We are lucky enough to have friends living near Cambridge who we went to visit last week. They entertained us royally and gave me the opportunity to visit the wonderful winter garden at Anglesey Abbey, which is also famous for it’s snowdrops. Plants all day and good food and company all evening! What more could one want?
You enter the Winter Garden at Anglesey via a beautiful green corridor so the openness and colour really hit you when you get there.
The trees and shrubs grown for their coloured stems or bark are the same each year but flowering plants are at their peak at different times depending on variations in the progress of the season. In previous years the snowdrops have been over and the winter sweet in full bloom. This year the snowdrops were glorious but there were just two flowers on the wintersweet and there was no sign yet of hellebores or of the lovely purple crocus I photographed last year.
There were cornus, salix and rubus stems in a wide variety of colours but this year I noticed the acers as well. Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ added delicate red stems but my absolute favourite was Acer negundo, pollarded to give strong, upright, grey stems, which shine when they catch the sun.
A Prunus serrula, strategically placed right beside the path, has been buffed to a bright shine by the many thousands of hands that have stroked it and an Acer griseum has been rubbed bare of its flaking bark by similar treatment. There are others further back, though, that still have this attractive feature.
There were snowdrops, of course, growing in huge patches under the shrubs but there were also other flowering plants. A tiny, white cherry could be seen high up on the tree and showed up brilliantly against the blue sky. The sarcococca, planted in vast numbers down either side of the path, were quite overpowering and the hamamelis, almost past their best but with a more gentle perfume were a little less intoxicating. Viburnum x bodnantense, always a stalwart of the winter garden, was a little battered by the recent cold weather but had lots of blooms to come. However, Viburnum farreri was still in tight bud; its white flowers will perfume the air in the weeks to come.
Viburnum x bodnantense
Whilst we wandered along taking in the sights and smells, the plant that caused most comment and questions as to its name was Garrya elliptica, in this case the cultivar ‘James Roof’. The foliage on one side was badly scorched but on its sheltered side was fine and the dangling flowers looked stunning, especially when caught by the sun. This plant comes in for a deal of criticism and I don’t know why. I have one, unfortunately not ‘James Roof’, which has extra long catkins, and at the moment it looks stunning, providing a lovely backdrop to lower-growing plants. When it has finished flowering and been cut back it sinks into the background until next winter when it does its thing all over again. What’s not to like? Unless it is that it’s not reliably hardy! And gets scorched in bad weather!
Narcissus ‘Rijnveldt’s Early Sensation’
There were also plants providing interest and colour under the trees and shrubs, Iris unguicularis, Cyclamen coum and C. hederifolium for its leaves, Eranthis hyamelis and the first ‘daffs’ of the year aptly named Narcissus ‘Rijnveldt’s Early Sensation’.
At the far end of the winter garden we came to Anglesey’s iconic feature – the grove of Himalayan Silver Birch, Betula utilis var jaquemontii. The new shoots of the underplanting of Tulipa ‘Little Beauty’ were just showing – one can only imagine what a wonderful sight it is when they are in flower.
All these photos and more can be viwed in the gallery at the end of the post.
But time was pressing. We had a date with some snowdrops!
My friend and I were booked to go on the tour with one of the gardeners to see the private snowdrop collection. She has an interest in plants but no particular interest in snowdrops. However, she was fascinated and somewhat surprised to realize that she could in fact see the small differences between the many cultivars. We were taken via the Winter Garden and Skylight Garden to the old collection, sited in a woodland ditch. The snowdrops had been moved to a new site because of disease but there were still many different varieties to see.
We then moved on to see the extensive new collection. Unfortunately, by this time it had really got quite dark so the photographs are not wonderful. I hope you still enjoy looking at them and reading some of the stories.
First of all our guide told us about some of the many snowdrops associated with Anglesey Abbey.
- G.nivalis ‘Anglesey Abbey’ – note the glossy green leaves and the many poculiform flowers, where the two whorls of segments are more or less the same length. This is a striking robust snowdrop and a good garden plant.
