements of the exhibitors) and in gardens both public and private, and he makes regular outings to view and photograph wild flowers in the UK.

If you have any comments or queries for Jon, you can contact him direct at