Wednesday 29 February 2012

A day in London

David Hockney: Three Trees near Thixendale, Winter 2007
 I've spent the day in London courtesy of ITV1, appearing as a guest on the Alan Titchmarsh Show to talk about snowdrops. It was a brief appearance, but all went well and the result can be watched online for the next month. While waiting (at length) in the green room it was a pleasure to catch up with Michael Perry, the New Product Development Manager from Thompson & Morgan, who I used to see quite frequently when I worked for Sahin in Holland, and to meet Matthew Pottage, Gardens Manager at Wisley with responsibility for most of the outdoor gardening there. We had a lively horticultural discussion, possibly disconcerting other guests for the show, but good fun.

Afterwards I went to the Royal Academy to see the David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture exhibition. This is mostly an extraordinary celebration of the artist's recent burst of work exploring the landscape, trees and woodlands of East Yorkshire, his native county, though he came from the West Riding. In his youth he attended a youth group run by my grandfather in Bradford and designed posters to advertise its meetings: alas, being ephemeral, they were torn down and not kept. I suspect that in later years, when he moved to California and turned his attention to naked youth cavorting in swimming pools, he would have earned grandpaternal disapproval, but I suspect these loving - if sometimes psychedelic - views of Yorkshire would have overturned that.

Hugh Johnson told me that the exhibition was 'life-changing' and in his Trad's Diary entry for 23 January he makes the point that with this work Hockney is observing 'humdrum' nature in a non-spectacular landscape, and bringing it very strikingly to urban eyes; "an old man with the eyes of a child is making nature mainstream." This is a big, powerful set of work: it needs time to digest and I must get back to see it again before it closes - and I recommend it very strongly to anyone in reach of Piccadilly.

David Hockney: The arrival of spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire, in 2011 (twenty-eleven). This is a massive painting: the rest of the work, a giant installation, consists of 51 further individual panels hung separately, each drawn from life on an Ipad - they are much more realistic than this wonderful fantasy wood.

Friday 24 February 2012

Not just a snowdrop garden

Crocus vernus
 A selection of plants flowering now at Colesbourne Park, taken in the beautiful mild sunshine of the past couple of days.

Iris histrioides 'Lady Beatrix Stanley'

Galanthus artjushenkoae

Iris 'Katherine Hodgkin'

Galanthus elwesii 'Comet'

Galanthus 'Primrose Warburg'

Prunus mume 'Beni-chidori'

Scilla bifolia taurica ('Praecox')

Galanthus 'S. Arnott' by the lake.

Mute Swans on the lake.

Another article in the Daily Telegraph

Galanthus 'S. Arnott' and Cyclamen coum yesterday.

Val Bourne has written a piece for Saturday's Daily Telegraph relating how she was introduced to snowdrops by me when I gave her some bulbs during a visit to Primrose Warburg's garden in 1997, and how her interest has developed since. It's a nice article, available online now, but in print in tomorrow's paper. Alongside Val's article is a list of  a 'top ten' places to see snowdrops, headed by a nice picture of the Ice House at Colesbourne Park.

Also present with Val at that lunch party in 1997 were the late Kees Sahin, the most remarkable plantsman I've ever known, and Bill Baker, now Head of Palms at Kew: it was a memorable occasion.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

A delicious present from Japan

Full of Eastern promise...
 Last week a parcel arrived from my friend Tomoko Miyashita in Japan, containing a magazine about Japanese plants full of the most enticing photographs, and a box of chocolates. The key informs me that they are Chocolat L'abeille, by Chocolatier Palet d'Or, but nothing much else is decipherable. Luckily,Tomoko provided a key, and a note to tell me that this is a selection made with Japanese ingredients whose sale will help the rehabilitation of people affected by last year's earthquake.

The ingredients are interesting - as the name hints, all contain honey in some form or other, made into a thick and sumptuous ganache, but although delicious I have to say I couldn't tell much about the ingredients from the flavour when we tried them at the weekend. Most interesting to me was the green-topped one, made with honey from Tilia miqueliana, a Japanese linden that is rather rare in cultivation here. Unfortunately I couldn't distinguish anything tilioid in the chocolate, but it was paired with tangy lemon and the whole thing was superb. Alas, there is only one layer in the box!

Clockwise from top left: Tilia miqueliana honey and lemon: Prunus jamasakura honey with cherry; wild rose honey with berries; Japanese bee honey with pear.

Sunday 19 February 2012

Bright sunshine at Colesbourne

Galanthus elwesii var. monostictus and double hellebore in the Spring Garden.

