Galanthus ‘Mrs Macnamara’ and Seedling Hellebore

The first ever ‘collector’s’ snowdrop I purchased was at North Easton Gardens and it was ‘Mrs Macnamara’ about which I have written several times.

Galanthus ‘Mrs Macnamara’

The image is nothing special I’ll grant you but its reliability of early flowering, stature and classic form make it a special snowdrop in our garden. This is a must have for the winter garden. Unfortunately it simply has not increased in numbers and I’d love to show you a large clump. I shall have to move it elsewhere. Four weeks ago I saw a large display at RHS Harlow Carr Gardens so it does spread. It must be me.

Unnamed Hellebore seedling

Nothing is more exciting than the opening out of something new and here it is. Last year it had no flowers and amazingly this year it is full of buds having been moved to a protected spot in the sun and cared for like never before as I’ve been available all year due to obvious travel restrictions. I’m looking forward to it fully opening out. Perhaps I shall give it a name…

Galanthus elwesii ‘Big Boy’ – mystery monster

Well it’s not a ‘monster’ though it is a very big boy. I wrote a few days ago about one of my many lost labelled snowdrops. A little look around the garden would have revealed a second pot properly labelled and possessing the exact same fleshy, glaucous leaves with buds perhaps a week less advanced. So Galanthus elwesii ‘Big Boy’ my mystery snowdrop it is then, big and beautiful. Or at least I think it is….

Galanthus elwesii ‘Big Boy’ January 11th 2021

Identifying snowdrops is not easy given the very many cultivars available. Indeed it was to keep a record of my garden plants that I commenced the blog. So I recorded ‘Big Boy’ during mid-February in 2016 and 2017. I was thrown off the scent by the early flowering.

‘Big Boy’ pictured in February 2016
‘Big Boy’ pictured in February 2017

So I have a definitively labelled, reputably sourced bulb that is very slightly less advanced than my mystery bulbs but I can’t definitively say they are the same. The tinge of green on the tip of the petals, not always consistent, evident in 2017, is not in evidence in the 2021 version and there is a slight difference in shape. The latter is perhaps consequential on the flowers shown above being more mature, as well as revealing their dark green inner colour. In fact the current flower does have those exact same markings though you will have to my word for it. And it is a big flower.

The foliage is one key to identification

There was driving, cold rain yesterday when I took the photographs so the telltale inner markings were unavailable.

Wet ‘Big Boy’

And today’s weather is far worse with snow. So I’ll end with an incontestable variety.

Daphne ‘Jacqueline Postill’ braving the snow
And the brave, unflinching cameraman

Galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’ – one of the finest

Five years ago I purchased one bulb of ‘Godfrey Owen’ from a very well known seller on Ebay, Matt Bishop. In fact he had over-reached himself and had no adult bulbs left. So I received three or four immature bulbs. It was the best investment I’ve made. Exponential growth kicked in and I have them everywhere as well as giving them as gifts and swaps. One of our best friends keeps reporting back on the progress of Godfrey. Three buds, she informed me excitedly only yesterday.

Galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’

As may be seen above this distinctive elwesii cultivar is a true beauty, perfectly formed with six outer petals and a similar number of smaller inner ones. It caused something of a sensation following its discovery in 1996 in a Shropshire garden by Margaret Owen and named after her husband. One of its qualities of course is its early flowering habit.

A sunny spot brings the bulbs on more quickly

Copper or Stainless Steel for Gardening Tools

A friend received a set of bronze gardening tools for Christmas. The craftsman-made tools look fabulous on the website and the claims are impressive as they ‘are kinder to slugs and snails, meaning no need for chemicals or insect repellent’. Unfortunately no-one treated me to a designer sickle that protects herbs through ‘copper-ion-protection’ thus retaining the ‘ingredients, minerals, vitamins and etheric oils’. Another company  professes each bronze tool ‘enriches the soil with trace elements’. They make other claims. A further company also lists the advantages of its copper tools – bronze being predominantly copper with tin added. Copper ‘does not disrupt the electrical fields in the soil’. One fact is indisputable and that’s the cost. These are at least four or five times the price of stainless steel equivalents. Sadly as I don’t have any bronze tools and my friend has been unable to hoe ice I can’t vouch for the efficacy of these wonder tools.