- G. ‘Ailwyn’ – a double with absolutely regular flowers. It was found at Anglesey in 1994 and named after Lord Fairhaven.
- G. ‘Richard Ayers’ – a vigorous plant with large double flowers. It was originally described as having four outer segments but their number range from three to five and, rarely, six. It was spotted at Anglesey and named by the National Trust for the former Head Gardener. It is a valuable garden plant.
- G. plicatus x nivalis ‘Hobson’s Choice’ – “take it or leave it” a phrase said to have originated with Thomas Hobson, a livery stable owner in Cambridge, and therefore quite local to Anglesey Abbey. He offered customers the horse he wanted to give them or none at all. Quite why this beautiful snowdrop is named after him I cannot find out!
- G. ‘Reverend Hailstone’ – I also saw him at Hole Park a few weeks ago and mentioned it in my blog. Found at Anglesey Abbey and named after the local rector at the time.
Galanthus nivalis ‘Anglesey Abbey’
G. plicatus x nivalis ‘Hobson’s Choice’
We were then left to roam amongst the snowdrops noting those that were growing well and the many differences in their stature and form. Here are just a few that I picked out.
- G. ‘Godfrey Owen’ – as soon as you see it you know it’s unusual but it takes a moment to realize why. It has six outer segments instead of the more usual three. It also has six inner segments.
- G. ‘Dionysus’ – this snowdrop always attracts my attention. The books suggest it is the most historically confusing and go on at great length to explain. Nevertheless, it is a real beauty and easily available.
- G. ‘Alison Hilary’ – I picked out this one because of its large, clawed outer segments and lovely colour of the inner segments, which aren’t flared at the apex. It looked to be a strong grower. It was selected by Joe Sharman from the garden at Sutton Court.
- G. ‘Margery Fish’ – what an extraordinary thing! It certainly demands attention. The photograph isn’t very clear but I think you can see the large, curled spathe and erect pedical, which give the plant a very unusual look. It was found in 1987 in the ditch garden at East Lambrook and named after the famous plantswoman who gardened there.
- G. ‘Homersfield’ – again I picked this one for its large strong stature and inner segment markings. It was found in the Suffolk village of the same name.
- G. ‘Ding Dong’ – a quite different shape and with a lovely story. Alan Street of Avon Bulbs named this distinctive form linking the snowdrop flower shape with a seventies TV advert for a well-known cosmetics firm with the slogan, ‘Ding dong, Avon calling!’ The name was first published in 2001 in the Avon Bulbs catalogue!
- G. ‘Lapwing’ – what a lovely one. I have had this but now only have a label to prove it! It was found by Phil Cornish when he got lost visiting another galanthophile and came across some snowdrops near the village of Lapworth, Warwickshire. The books say it’s a rewarding and reliable garden plant – I must try not to lose it if I get it again!
- G. ‘John Gray’ – considered to be among the top ten favourite snowdrops. It has perfect, large flowers on a long arching pedicels but, because at flowering time the scapes are still short, it gets rain-splashed and can become weighed down and touch the ground. It’s been around since 1967 so must be doing something right.
- G. ‘Selbourne Green Tips’ – found in the village of Selborne, Hampshire in 1982. Besides being very attractive it is also early flowering and regularly produces a second flower on the scape. This twin is of equal size, perfect shape an on a separate pedicel but, the original growers report, it needs regular division otherwise the scapes tend to be single-headed.
Galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’
Galanthus ‘Margery Fish’
Galanthus ‘ Dionysus’
Galanthus ‘John Gray’
Galanthus ‘Alison Hilary’
Galanthus ‘Ding Dong’
Galanthus elwesii ‘Selborne Green Tips’
We had a lovely day at Anglesey Abbey and, as the sky got darker and it began to rain, we headed home for a nice cup of tea and a slice of home made tea bread.
You can see all the photos in larger versions in the gallery below.