Hello and Snowdrops!

A lot has happened since my last post, it was autumn and now it’s spring! I’ve moved house, been on work-related chainsaw, tractor and telehandler training courses, taken two RHS exams, spent a week in Scotland, attended a Mediterranean Plants and Gardens lecture at the Chelsea Physic Garden, finishing final year reports for my PGG diploma as well as preparing for a trip to Thailand which starts in 5 days time. Time really does fly when you’re having a good time!

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Snowdrop Grove

Regarding Thailand I will be spending three weeks in the north and north east of the country, studying orchids in their natural habitat. Thailand is home to over 1,000 different species of orchids, it’s an understatement to say I can’t wait; I was excited to spend 2 weeks in Portugal last year, this trip has taken my enthusiasm to another level!

In between keeping up with life in general I had time after exams to fit in a garden visit to Painswick Rococo in Gloucestershire. I visited last summer, please click here to read my post about it.

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Close-up

It is home to a stunning snowdrop collection, with one of the largest naturalistic plantings of in the country; The largest collections of Galanthus in the garden are:

  • Galanthus nivalis
  • Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Flore Pleno’
  • Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’

Painswick Rococo is in many ways the spiritual home of Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’.  Known as a superior early flowering giant snowdrop G. ‘Atkinsii’ has a trouble history.
James Atkins (1804-1884), a retired nurseryman originally from Northamptonshire, but who was living in one of the estate cottages owned by the family at Painswick.

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Atkins obtained a bulb around 1870, most likely from southern Italy, which he grew and called Galanthus imperati. This name has lead and continues to cause confusion but is was offered by Atkins to the nursery trade as this and sales started on a commercial basis around 1875; this species was highly prized by early snowdrop collectors for its size and beauty.

In 1891 the name Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’ was proposed to clear up confusion and recognise John Atkins as the selector of this particular stock.

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Two year after his introduction a nurseryman from York, James Backhouse, introduced a snowdrop which was to all intense and purpose identical to G. ‘Atkinsii’ but with irregular malformed flowers.

In 1914 E. A. Bowles called this G. ‘Atkinsii’ James Backhouse instead, recognising it as a distinct form.  One of the great mysteries here at Painswick is the appearance of G. ‘James Backhouse’ growing in sizable clumps without ever having been purchased by the Trust or indeed the family before it. . .

I enjoyed the snowdrop collection tremendously, it was a beautiful sunny day when I visited; the sun shining on a carpet of white heads in the woodland looked as magical, if not more so, than snow.

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Tree sculpture

A fantastic work of art had been carved out of a beech tree stump, if only I could create sculptures like this with my chainsaw!

This will be my last post for a while, it’s a little in advance but I wish all of my readers a very happy Easter – roll on spring! 😀

Colesbourne Park

Last month I visited a garden with the best snowdrop collection I’ve ever seen – Colesbourne Park in Gloucestershire.

Display of Galanthus nivalis

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I’d heard people rave about it, from snowdrop lovers “galanthophiles” in particular. The collection at Colesbourne was started by Henry John Elwes (1846 – 1922), a traveller and naturalist who, in the course of an adventurous life, introduced many plants to cultivation. Among these was Galanthus elwesii, which he found in western Turkey in 1874.

Some close-ups

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After his death the collection lay more or less undisturbed for sixty years until his great grandson Henry Elwes and his wife Carolyn began to identify the plants and spread them out through regular bulb division. Carolyn has added many further species and cultivars which has made the Colesbourne display of snowdrops to be acknowledged as one of the finest in the country.

Display of Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’

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Galanthus ‘Wasp’

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The snowdrops are planted in masses through the arboretum and lakeside landscapes, as well as in smaller groups in the garden. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to compare so many different varieties and cultivars in just one garden. I saw many familiar favourites such as Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’, Galanthus ‘Wasp’, Galanthus nivalis ‘Tiny Tim’, Galanthus nivalis ‘Anglesey Abbey’ to name a few.

Galanthus ‘Titania’

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Galanthus ‘Esther Merton’ 

Galanthus 'Esther Merton' Crop

I discovered new snowdrops too, ones like Galanthus elwesii ‘Carolyn Elwes’, Galanthus ‘Colesbourne’, Galanthus ‘Esther Merton’ and Galanthus ‘Titania’.

The extraordinary blue lake

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I couldn’t get over the extraordinary looking lake, a great feature of the garden. Its eye-catching blue colour is caused by minute colloidal clay particles reflecting only the blue light waves; it remains the same colour all year round, unless muddied by heavy rainfall. If there had been a beach surrounding it you could almost have mistaken it for the Mediterranean sea!

Winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis)

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Winter aconites and snowdrops

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Snowdrops and cyclamen

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I spotted this sweet hellebore amongst the snowdrops!

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I liked how winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) and cyclamen were being naturalised in some areas and growing amongst the snowdrops. The sight of so many beautiful bulbs, the snowdrops stealing the show of course, made it a memorable day out. If you only get to visit one garden for snowdrops then make Colesbourne Park the one – check out their website for more information: 🙂

http://colesbournegardens.org.uk/

Plant of the Week – Galanthus nivalis

First written and posted on 14th February, 2014. Please click here if you would like to read the original post on This and That.

