What’s your favourite snowdrop?

What’s your favourite snowdrop?

Nearly everyone loves snowdrops, whether in white drifts or up close in detail. Two even found their way into our Top 30 that we compiled a couple of years ago.

We have members who have become more and more interested in growing snowdrops, intrigued by the small differences between the many hundreds of cultivars and the human stories that go with them. Before the flowers disappear until next season we have asked them for their particular favourites this year.

Karin Proudfoot

‘Natalie Garton’,  so good I bought it twice!

What a dilemma – especially difficult because, as the snowdrop season progresses, a number of ‘favourites’ come and go.  Among the earlier ones, ‘Gemini ex PC’ stands out, and real whoppers like ‘Yvonne Hay’, Fred’s Giant’ and (with local interest) ‘Gravesend Giant’, followed by the later-flowering ‘Big Boy’.  Then there are those with conspicuously marked flowers, in particular ‘South Hayes’ and ‘Trumps’ (a much better do-er than ‘Trym’).

But it is one of the later-flowering G. elwesii hybrids that catches my eye year after year.  ‘Natalie Garton’ has the typical broad glaucous elwesii leaves, and large, substantial flowers with well-rounded outer petals, held well above the foliage, that really stand out in the garden.  It is also very vigorous and quickly forms good-sized clumps.  It’s named for Natalie Garton who died in 1996, and used to distribute it from her garden at Ramsden, Oxfordshire, but I know nothing more about her.

Galanthus ‘Natalie Garton’

I originally bought it from Avon Bulbs, only to succumb to its charms again a few years later at an HPS Galanthus Group Day, having quite forgotten that I already had it.

I think that says it all!

Elizabeth Cairns

Our love of snowdrops arose because they cheer us up so much when winter’s cold dankness and gloom seems to be interminable. They are the essence of hope and renewal. For this reason the autumn flowerers such as Galanthus reginae-olgae and Peter Gatehouse bloom too soon to be of use. But those that are in flower in December just around the shortest day are especially precious. Even on the most dismal winter day I can’t resist venturing out to check their progress. 

Three Ships is lovely but my absolute favourite is Mrs McNamara. Tall and beautiful with impressive large leaves she is always in flower by Christmas. She multiplies most generously forming a substantial clump in as little as three or four years. She was apparently named after Dylan Thomas’ mother-in-law and this poetic connection adds to her charm.

Galanthus ‘Mrs. McNamara’

Anne Smith

So, Ginny asked, ‘What is your favourite snowdrop?’ So difficult to answer! According to my husband they are all white flowers with bits of green. Not strictly true but perhaps he has a point. Why do we get so excited about snowdrops? I think it is because they are the harbingers of spring. A promise of things to come in the depths of winter, when the days are dark and dingy.

A snowdrop carpet at Welford Park

Back to the original question. My favourite? – this varies, so perhaps I am fickle. I love sheets of Galanthus nivalis, such as the spectacular display at Welford Park, naturalised under beech trees. I have fond memories of naturalised G. nivalis in woods near my grandmother’s cottage.

I love ‘Dionysus’ a double which is lovely from above with twin green spots on the base of the outer segments. ‘Augustus’ is a robust plicatus with seersucker globular flowers. ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’ is a neat prolific double. Another ‘Lady’,  ‘Lady Elphinstone’ is a double with a ‘scrambled egg’ centre. ‘Mrs McNamara’ named after Dylan Thomas’ mother in law, is an early flowerer out before Christmas and lasting for about six weeks.

‘Bertram Anderson’ for all its apparent vulnerability, has stood up proudly in adverse weather and winds. ‘South Hayes’ has a lovely shape like a pixie hat, inner segments with a large green mark across the segment and edged with a narrow white border. ‘E A Bowles’ is a lovely pure white poculiform flower whereas ‘Diggory’ has seersucker petals forming a globular flower. ’Grumpy’ makes me smile, with its markings looking like a grumpy face. All of the above do well in my garden, which is on clay. I have much more trouble growing the ‘yellow’ forms which I find need better drainage.

As I said so much choice! Which would I recommend? I think the ones which do well in your soil and bulk up well. One of the first ones I bought was ‘Straffan’, an old Irish variety from 1858. It is apparently the third oldest cultivar grown. It has stood the test of time, as has ‘S. Arnott’ with its honey scent. My favourite, if I only had to pick one? Oh dear, I can’t make up my mind! Ok, if pushed, ‘S. Arnott’ because it is prolific, honey scented and a ‘good doer’.

