Was it folly to go to Hole Park last Sunday? Back in the new year when plans were being made to visit gardens and events to see snowdrops everyone thought it was going to be an extremely early season – even earlier than last year when the snowdrops were already over when the time came for some events. Well, the prolonged cold spell and now dark and dank days have put paid to that idea and garden owners and snowdrop collectors are praying that they have just a few flowers out to show their visitors. And so it was that I ventured out on another dull, dark day last Sunday to see what I could find at Hole Park. We had been promised a Snowdrop and Winter Plant Fair organized by Plant Fairs Roadshow, gardens, refreshments and talks. There were snowdrops aplenty but more of those later – I felt like a good walk and set off to see the gardens. It is a hard soul that can’t find beauty and interest in a garden no matter what the weather, and in the winter it’s often the bones that you see, the buildings, walls and gates, and evergreens, especially topiary shapes.
Here in the Walled Garden a beautiful iron gate, which you might well miss in the height of summer, gives a glimpse of the lawn and garden beyond. There were also some well-trained shrubs against the walls.
I love these black fences and always think of them as a Kentish feature but am not sure if this is right. The snowdrops were only just emerging from the ground but I did find this lovely hellebore – perfect!
But it is the trees that I’ll remember, whether seen across the field, their shapes standing out against a leaden sky, or right above you so you can look up into the crazy pattern of the branches.
I found more strange shapes, this time in the topiary hedges and an unusual view of a big tree. Then these ladies, depicting the four seasons, formed the welcoming party at the entrance to the east lawn as I turned back towards the house.
From here I could see the other side of the long snaking hedge under evergreen oaks and more huge trees sheltering the walled garden and the house. I didn’t identify all the trees I saw – there were a lot of oak leaves on the ground and other larger, possibly chestnut, leaves – but time was pressing and snowdrops called.
I didn’t have time to sample the tea room but I’m sure it was all delicious. I was looking forward to Tim Ingram’s talk on snowdrops held in a delightful room – comfortable and warm, just the place to be on such a bitter day. Tim wanted to talk about Galanthus species, where they grow in the wild and some of the plants we grow derived from them. So he started with this map, which he found on Wikipedia, and went on to show us many snowdrops using photographs taken in Kent woodland, his own and other people’s gardens and referring back to the map when necessary. He showed us many varieties, explained the growing conditions they enjoy and some problems that sometimes occur, mentioned some of the famous people involved with snowdrop growing and others closer to home who have influenced the ones we grow. Tim, with his wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm, is always good to listen to.
He also arranged this lovely display to show just some of the many different forms available. They vary in leaf colour, shape and size and in flower size, shape and markings.
Galanthus elwesii can also excel as a foliage plant with its large glaucous leaves.
Galanthus ‘Reverend Hailstone’ is a good strong cultivar that Tim had from David and Anke Way.
Tiny ‘Titania’ is an absolute delight and so delicate compared to the big, strong Reverend to the left. I was expecting the flowers to spin like dancers at any minute.
I’ve saved the best till last! Isn’t it a little gem? Tim noticed it growing between two other cultivars in his garden and thinks it is distinctive enough to warrant naming. But he hasn’t thought of a suitable name yet. My idea of Galanthus ‘Fairy’s Hat’ didn’t meet with much approval even when I suggested that my little granddaughter would definitely buy one with a name like that. Perhaps Tim is looking for a somewhat wider clientele! If you have any better ideas I’m sure Tim and Gillian would like to hear them. But whatever name is decided on I am sure they’ll be lots of people who would love to have one. I’ve put all the images in a gallery with larger versions so you can see more detail.
And so to the plant fair. To tell you the truth, I went there first but you knew that anyway, didn’t you? What Hardy Planter can resist a plant sale? The stalls were all well stocked – I saw spring plants, hellebores and more exotic grevilleas, eucalyptus, phormiums and a pine as well as lots of snowdrops. But it was to the Kent Group stall that I made a beeline, to see what snowdrops other members had brought for sale.
I was recommended G. plicatus ‘Augustus’, which, when I looked it up, is described as having short, broad leaves perfectly complemented by chubby, puckered flowers. It was named for E.A. Bowles (Edward Augustus Bowles). Another that I bought was G. ‘Galatea’, which is very similar to G. ‘Magnet’ but the v mark on the inner segment of G.‘Galatea’ is almost a perfect right angle and usually shows a kink or bend in the pedicel behind the ovary. I will look forward to trying to identify these differences! On another stall I bought a ‘Kite’ – Galanthus elwesii ‘Kite’, that is – but I am in something of a quandary. One book I have says that when it’s behaving itself it produces two flowers on separate pedicels from the same scape but that this behaviour can vary from year to year. Some websites I’ve looked at mention this feature but others don’t and just say what a large and beautiful flower it has. And the clump I saw in the Chelsea Physic Garden last week only had one flower per stem. So, that’s something else to keep an eye on – I’m going to be busy! When you’ve had your fill of Galanthus, you can feast your eyes on winter aconites, Eranthis hyamelis, which grow well with and make a good contrast to the white snowdrops.
Galanthus elwesii ‘Kite’ at the Chelsea Physic Garden
So, was it folly to venture out last weekend? I think you can tell from all the plants I saw, how interesting they were and what a good time I had that it definitely wasn’t! I’m already looking forward to the next snowdrop event on this year’s calendar but hoping for a bit more sunshine next time.