I did however receive no fewer than two sets of stainless steel hand tools for Christmas. Stainless steel is tried and tested in our garden. I doubt whether they add trace elements to soil and I’m not too sure about those electrical fields but stainless steel is stronger than bronze and slugs don’t like being neatly sliced by a sharp, hand-held implement.

Conducting this cutting edge investigation has revealed some pertinent information about copper, slugs and snails following research by the RHS at Wisley in 2018 who discovered that copper does not deter the pests after all. Which renders another overly optimistic purchase redundant. I’m going to cut the tape into bits and copper-ionise the soil.

I imagine all those proud possessors of bronze gardening tools, eyes feasting on their gorgeous, rustless artefacts as they work away with the steel sharpening file. They’ll get plenty of practice.

Daily Walk During Lockdown

March and April saw the UK in a state of stasis for most of us as the car was left on the drive, shopping delivered by van, family greeted from a distance and we were allowed only a fifty minute walk from the home. Luckily we enjoyed almost unprecedented warm weather in which to bask in glorious sun for those lucky enough to have a garden. I set about redesigning it, clearing out shrubs and trees. But this image sums up that period of stagnant personal freedom at a time of burgeoning growth. In a patch of land awaiting development a self-sown crab apple had the most intense red buds and our daily walks gave us time to observe its daily development as intensely as we might in our own garden. Sadly the fruits never developed to a standard required for the orchard but in that time it was special indeed. As we re-enter lockdown I fervently hope I’m not tracing its progress as winter 2021 turns to spring.

Maturing Hellebore Turns Green

As Hellebores age they change colour. What we see as petals are actually sepals or, even more correctly, tepals, the outer leaf of the flower designed in all probability to protect the bud. The greening process is said to aid photosynthesis and is a process known as senescence, occurring rather like leaves losing their colour in autumn, occasioned by a reduction in proteins and sugars. Here the hellebore in my view is enhanced as the green blooms complement the new pure white ones. I much prefer them to the forms that pink up. Should my shorthand account be insufficiently informative or detailed do read this account that explains the process in more detail than any human being should ever be forced to suffer. Luckily my hellebores, other than the specimen below, are still in bud and some months short of their ‘demise’ so no other green or pink tepals, petals or sepals to tease you with.

Helleborus ‘Verboon Beauty’

Mrs Renwick’s Sunnyside Garden, Grenada

Trips from cruise ships can be a formulaic exercise, fun but, well, formulaic. Our January 2020 visit to Jean Renwick’s garden on the fertile island of Grenada in the Southern Caribbean was certainly slickly organised as a convoy of minibuses sped up the hillside, avoiding those earlier minibuses speeding down. The drivers chatted together as we clambered out to be greeted by giant tortoises and Jean’s son, ‘Randy by name, randy by nature.’

Arriving at Sunnyside Garden, Jean Renwick looking down from her balcony.
Randy from his Facebook page.
Entertainment for the visitors on arrival.
Randy Renwick greets visitors with a lively history of the garden. His hand might just be discerned if you follow the eyes.

The garden was first landscaped in the early 1990s and wrecked by a hurricane in 2004. The reliable rainfall, summer temperatures and rich volcanic soil are the aces in the pack. Everything grows profusely so initial planting and subsequent recovery were easier than in a less agreeable climate. But Mrs Renwick had the perfect eye and determination. She told us how in the early days she had smuggled, er imported, plants and seeds to the island. The result is a lush paradise.

The garden tour is well organised.
Lush plants and a backdrop to die for.
The local branch of the RHS meets on the formal lawn or the cooler veranda.
Fish also love to devour insects.

Our guide explained the medicinal qualities of the plants; annato or lipstick plant, the seeds used to rouge the lips of little girls and, as we discovered for ourselves, visitors; and citrus fruits, palm trees and a myriad plants we can dream of.

Our guide certainly knew his onions. It was a comprehensive tour.