However ask me again and it will have changed.

Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’

Sue Robinson

Galanthus plicatus ‘Diggory’

Basically, I love all my snowdrops and especially those in flower at the time. ‘Lady Elphinstone’ is a favourite. I love its butter yellow inners. ‘Three Ships’ is great mainly because it is usually out at Christmas and the earliest of mine to flower. I love the seersucker effect flowers of ‘Diggory’ and ‘Trymposter’ is a good ‘Trym’ seedling. ‘E. A Bowles’ is a nice poculiform and stands out well in the borders and ‘Green of Hearts’ is special.

I could go on!

Ginny Oakes

My favourite snowdrop this year? Is it possible to choose just one? Should it be an old variety that I’ve known for years or a brand new one that’s suddenly taken my fancy? Could it be ‘Yvonne Hay’, which is new to me? It’s very large in all its parts so certainly grabs attention. Or could it be the small and delicate double ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’, which is so lovely viewed from above with the tiny sinus marks visible between the narrow outer segments?

However, I’m afraid I won’t be picking either of them because my absolute favourite is Galanthus plicatus ‘Percy Picton’. It has bulked up well, is very floriferous and the blooms last well and don’t seem to be spoiled by wind and rain. But it is the way the flowers are held on very long pedicels, on tall scapes well above the foliage that I find so attractive. It has a certain poise and, amongst all the other snowdrops I grow, a unique presence.

It’s a gem and I love it!

Galanthus plicatus ‘Percy Picton’

Many thanks to all our contributors for sharing your favourite snowdrops with us. 

Fab Feb

Fab Feb

We’re certainly NOT having a very fab February, are we? It was, therefore, something of a relief to get away from the wind and rain to spend time amongst friends for some plant chat at our meeting last week.

Our speaker Philip Oostenbrink was excellent, explaining the history of the gardens at Canterbury Cathedral as well as describing how they are now and his plans for the future.

Thank you to members who braved the elements to pick something for the display. As you can see it was much appreciated.

We didn’t have as many coloured stems as we hoped but one member brought stems of Tilia platyphyllos ‘Rubra’. These were cut during the regular pruning of some pleached limes so show the bright colour of new growths, in this case a beautiful deep reddish brown. (Apologies for the background curtain but you get the gist!) I haven’t heard of limes being use for winter colour before but this was the second example I’ve seen in as many weeks. The first was on my visit to the Sir Harold Hillier Garden, where I saw Tilia cordata ‘Winter Orange’. It looked to me that these trees were going to be pollarded to encourage coloured new growth and to keep them small.

Tilia cordata ‘Winter Orange’ at the Sir Harold Hillier Garden

At the other end of the scale, a plant with tiny flowers, Xenoscapa fistulosa, from south west Africa  – Namibia and Northern and Western Cape, South Africa – drew a great deal of attention. They must be the smallest flowers of any of the Iridaceae species. but have quite a strong perfume – I thought they smelled like bluebells. It grows from small corms, which go dormant in summer, and needs the protection of a cold greenhouse.

More colour was provided by a stunning double pink camellia and a bowl ofbeautiful hellebores, some in shades of yellow and others, both double and single, in dark purples. How I would love to have a collection like that.

Inevitably, we had snowdrops – it was February after all – and Galanthus ‘Big Boy’ was singled out for most comment. White was repeated in Ipheion ‘Alberto Castillo’.

Another member had brought leaves of Bergenia ‘Balbithan’. They were a beautiful rich red, even more stunning when they catch the sun. A small plant, bought at a plant fair, has bulked up very well but we haven’t been able to find out any more about it. However, the ‘Kent Group Sleuths’ are on the case and we will let you know if and when we find out more. If any members have any more information do please let us know.

Bergenia ‘Balbithan’

I hope you have enjoyed finding out about some of the plants our fellow members are growing and many thanks to all the contributors for bringing their plants to show us.

Join us at Hole Park

Join us at Hole Park

Snowdrop and Winter Plant Fair

Hole Park, Rolvenden TN17 4JA

Sunday 9 February 2020, 11am to 3pm


Plant Fairs Roadshow have organized this event again this year and we are having a stall and will be selling members’ plants – not just snowdrops but other spring plants, shrubs, bulbs as well as plants for the year ahead. If you have any surplus plants that you would like to sell bring them along on the day – any contributions to add to our stall will be very welcome. The proceeds will be split in the usual way, with 25% going to Kent Group funds. It’s a good idea to arrive in time for the opening, as the keen buyers always turn up at the very beginning.
There will also be other specialist nurseries selling a wide range of tempting wares. You can wander round the beautiful gardens and enjoy refreshments in the tearoom. 

