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.

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