30th Anniversary – let’s celebrate

30th Anniversary – let’s celebrate

On Sunday 20 March 1988, 100 members attended the inaugural meeting of the Kent Group of The Hardy Plant Society. Gwladys Tonge, the HPS Chairman at the time, gave a talk on hardy plants in a very small garden and members discussed their future plans, which included garden visits, plant sales, workshops, lecture meetings and Kent Group’s first Garden Tour to gardens in The Netherlands and Belgium!

They laid a fantastic foundation and here we are celebrating our 30th anniversary, still taking part in the same sort of activities and enjoying every one of them to the full. The pleasure we gain from plants, looking at and studying them, growing them and, most importantly, talking about them with fellow members of a group such as ours will, we hope, continue for a very long time.

We have several events planned to celebrate the anniversary so keep an eye out in the newsletter, in your emails and on this website for the latest news.


It’s our 30th Anniversary – let’s celebrate!


The featured image is Phlox paniculata ‘Mother of Pearl’, courtesy of The Hardy Plant Society Image Library.


30 years and still going strong

why not come and join us

The Shaftesbury Snowdrop Festival

The Shaftesbury Snowdrop Festival

First of all, a little bit about Shaftesbury Snowdrops

Shaftesbury Snowdrops is a unique project to create Britain’s first ‘Snowdrop Town’. Shaftesbury is ideally located as a stopover point in the heart of the most beautiful snowdrop country in the South West. Their vision is to create a series of free and accessible snowdrop walks by planting hundreds of thousands of snowdrops within the publicly open spaces and along the pathways throughout the town to create a 21st century legacy for the local community and visitors to enjoy.

Shaftesbury is a rapidly growing town and they want to create a legacy that joins the new and the old, something that will last for hundreds of years into the future. The town also relies heavily on tourism. By creating these Snowdrop Walks they will be encouraging visitors to come to the town during the quiet winter period. Needless to say, the visual, spiritual and environmental benefits will be for everyone to enjoy.

They have also launched the Shaftesbury Snowdrops Heritage Collection with the aim of bringing together Galanthus species, hybrids and their cultivars to be held in trust in Shaftesbury for the enjoyment of visitors to the Shaftesbury Snowdrop Festival. The ultimate goal is to establish Shaftesbury as the home of a National Collection of snowdrops.

For one week in February different events are held throughout the town as part of the Shaftesbury Snowdrop Festival. This includes an art exhibition, a market, museums open, walks and, the reason we were there, a Snowdrop Study, Sale and Social Day.

Our day amongst the snowdrops

My companions, Anne, Karin and Sue had all been before but it was new to me and, I must say, I found the whole event delightful. Apart from the rain, which did rather spoil any outdoor activities – but most of the day was inside so that was fine.

Have you ever been to Shaftesbury? I travelled west across Cranborne Chase and, although I’d seen the squiggles on the map, that didn’t quite prepare me for the “bendiest one mile stretch of road in Great Britain”! You can go down the zig-zag hill for yourself thanks to YouTube, should you want to.

We were given a very warm welcome with coffee and biscuits and a chance to get our bearings and prepare for the day ahead. The others, having been before and being ‘in the know’, had found and reserved seats for the upcoming talks. The auditorium, which has banked and very comfortable seating, has only one problem – it’s very dark, so notes were somewhat haphazard!

First up was Kevin Hughes to talk about ‘Snowdrops and Their Bedmates’. Kevin is well-known to Kent members, in fact he is coming to speak to us in April. He talked about all the plants that can be grown with snowdrops, from deciduous trees, which keep the soil from being too wet in the summer, through shrubs such as magnolias down to crocus, narcissus and aconites.

It was then the turn of Joe Sharman with ‘Yellow Snowdrops – A Jaundiced View’. He told us about the genetics involved in the breeding of yellow snowdrops, some of the crosses he has undertaken and the outcome of his experiments – some good, some not so good. He also explained how the yellow colour can vary depending on the amount of iron in the soil, different conditions of light and shade and various other factors. But what struck me most forcibly was the length of time from doing the cross to finding out what the resultant seedlings are like (five years), deciding which crosses to do next and waiting for the outcome (another five years), making sure you’ve got something worthwhile and bulking it up for sale (another five years) – he has the patience of a saint! All we have to do is go and buy the results of that work and waiting. And that’s just what we did next.