It certainly sounds like a good day out for everyone. Come and join us and help to make our plant stall a great success.

You can find full details on the Plant Fairs Roadshow website.
Christmas Wreath Workshop

Christmas Wreath Workshop

Paul Ingleton tells us how a group of members made beautiful Christmas wreaths to decorate their houses.

On this occasion a group of Hardy Planters took to the indoors for a change – a good job too, ‘because the weather outside was dreadful’ (excuse the misquote). We were there to construct our own Christmas wreath under the expert guidance and leadership of Simone Wilson.

The first thing we had to do was to make the basic ring to stick things on. A long table was created and, into the middle of that, was thrown what looked like half a forest floor of sphagnum moss. Don’t worry folks! We were assured that it was sustainably sourced from some Scottish loch-side. This was used to thickly cover a copper wire ring and we were shown how the professionals do this and, thus made our own versions with varying degrees of success.

Once our moss rings were approved as being adequate, another heap of material was put into the middle of the table. Our very professional leader had brought a large bag of assorted plant material, and the ‘students’ had also brought stuff from their own gardens. I have no problems cutting large quantities of a very attractive, very rampant, crinkly-leaved ivy and my bush of Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Argentea’ (hedgehog holly to you and me) needed pruning anyway, so in it went with all the rest. Other members contributed their own attractive foliage to give a very varied selection with, ‘Can I have some of…’ being called across the table quite a lot. We were also encouraged to keep replenishing our teas and coffees and cakes and biscuits that were so thoughtfully provided. Thanks to Ali Crayford for coordinating and providing these essential items. 

We were shown how to construct small bunches of foliage and then to wire them on to build up a very convincing wreath. It’s similar to making a herbaceous border in that, throughout, you use odd numbers of threes, fives, etc, of sprigs of foliage to make the ‘natural’ look. After this came the fun bit. ‘Teacher’ had brought boxes of all the extras needed to tart up the basic foliage. Dried slices of orange, lime, lotus seed heads (plain or gold-sprayed), cinnamon sticks, baubles and various other treasures were in these boxes, and we were invited to take whatever we wanted to decorate the foliage. It was really useful to be shown how to wire and fix these. Each type needed a slightly different way of doing to get the best result. Again, these were applied asymmetrically in odd numbers.

The final choice to be made was did we want a ribbon bow (of course!) and what colour/type of ribbon did we want? Some chose tasteful ribbons, or natural hessian-looking ones – I went for the blowsy Christmas red and gold in a large size. No subtlety for me! Come the end of the morning, we had all produced very professional-looking Christmas wreaths that we were all proud to display and which, I’m sure, have enhanced our front doors over the festive season. As I write now, mine, complete with blowsy bow, is still on the front door and will remain so until the traditional take-down of decorations on Twelfth Night.

Paul Ingleton

Christmas Party

Christmas Party

Members celebrated the start of the festive season at their Christmas Party. Read Jenny Gibb’s report on a plant-filled and very jolly event.


Nearly 30 members gathered at Tunstall Village Hall for our annual festive social event. We started the day with coffee and biscuits and lots of conversation, before settling down to two very informative and enjoyable talks.

Jeanette Lerwill gave us a fascinating insight into beekeeping and the secrets of honeybees, which kept the audience enthralled and prompted lots of questions at the end – always the sign of an interesting talk. Colin Moat then entertained us with the saga of the Kent Group’s exhibit at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2015. (Our chairman Robert Lines had been due to speak, but was unable to attend due to a family emergency, so many thanks to Colin for stepping into the breach, and to Cindy Moat for her emergency drive down with the laptop!) Those present who had been involved with the stand enjoyed reminiscing, and the rest of us marvelled at their enthusiasm and hard work.

The first mock-up in March 2015

The final breakdown! The end of the show in May

The Kent Group stand in its wonderful glory

A splendid buffet lunch followed, with extra intrigue courtesy of Colin’s table quiz, which prompted lively discussion amongst the diners – not least in struggling to recall the names of all of Santa’s reindeer! Karin Proudfoot had set up a display of entries to the photographic competition, and invited us to look through them during lunch and vote for our favourite.

After lunch, Colin revealed the quiz answers, and Ginny Oakes gave a ‘guided tour’ of the impressive array of plants on the display table, many of which she had provided. Karin concluded events by announcing the winning photograph, which went to our chairman Robert, for his lovely picture of a peacock butterfly on pink echinacea.

