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.