Round the corner from the Arts Centre is the Guildhall, where the plant sale was held, so it was only a short walk through light rain and a wait with a very jolly crowd until they let us loose among the hundreds of pots of snowdrops waiting for new homes. I had seen one called Galanthus ‘Gloucester Old Spot’ in Lyn Miles garden and, I’m not sure why, but it appealed to me so I said to the others that if they saw it could they please let me know. Within minutes the cry went up that a Gloucester Old Spot had been seen on one of the tables. A quick dive through the melee secured the last one! I had jotted down a few others that had taken my eye in books and online and was amazed that I very soon saw some of them for sale and at very reasonable prices. After a frenzied burst of activity throughout the hall, involving a great deal of discussion, passing over of money and careful transferring of plants to new owners, things calmed down and everyone left, happy with their new acquisitions.

Back at the Arts Centre it was time for lunch and we were very pleasantly surprised to find that we were to be waited on – what a treat. A choice of four soups satisfied us all – we each chose a different one. Fruit, cakes and coffee rounded off a lovely meal.

Then there was a choice – a Q & A session in the auditorium or a visit to the Heritage Collection at the Abbey. I chose the Abbey but, by then, the rain had set in and, although the grounds looked lovely and the talk and the snowdrops were very interesting, viewing them with rain dripping down the neck was not too good. I returned, via the Abbey grounds to see some of the massed snowdrop planting, in time to catch the second half of the Q and A – the best of both worlds.

The last item on the agenda was a talk, ‘Bulbs for All Seasons’ by Anna Pavord, gardening correspondent for The Independent and the author of a number of books on plants and gardening. She gave us a faultless lecture accompanied by beautiful images on a vast range of bulbs from all over the world. Drawing on her vast experience as a gardener and writer, she told us why she loves bulbs and how much they add to the garden scene throughout the year.

And then it was time to say goodbye and set off for home – and tackle that zig-zag hill again! We know what’s involved in organizing an event such as this and are very grateful to everyone involved for giving us such an enjoyable day.

Here’s a gallery of the images I took.

To Shaftesbury by another route

To Shaftesbury by another route

Anne, Karin and Sue, three HPS Kent Group members, travelled to the Shaftesbury Snowdrop Festival, taking a slight detour to see the snowdrops at Welford Park in Berkshire on the way. As you can see from the photos they were blessed with a little sunshine.

The present house and church were built on the site of a monastery in the care of the monks of Abingdon until the dissolution of the monasteries. Snowdrops are often found in abundance around former monastic buildings and at Welford Galanthus nivalis grows in a beech wood covering approximately five acres alongside the River Lambourn. Other Galanthus species and cultivars are grown in the formal gardens.

If you fancy following in their footsteps, you can find full details on the Welford Park website.

We Went West – in search of snowdrops

We Went West – in search of snowdrops

Four Kent Group snowdrop enthusiasts set off westwards for the Shaftesbury Snowdrop Festival Study, Sale and Social Day on Saturday 10 February. Now it would be foolish to travel all that way just for one event and not look for somewhere interesting to visit ‘on the way’, wouldn’t it? For me that somewhere was Lyn Miles garden in Boscombe Village, Wiltshire. She is Membership Secretary and Newsletter Editor of the HPS Galanthus Group and has many snowdrop varieties growing in her ‘wilderness’ garden. She gave me a very warm welcome, told me about a few of her snowdrops and then left me to wander.

My first encounter was with John Long – Galanthus plicatus ‘John Long’, that is. I kept wanting to say Long John but no, it was named by Margaret Owen after a man who gardened at Henley Farm, Morville, Shropshire. I read that this snowdrop should be judged not only on its flowers, which are large and of good quality, but on its stature and good proportion of flowers to foliage. A clump of ‘John Long’ really stands out – well, I certainly noticed it.