Again formulaically perhaps but the climax of the visit was a drink of rum punch on the veranda and welcome indeed. Though as pleasurable was a little glance at Jean’s delightful home. More precious was an opportunity to chat to the lady herself and congratulate her on a garden that surpassed expectations and the cruise formula.

Veranda, again taken from the garden’s Facebook pages.
A collage of snaps from inside the house.

And finally …

Jean Renwick in her garden.

The Not So Definitive Guide To Labels

The bane of my life. Well, perhaps not, energy or the lack of it is. Truth to tell I don’t like labels, they fail to add anything to a garden, have zilch visual appeal – even those inordinately pricey slate ones I was given as a gift a few years ago and which are treasured in a drawer in my potting shed workbench –  but given a proneness to collect plants abetted by a tendency to forget the what, when and wheres, labels are an indispensable fact of my gardening life. So here are a few observations.

Not my own label or alpine house sadly. RHS Harlow Carr

White labels are a definite no no. They look like a plant graveyard and, my goodness, I’ve lost enough plants to fill one. They detract from garden or cyclamen. So not for me though, as can be seen, I discovered two remnants on the estate this morning.

Cyclamen coum just emerging

Aluminium labels were meant to be the answer especially when my rather gauche handwriting is aided and abetted by a stylish graphite pencil. It is satisfying to use graphite on metal, therapeutic. Much superior to plastic, even without the distaste one has for the stuff these days. And yet …. I have so many that are bent and twisted even though the writing is still legible enough to read five years since I first bought them. Aluminium is bendy, flimsy, garden strimmers adore them, not cheap and fade into the background. That said, I still use them.

Black Wooden Labels – and I have a box stuffed full of them – were purchased as an environmental effort and Ebay impulse. They look great with a white marker. For a short while. Pretty basic observation really though I missed it – wood rots down and swiftly with it. Total waste of time, marker fluid, money. I haven’t a clue what I planted in Spring and early summer.

Wooden labels, environmentally sound, practically unsound.
Aluminium labels that won’t accept marker pen.

However the prize for the worst purchase ever in this context goes to a box of sturdy Shiny Aluminium Labels able to withstand nuclear detonations but not take marker ink.

So I have settled on the above Black Plastic Labels, 15cm long, 1.7cm wide with Pentel white marker pens, though other brands are available. The pens are not as easy to work with as graphite pencils. Unfortunately graphite does not work on black ….. Crucially the labels are unobtrusive in a garden setting. I can’t vouch for the durability of the ink and a friend has warned me about the chalk in some brands that fades quickly. I’ve not checked that out with Pentel yet. The writing shows no evidence of fading. With neater handwriting than my own they look great in pots, though require an accompanying plant to complete the look.

Lost Label

Last year at this time we were preparing to set off for Central America and the Caribbean for five weeks of welcome sun. A year previous to that I’d lost several snowdrops and many labels and pots as torrential rain, wind and pathetic carpentry completely collapsed two display benches strapped together for mutual support. Anyway the support failed, ended in divorce and I’m still counting the cost as I’ve been unable to identify or locate prized specimens. Which brings me to this unnamed pot. On January 3rd 2019 when we said goodbye to winter and set out for summer in a taxi it was as it is when photographed this very morning before the snow came down and covered the weeds. I never did discover what variety it is. And now is almost the moment, the denouement. What will it be? The excitement is too much to bear. Meanwhile I’ve done two things with potted snowdrops: heavy terracotta pots for bottom shelves, plastic for the top. No more collapses. Oh, and I’ve planted far more snowdrops in the borders and mislaid lots of labels as herbaceous plants throw them about like jetsam. Keep checking in for the big reveal. Will I be able to attach a label?

What will this snowdrop be? To be revealed….

Welcome to 2021. A better year.

I have already posted one photograph from our granddaughter, Daisy. ‘My Galanthus Garden’ is a gardening blog but given an absence of colour in the garden and a little time before I can post anything worthwhile from our little plot I hope this offering is of interest. Daisy is 12 and seemingly always experimenting in her art. I thought this particularly nice. She has her own Instagram account and her range, development and talent is clear.

Daisy’s Instagram