Lots of hard work made the day a success, so many thanks are due – to the committee and kitchen helpers for sorting out food and drink, and doing mammoth amounts of washing-up; to Jeanette, Colin and Ginny for their excellent talks and quiz; to Karin for organising the photo competition; and to everyone who came to the party, for their lovely food offerings and their help in clearing up at the end of the afternoon.

I think everyone who came enjoyed themselves, and we particularly hope that those who came to the party for the first time will want to come again next year. Best wishes for 2020 to all our HPS Kent members.

Jenny Gibb

If you’d like to see more about the amazing Chelsea exhibit go to the Chelsea page and then click on the Chelsea Blog for a blow by-blow account. Even if you’ve seen it before it really is worth another look.

Ginny Oakes

The Winter Garden

The Winter Garden

Jeanette Lerwill reports on our meeting in November 2019 when Val Bourne talked about The Winter Garden.


It’s always good to have a talk from a fellow HPS member, and a very longstanding one at that. Val joined the HPS in 1970, initially to take advantage of free seeds for a garden she was creating; her Yorkshire roots made her thrifty so free seeds were very welcome. She has made many friends through the organisation and, despite being hard of hearing since birth, she became a teacher, garden writer and all round garden guru.

A move in 2004 from Hook Norton to Spring Cottage, Cold Aston, in the Cotswolds, with its one-third of an acre of garden meant a change of soil and weather conditions. A harsh climate makes it cold, windy and wet – already this winter they have had 2 inches of snow and it’s only November.

Val described her style as ‘shoehorn gardening’, tending to be totally overplanted and containing too many flowers! This is something I think most of us can identify with when you love plants. The garden is also organic and she describes it as a ‘living jigsaw’ (also the title of her latest book).

Val mentioned the importance of seasonal light in the Northern Hemisphere, which backlights grasses and tall perennials. The perception of colour also changes in softer light, and low sun picks up detail, making her in love with her garden and particularly keen to maximise these natural enhancements. Unlike many gardeners, who try to provide year round interest all around the garden, Val has borders that peak in each of the four seasons.

In the garden generally Val uses few trees, there is a woodland area at the bottom of the garden which she feels, if she were planning the garden now, she would move to the top due to the poor drainage at the bottom of the slope. Trees are needed to add scale, shelter and shade. She particularly likes Betula ermanii ‘Grayswood Hill’ with its pinkish bark, which is underplanted with ophiopogon, cyclamen and eranthis. To add structure to the winter garden there are colourful stems of Rubus thibetanus, Salix alba ‘Britzensis’ (which are both pollarded), Cornus alba and C. sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’. This last cornus is not cut to ground like C. alba but is trimmed by around a third each year. Evergreen shrubs such as box are also used, and are topiarised into balls and chickens. These were all grown from cuttings, and a tip Val passed on was to use four or five cuttings to make a box ball as they fill out much more quickly, although she suggested using only one for a pyramid. Val also believes that box pyramids are less susceptible to blight than box balls, possibly due to wind movement, blowing away the spores. Although there are evergreen shrubs for structure, with sarcococca and skimmia in containers, Val admits to not having progressed to conifers yet! Evergreen ferns such as Polystichum setiferum (Divisilobum Group) ‘Herrenhausen’ and polypodium are used to introduce texture in part shaded areas. For early scent she recommends Lonicera x purpusii.

As the site slopes away the spring garden is sited at bottom of the garden. Hellebores, purchased from her good friend John Massey, include some of Rodney Davey’s ‘ladies’, namely Helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’, H. ’Molly’s White’ and H. ’Penny’s Pink’. Snowdrops are a great love, but not the expensive rare ones; she is particularly keen on the Greatorex doubles with mostly Shakespearean names, and the pixie hat-shaped Galanthus ‘South Hayes’ which she finds easy. Other favourites are G. ‘Viridapice’, G. ‘Augustus’ and G. ‘Blewbury Tart’. The spring garden is also home to winter aconites, Cyclamen coum and Narcissus ‘Cedric Morris’, which can flower as early as mid-November. Iris unguicularis are not far behind, and a particular recommendation is I. u. ‘Walter Butt’, which has large flowers and, if picked in bud, will open in the warmth when brought inside. Another particular favourite of the spring garden is Pulmonaria ‘Diana Clare’, which was introduced by Bob Brown and named after his wife. 