Standing guard by one of the paths was another snowdrop with great presence, G. Sentinel. This snowdrop is very well named as it has strong upright stems supporting fine, large flowers – like soldiers standing to attention.

Helleborus hybrid

Of course, Lyn grows many other plants and I noticed shrubs such as cornus and rubus adding colour and structure to the winter garden. It was a real treat to see a box left to grow naturally rather than being topiarized as we tend to do now.

She is justifiably proud of a lovely clump of Galanthus ‘Pat Mason’, which has green tips to its large flowers. Snowdrops with this characteristic are becoming very popular as more are being developed. ‘Pat Mason’ also has the most amazing leaves which are grey-green in colour, wide and strongly incurved.

I found another yellow one, this time with a yellow ovary and probably yellow marks on the inner segments when the flower opens. Like the snowdrops with green tips, yellow ones are becoming sought after as more are bred or discovered by sharp-eyed enthusiasts.

There were more hellebores, including a yellow one, and crocuses opening their flowers but I noticed one last snowdrop as I was leaving and that turned out to be my favourite – another that is very well named, Galanthus ‘White Wings’.

Galanthus ‘Sentinel’

I came to an area with clumps of double snowdrops but I haven’t worked out how to tell the difference between all the different varieties – maybe I’ll get down to that next year! Among them Lyn grows some gorgeous hellebores.

And then, tucked in a corner, was Galanthus nivalis ‘Blonde Inge’. Her picture is at the top – can you see the faint hint of yellow? When first discovered in 1977 in an old cemetery in Germany, it was the first recorded snowdrop to combine a yellow inner segment mark with a green ovary. As you can see in the image, the pedicel also has a yellowish flush immediately behind the ovary. The name was derived from a German song, ‘When I will bring golden-haired Inge home’ and she has proved a good, strong doer in some gardens, although others have found her a bit more difficult. I’ve had her for a year now but her buds are still tightly closed – I wait with anticipation to see the touch of yellow!

Galanthus ‘Pat Mason’

Galanthus ‘White Wings’

This was one of several seedlings found in the late 1980s in a large snowdrop colony at West Porlock in Somerset. It has long-clawed outer segments and inners with a U-shaped mark staining towards the base. I think it is a very refined and stylish variety.

Examination of a map showed that Stone Henge was only a few miles away so that was where I headed, to see what our far-off ancestors had got up to. Salisbury Plain on a dull February afternoon was a bit bleak and there wasn’t a snowdrop in sight! That would have to wait until I went to Shaftesbury.

My companions-to-be took another route and that, and our day at the Snowdrop Festival, you can see in another blog.


Here’s a gallery of images taken at Westcroft. Click on a thumbnail to see a larger version and to scroll through the gallery.

A Jolly January meeting

A Jolly January meeting

I hope I’m not going too far with the alliteration but it was a very jolly meeting last Sunday. There was a really lovely friendly atmosphere with lots of members doing what they enjoy doing most – talking about plants.

Tim Ingram inspired us to get out in the garden to appreciate our winter plants and plan how we could make future winters even better. He showed us not only snowdrops and hellebores but other plants that grow with them and, very importantly, what we might plant to come after them later in the spring and summer.

The plant sales table was positively heaving, which at this time of year was amazing. Of course there were quite a lot of snowdrops and that’s what drew my attention. Last year we saw Galanthus elwesii var. elwesii ‘Big Boy’, which has flowers up to 48mm long but is not very tall. This year it was another giant that was attracting people’s comments – G. elwesii ‘Yvonne Hay’. Her flowers are not enormous but open wide in warmth to show a strong heart-shaped mark on the inner segments. However, the leaves are very wide and the plant grows to about 37cm so I  will have to find a suitable place where her stature can be appreciated, perhaps alongside a more diminutive snowdrop like G. nivalis ‘Angelique’. This one has delicate flowers, which are almost poculiform, the inner segments only slightly shorter than the outer and with two small green spots at the apex. It only grows to about 14cm – a little gem! I hope that many others of you went home with some treasure.