Galanthus 'S. Arnott' and Cyclamen coum
Galanthus 'S. Arnott'

Friday 17 February 2012

An unexpected buyer revealed

Yesterday's purchaser of Galanthus woronowii 'Elizabeth Harrison' was, rather surprisingly, the seed company Thompson & Morgan of Ipswich, who have sent out this press release this afternoon:



On Thursday 16 February at 14:40 after a bidding frenzy of over 30 bidders Thompson & Morgan, the Ipswich based mail order plant and seed company, acquired the world’s most expensive snowdrop Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ for £725. This is a unique striking variety with a golden yellow ovary and yellow petal markings.

The price is almost double the previous world record price for a single rare bulb of Galanthus ‘Green Tear’ sold for £360 last year.

Over the last few years the amount paid for unique Galanthus bulbs has been steadily rising as they have created more interest and in 2008 a single rare bulb fetched £226.

Thompson & Morgan hopes to be able to produce this variety and bring pleasure to as many gardeners as possible. These unique Galanthus are notorious for their slow rates of multiplication but we hope to be able to look into commercial production via tissue culture, which will be the most time consuming and expensive part of the venture – buying the bulb was the easy part!

When Thompson & Morgan purchased the world’s first Black Hyacinth ‘Midnight Mystique’ in 1998 for £50,000 a bulb, it took 15 years before it was available to the general public and demand has always outstripped stock.

We anticipate this beautiful snowdrop will create interest amongst enthusiasts and home gardeners alike, thanks to the ‘snowdrop mania’ that has descended on the UK in recent years. What a welcome sight snowdrops can be at the start of spring.

Last year we sold over 1 million snowdrops and have tried for many years to source the right golden variety in order to bring a wider range of unique snowdrops to the home gardener.

The stunning snowdrop Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ was named after the owner of the garden where it first appeared as a seedling in a Scotland a few years ago and it has not been identified growing anywhere else.

To celebrate this ‘snowdrop mania’ Thompson & Morgan are offering customers the chance to buy 75 single snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) bulbs at less than half price for £7.99 code YP05902 available on our website"



Thursday 16 February 2012

An incredible new record

Galanthus woronowii 'Elizabeth Harrison'
In an Ebay auction that ended this afternoon, a bulb of Galanthus woronowii 'Elizabeth Harrison' was sold for £725.10, by a vendor in Scotland. This is more than twice the previous record of £369 paid recently for 'Green Tear' and is an absolutely extraordinary price to pay for a single bulb, but I understand that the sum raised is going back to the elderly discoverer.

It must be said, however, that 'Elizabeth Harrison' is unique, being the first and only known yellow form of G. woronowii and therefore of considerable galanthophilic interest. I hope, however, that the purchaser understands that G. woronowii does not respond well to chipping, so that natural division provides the only safe method of increasing the stock.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Good plants at the RHS Show

Early morning at the Lawrence Hall
One of the most surprising bits of news from the RHS recently was about its decision to sell a 999 year lease of the Lawrence Hall to Westminster School, for £18 million, using the capital to fund developments in its properties and activities. I don't care for selling the family silver, in general, and the price does not seem very high for such an important bit of London property, but hopefully the money will enable advantageous benefits for the Society elsewhere. Part of the deal is that the RHS will continue to have four shows a year there, so for now the situation will not change much, though already the dates for the October show have had to be changed to suit Westminster School: we shall have to wait and see how things develop.

Anyway, today was the first of the shows under the new arrangements and there was nothing to suggerst that anything was different. I got to the hall in good time for a committee meeting, arriving early enough to find them almost empty save for the judging parties and a few other committee members, also taking advantage of the easy viewing. With many of country's senior plantspeople gathering together, the February show is a very social occasion and there's a lot of catching-up to do. This is perhaps fortunate, as the quality of the show itself has diminished over the years and there seem to be fewer and fewer exhibits of note each year.

Helleborus 'Anna's Red'

There were, however, some excellent stands and exciting plants to see. Ashwood Nurseries' large display of hellebores was outstanding, and outstanding on it was a mass of a wonderful new cultivar, 'Anna's Red', bred by Linda and Rodney Davey and named for Anna Pavord. I do not know what the breeding is, but it would appear to be complex: my guess is that H. lividus is involved somewhere in the ancestry, contributing the beautiful foliage mottling and large bracts.

Snowdrops on Avon Bulbs' stand: another Gold Medal for Alan Street, who has spent much of the past month bemoaning the shortage of good plants...
By far the most exciting display was mounted by Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones of  CrΓΌg Farm Plants, displaying a diversity of plants collected on their plant-hunting travels round the world. It is so good to know that there are still plants 'out there' to be introduced and experimented with in cultivation, and which have never been exhibited before. Here are a trio of beauties from their Gold Medal-winning display today.