Iris unguicularis

Galanthus plicatus Augustus’

In the south-facing summer border Val grows oriental poppies, with Papaver orientale ‘Karine’ being a particular favourite, although most of her stock was lost due to mildew. She then went on to describe her autumn planting, which is around the edge of the garden and includes grasses, such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’ and Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, along with Kniphofia rooperi and perovskia, which surprised her by its ability to cope with the harsh conditions. However, grasses such as pennisetum and also penstemons do not seem able to cope, due to the high rainfall.

To help plants which require somewhat drier conditions, Val places rocks around plantings of salvias and Stipa tenuissima. The rocks reflect heat up on to the plants.

Little mention of colour was made during her talk, although Val believes red to be of particular value in the winter garden and seems to ‘pull’ all other colours together. Malus x robusta ‘Red Sentinel’ and the hips of roses being favourites.

It was very interesting to hear first-hand the experiences of such a knowledgeable hardy planter, gardening in what sound like quite inhospitable circumstances.

Jeanette Lerwill

Late Summer Colour

Late Summer Colour

A report by Robert Lines on our meeting in October 2019 when Derry Watkins spoke on ‘Late Summer Colour’ 

A fine and dry afternoon displaying some good autumn colour provided an appropriate backdrop to Derry’s talk. She started by saying that although the arrival of spring rightly galvanises all keen gardeners into action, the potential downside is that gardens that bloom in April, May or June can become rather drab by the summer. As summer is a great time to be in and to enjoy the garden, her message was to make sure it was colourful! To this end, Derry professed a liking for plants that bloom from June onwards and into autumn. As illustration, she devoted her talk to the attributes of about 60 plants taken from her garden.

I have to say that I was impressed by her wide selection and sharp slides but unfortunately space limits a description of them all, so I have picked a number of plants that particularly appealed to me.

Heptacodium miconioides, a favourite tree of Derry’s. Elegant drooping leaves and fragrant white flowers certainly catch the attention, but after petal fall at first frosts the calyxes remain and turn gradually to burgundy. Furthermore, in winter some of the young branches turn red and, as a bonus, scarlet berries are occasionally produced. See image above.
Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Album’ (to 5ft). Described as a handsome self-supporting plant that has elegant white spires of flowers in midsummer, then dark seed heads that last through the winter.
Romneya coulteri or California Tree Poppy (to 5ft) with large white flowers in July and August. It likes poor soil but is prone to flop! Can be invasive once established and resents root disturbance.
Phlox paniculata ‘Blue Paradise’. Derry commented that this was her favourite phlox – fragrant blue lilac flowers that really stand out in the evening light, flowering from July to September.
Thalictrum delavayi ‘Splendide’. Clouds of purple flowers on burgundy stems from a lacy mass of green foliage. July, 4-5ft.
Selinum wallichianum. Blooms in late summer with large white umbels and purple flushed leaves, to 4ft.
Hesperantha (formerly Schizostylis) coccinea ‘Major’ (crimson flag lily). A great plant for the autumn producing large red flowers on stiff stems. Likes sunny positions in moist soil.
Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’. Rich blue flowers in branched panicles from early to mid-autumn, 4ft. Derry pointed out that, like the phlox, the flowers really glow in the low autumn light.
Crocosmia paniculata ‘Cally Sword’. Grown for its form and foliage with huge pleated leaves and heads of orange flowers, 5ft. Good for a mid-border location.
Amsonia illustris. The light blue flowers in open panicles are produced in late spring and early summer, but its real beauty is revealed in the autumn, when the leaves turn to gold.
Hylotelephium (formerly Sedum) ‘Red Cauli’. Magnificent raspberry-red flowers on arching purple-red stems in late summer, attractive purple-grey foliage. Height 1ft, spread 2ft. What’s not to like!

Although Derry focused on late summer colour, she did mention some plants that provide interest during the winter months:

Corydalis temulifolia ‘Chocolate Stars’. Derry’s favourite winter foliage plant – green summer leaves turn chocolatey then red in spring, while striking dusty-violet flowers appear from February to May. Good in any aspect.
Arum italicum subsp. italicum ’Marmoratum’. Dormant in the summer, but from September produces up to 18inch-long spear-shaped, mid-green, cream-veined leaves that last all winter. White spathes emerge in the spring, followed by red berries if planted in a sunny position.

This was an engaging talk, much appreciated by the audience, and supported with a great range of plants for sale from Derry’s nursery.

Chapel House

Chapel House

A report by Paul Verrall on our garden visit in September to Chapel House in Ramsgate. (more…)