I was extremely privileged to be invited last week to visit, and take photographs in the garden of Dr. Ronald Mackenzie, whose name will be familiar to any of you who grow snowdrops.
Ronald has been a leading light of the snowdrop world for many years, introducing many wonderful cultivars through The Snowdrop Company, which he set up in 1991 and ran with the stalwart support of our dear mutual friend and renowned galanthophile Ruby Baker. His list was one of the most anticipated in the calendar. The best cultivars of all are named after members of his family; many of them are late-flowering and were yet to put on a display when I visited this year.
Ronald has been gardening in the same cottage garden for over forty years and the soil is deep and rich from years of top-dressing with manure. I have been visiting occasionally over the last three years or so, photographing the garden through spring and early summer, chatting happily about the joys of gardening and reminiscing about Ruby. A few of the photos from my previous visits may appear accompanying an article about the garden by Robert Rolfe in The Alpine Gardener, but I would like to share here some of the joy which came with the wonderful spring weather last week.
When you arrive at the front gate, there are clumps of attractive snowdrops to tell you you have come to the right place; I forgot to ask what either of these were.
Climbing the steps into the back garden, I was greeted by several large clumps of G. Galatea. At this point I toured the garden with Ronald, but without my camera, making notes about the plants I wanted to photograph, and trying to collect the right names, then he returned inside to rest and left me to run wild with my camera. Unfortunately, my notes and the photos I took on that sunny afternoon don’t always match up and I don’t have names for everything.
Ronald asked me to photograph several pans from his cold frame – his whitewashed greenhouse made a convenient studio. There weren’t many of these – he prefers to grow all his plants in the open garden.
A Galanthus cultivar we didn’t manage to identify, masquerading as a Narcissus according to the label on the pot.
Having photographed the plants from the frame, I rushed to the top of the garden to capture this lovely bank of daffodils, side-lit with sunshine through the hedge, and mingling with a few bulbs of G. ‘Shackleton’.
On my way back down the garden, determined to work more methodically, my eye was caught by this bright yellow crocus, but I couldn’t find a label
Little shafts of sunlight were catching the clumps of winter aconites, and they looked wonderful. They are always one of my favourite spring flowers and I would love to photograph them en masse, but have never found a suitable location, or had the opportunity.
At this point in the season, G. ‘Ketton’ was at its peak, and there were several splendid clumps of it.
Next to one of the clumps of G. ‘Ketton’, a Galanthus species – with perhaps a more refined charm.
All over the garden there are interesting seedlings – this one with the green stripe was the first Ronald showed me.
A favourite of Ronald’s, in great condition.
The first yellow of the day – one which thrives here – there are in big clumps all over the garden.
This was the first patch of ‘tommies’ I encountered, in perfect condition.
A very large and vigorous snowdrop.
Another green-marked seedling.
One of the first snowdrops I ever grew, and an old friend.
The area of garden immediately behind the house is a wonderful riot of crocuses, snowdrops, aconites and scilla, growing together in incredible profusio
Reaching the end of its season, but clearly a lovely snowdrop.
By this point I had reached the path across the back of the house. The views from there back up across the lower garden were stunning. The mix of colours among the crocuses was particularly striking – blue, purple, claret, white, and many which were lilac with white tips to the petals.
There were several bulbs of this seedling scattered over a small area.
I am never sure about this one – it always looks rather sickly when it appears, with its yellowish leaves.
Another highly regarded green-marked snowdrop.
If there is one snowdrop I will always associate with Ronald, it is this. It is such a striking plant, growing in several large clumps in his garden, and is also the first of his plants I ever photographed, back in 2011 when it gained a Preliminary Commendation at the RHS Early Spring Show at Westminster.
A great big poculiform snowdrop, which was sadly going over, but there were still a few individual flowers I could photograph.
Our mutual friend Ruby Baker always liked the snowdrops with green striped petals the best, and that is to some extent reflected in Ronald’s collection.
Another Galanthus species, growing in a sheltered position at the foot of a wall.
This is a species I have never photographed before.
This is the snowdrop named for Ruby, though I think I will always associate her most with G. Witchwood.
How many petals should a snowdrop have?
An extremely dark Hellebore seedling which appeared in the garden.
I just couldn’t resist photographing the crocuses in the sun. I love the ones which are this deep claret colour.
As well as the snowdrops, there are several different forms of Leucojum in the garden. Note also the snowdrop seedling in the foreground.
This huge snowdrop is, if I got it right, one that Ronald intends to name Elizabeth PJ, after Elizabeth Parker-Jervis.
This is the snowdrop named after Ronald himself.
Another, in this case very large, seedling from G. ‘Daglingworth’, which Ronald intends to name.
In the meadow part of the garden, the snowdrops run in clumps along the foot of the hedges, and around the base of the fruit trees in the grass. This is where I had the most difficulty matching up photos with my notes.
Another I can’t put a name to now.
This is G. ‘Witchwood’ – famously collected by Ruby Baker – but which wood did it come from?
Another fine plant.
One of my favourites – I like the well defined little green tips and upright stature.
Finally, a view of Ronald’s bed of hellebore seedlings.
I would like to thank Ronald for inviting me, on such a perfect day, and to offer my commiserations to Robert Rolfe, who was unable to accompany me on this occasion. I apologise that I don’t have the names of all the snowdrops, and that some of them are probably wrong; I am not an expert, just a photographer.
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 email@example.com