The plant display was also well supported. Two members brought arrangements of a selection of plants from their gardens.  There were Lonicera ‘Winter Beauty’, viburnum in two varieties, Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and V. tinus ‘Eve Price, daphne and Sarcococca hookeriana in two varieties, S.h. var humilis and S.h. var digyna, so you can imagine the perfume that assailed the nostrils of anyone approaching the display.

Colour was provided by some beautiful camelias, cornus stems, including Cornus ‘Winter Beauty’, Anemone coronaria De Caen Group and hellebores. Ivy berries and Ribes laurifolium added a more subtle tone but it was Fuchsia ‘Lottie Hobby’ that won lots of hearts and its name was scribbled down many times. This is a half-hardy variety with very small, extremely pretty, dark pink, single flowers. It is very free-flowering and has an upright, bushy habit, reaching a height of 60-90 cm.

Other members contributed the tiny Iris ‘Eye Catcher’ (Reticulata) with flowers in a mixture of yellow and shades of blue, and Eranthis hyemalis ‘Orange Glow’, which its owner admitted didn’t have much of an orange glow. I wondered if it had read the label, which said ‘NOT A SNOWDROP’, taken umbridge and decided not to glow!

But, of course there were a few snowdrops – it was the end of January! One of my favourites, Galanthus ‘Dionysus’, is quite distinctive and catches the eye whether on a display or in the garden. A member admired it and when I told him there were some on the plant sale he hot-footed it to see if there were any left. He soon returned triumphant. I always think it’s really nice to go home with a plant you’ve seen and liked – very satisfying.

Another snowdrop that makes a bold statement in the garden is G. plicatus ‘Augustus’. Named for E.A. Bowles it has chubby, puckered flowers complemented by short, broad leaves.

Galanthus plicatus ‘Augustus’
Galanthus ‘Dionysus’

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Barmstedt Gold’

However, it was a stem of willow that caused the biggest stir among members. Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’ has the most amazing red catkins and we were all imagining how fabulous it would look in the garden at this time of year. It was unknown to most of us although one member said she had seen it in a flower bouquet and it was, in fact, selected in Japan for the cut-flower trade and named after the largest active volcano in the country. Vermont Willow Nursery has a lot of information and photos on their website. It looks to be a fabulous plant and I have no doubt we’ll all be looking out for it.

Thank you to all the members who took so much trouble to bring something to share with us – it adds such a lot to our events, we all learn a lot, mainly from talking to other members about the plants on the display, and thoroughly enjoy the lovely plants.

As always, members finished the afternoon with delicious tea and cake whilst chatting with friends.

And now we can look forward to our next meeting in February. I do hope there are still some snowdrops flowering – let’s see how many different ones we can gather this year. Hellebores should be at their best so see if you can bear to cut some to bring along. And anything else to go with them – evergreens, winter-flowerers or the first signs of spring – all will be welcome.

I look forward to seeing you there.

Members also admired a plant with small, pointed, dark purple evergreen leaves and, unusually for the time of year, small pale mauve flowers. The label said strobilanthes, which was a surprise. The only one I know and grow is Strobilanthes wallichii, which is a nettle-leaved perennial that I cut to the ground in autumn or winter when it loses its leaves – a very different kettle of fish from the plant before us. As usual the internet came to the rescue. Strobilanthes is a genus of about 350 species in the family Acanthaceae, many native to tropical Asia and Madagascar, but with some species coming from temperate regions of Asia. Most are frost-tender and require protection in frost-prone areas and the plant we had, S. anisophyllus, is one of these, needing a minimum of 12°C. At 1 to 2 m high and 75cm wide I think it would make an ideal subject to have outside in the summer and back indoors once it gets nippy.

Another injection of colour – and perfume – was provided by Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Barmstedt Gold’. Hamamelis are beautiful and fascinating shrubs and we will see a lot more of them at our February meeting when Chris Lane, who holds a National Collection comes to share his extensive knowledge with us. Find out more here.

Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’

Gwladys Tonge

Gwladys Tonge

We have heard that Gwladys  Tonge, a very long-standing member of the The Hardy Plant Society, has died at the age of 97. (more…)