This week’s plant highlight is the common snowdrop, for me the sign of snowdrops flowering marks the end of winter – spring is just around the corner! There are hundreds of snowdrops in the arboretum at Ashridge, I have to watch where I’m walking to make sure I don’t tread on them! I hope you enjoy this week’s plant profile. 🙂

Genus: Galanthus

Species: nivalis 

Family: Amaryllidaceae

Common name: Snowdrop

Translation: From the Greek gala meaning “milk” and anthos “a flower”, in regards to its whiteness. The nivalis is Greek again, translating as “snowy”.

Type of plant: Bulb (perennial)

Origin: Europe

Technical details

The ideal growing conditions for Galanthus nivalis are in semi shade, in most and well-drained soil.

Soil: Galanthus nivalis thrives in most soil types and pHs, including: acid, alkaline or neutral: and chalk, clay, sand or loam.

Resilience: Very hardy.

Propagation: Propagation is easiest by seed or division once the foliage has died back.

Cultivation: Galanthus nivalis is one of the most popular of all cultivated bulbous plants, because they are so easy to grow and because a large number of cultivars are available. Once planted they increase freely, producing new bulbs as offsets, and impressive drifts can be easily obtained after some years. They are commonly found in woodlands, but are also seen in meadows, pasture, amongst scrub, near rivers and on stony slopes, particularly on calcareous (chalky) soils.

Pest and disease problems: Galanthus nivalis can get narcissus bulb fly and slugs, and may be infected by grey mould.

Interesting Facts

1. Geophyte is the collective term for the type of plant structure that stores water and nutrients in an underground part of the plant – this refers to bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes.

Bulbs have lots of layers, just like an onion. If you cut them open you can see they are made up of scales which are modified leaves that store food. Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and snowdrops are prime examples of bulbs.

Corms look similar to bulbs, however if you cut them open you would see they don’t have scales. They are modified stem tissue that store food, prime examples are crocosmia, gladiolus, freesias and crocuses.

Tubers are very different to bulbs and corms, you know one already – the potato! There are also tuberous roots which are just enlarged, modified roots that store food. Dahlias, day lilies and sweet potatoes are prime examples.

Rhizomes are stems which grow sideways instead of upwards, running along the surface of the soil or just below it. Irises, gingers and cannas are prime examples of rhizomes.

2. Galanthus nivalis is poisonous to humans and can cause nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting if ingested in large quantities.

3. Galanthus nivalis has medicinal uses, for example it contains an alkaloid called galanthamine, which has been approved for use in the management of Alzheimer’s disease in a number of countries. Galanthamine is also used in the treatment of traumatic injuries to the nervous system. The snowdrop is also an emmenagogue, and as such it stimulates or increases menstrual flow and so can induce an abortion in the early stages of pregnancy. Snowdrop lectin (GNA; Galanthus nivalis agglutinin) is also an effective insecticide, and can be used against pests such as beetles, butterflies, moths, aphids and leafhoppers.

4. Galanthus nivalis is considered to be introduced and naturalized in northern Europe, including the British Isles. It occurs throughout Europe from the Pyrenees eastward to the Ukraine, and from Germany and Poland southwards to southern Italy, Albania and northern Greece.

5. Galanthus nivalis is rated as Near Threatened (NT) according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List criteria. All snowdrops are included in CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) Appendix II, which lists plants that are not currently under threat of extinction, but which should have their trade monitored and regulated to ensure wild populations are not endangered.

6. Galanthus nivalis is best known in literacy for appearing in the famous William Wordsworth poem “On Seeing A Tuft Of Snowdrops In A Storm”:

“When haughty expectations prostrate lie,

And grandeur crouches like a guilty thing,

Oft shall the lowly weak, till nature bring

Mature release, in fair society

Survive, and Fortune’s utmost anger try;

Like these frail snowdrops that together cling,

And nod their helmets, smitten by the wing

Of many a furious whirl-blast sweeping by.

Observe the faithful flowers! if small to great

May lead the thoughts, thus struggling used to stand

The Emathian phalanx, nobly obstinate;

And so the bright immortal Theban band,

Whom onset, fiercely urged at Jove’s command,

Might overwhelm, but could not separate!”

7. In folklore, a single Galanthus nivalis flower indicates impending death and one should never be brought into the house.

8. According to legend, Galanthus nivalis became the symbol of hope when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. When Eve was about to give up hope that the cold winters would never end, an angel appeared. She transformed some of the snowflakes into snowdrop flowers, proving that winter does eventually give way to spring.

9. Galanthas nivalis are known as Candlemas Bells because they usually flower on or before the 2nd February, also known as Candlemas Day (the ancient Christian festival which marks the midpoint of winter, halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox).

10. Galanthus nivalis has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM), meaning it is a plant of outstanding excellence.

Resources

Plant Names Simplified (Johnson & Smith)

RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants

Kew’s A-Z guide of Plants and Fungi (website)

Collins Guide to Bulbs (Patrick M. Synge)