Maianthemum amoenum B&SWJ 10390, from Guatemala

Shortia sinensis

Oreopanax floribundus B&SWJ 10669 from Colombia.

Saturday 11 February 2012

Snow, not snowdrops

Cotswold sheep
 We are again frustrated in not being able to open the garden because of snow. This lot came down on Thursday evening and with temperatures overnight going very low (it was still -9oC at 10 a.m.), it's not melting in a hurry, despite bright beautiful sunshine. Here are a few pics from the gardens from this morning.

Ice by the waterfall

The lakeside

Wintry aconites
Sycamores (Acer pseudoplatanus)

pots and pans

Monday 6 February 2012

Sixty years ago

Galanthus ' S. Arnott' at Colesbourne Park
While researching our book Snowdrops, Matt Bishop and I had the opportunity to go through the archives of the Giant Snowdrop Company, established as a trading enterprise in 1953 by Brigadier and Mrs Mathias at Hyde Lodge, Chalford, Gloucestershire. Hyde Lodge had been owned from about 1920 to 1940 by the plantsman Walter Butt (commemorated in a beautiful pale-flowered clone of Iris unguicularis) and in his early days had acquired snowdrops from Colesbourne. Among them was stock of what was then known as 'Arnott's Seedling', which Samuel Arnott had originally sent to Henry John Elwes, presumably sometime in the 1910s, though the date is not known. It throve at Hyde Lodge and there were masses of it in the garden when the Mathiases took over. They put up a display of snowdrops at an RHS fortnightly show in London on 6 March 1951, where 'Arnott's Seedling' and 'Colesborne' received Awards of Merit. 'Colesborne' is now alas feeble and difficult, but the other award was well placed. What is interesting is that after the show E. A. Bowles intervened and decreed that the name 'Arnott's Seedling' was unsuitable and that it should be known as 'S. Arnott', by which name it has been called ever since. It is also remarkable that such a good snowdrop should have remained more or less unknown until then.

Among the correspondence about the exhibit and renaming of 'S.Arnott' was preserved another interesting story. Following the death of King George VI on 6 February 1952, Winifrede Mathias sent a bunch of 'S. Arnott' to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, a gesture that a lady-in-waiting's letter reported had been very kindly received by Her Majesty. It is difficult to imagine a more charming and sympathetic gift at a time of grief.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Not very open days

Galanthus nivalis
 On Friday night/Saturday morning the temperature dropped to -11.5o C, the coldest this winter, and the snowdrops and everything else collapsed in little heaps on the ground so they were hardly visible.  The temperature rose quite quickly to freezing point, but no higher. The snowdrops perked up ever so slightly, but not enough to get them off the ground and so when the time came to open the gate, at 12.45, for the first open day of the season, there was really very little to be seen. The first snowflakes came down about noon, and it started snowing in earnest at about 2.30 pm. We had to close the main gate at 3 pm and the snow continued to accumulate until well into the evening. Today it has remained above freezing and the snow is clearing, drippily, with plants appearing bit by bit above it, but we were not able to open the garden. All should be well for following weekends, however, and the display of snowdrops as good as ever.

Helleborus Ashwood Yellow group

Erica carnea 'Myretoun Ruby'

Crocus atticus (sieberi) 'Firefly'

Yucca 'Color Guard'

and a nicely palindromic stat when I logged-on this morning...

Thursday 2 February 2012

More media coverage of snowdrops

Galanthus elwesii var. monostictus 'Comet' by the lake at Colesbourne Park.

Snowdrops are again in the news today. There's a short note about Colesbourne Park by Annie Gatti on the The Daily Universal Register page of The Times, and an interesting and well-researched piece on galanthomania on the BBC website by Denise Winterman. It's available here.

Wednesday 1 February 2012


Galanthus 'S. Arnott'
For the past few weeks we have been getting Colesbourne Park ready for the Snowdrop Open days: there is a lot to do. Most gardens have the advantage of a couple more months to get all the winter jobs done before they open to the public in spring - we have to get the garden looking its best by the first weekend of February. For the past couple of years we have been thwarted in this by lengthy periods under snow but a mild and not too wet January has meant that we have got almost everything done for this year, and we're ready to welcome our first visitors of the season on Saturday.

Will Fletcher reinforcing the lakeside path with wood chips.

Rosa 'Rambling Rector' trained on the pergola: a most unsuitable cultivar for this sort of use.

The Spring Garden has been mulched with leafmould - 2009 vintage (a good year, as in Bordeaux)

Despite a bitterly cold wind, the sunshine today was evidently warm enough at ground level for crocuses to open - a C. chrysanthus cultivar.