Geese and Ducks at Saville Gardens, February 7th

We saw two interesting birds at Saville Gardens at the weekend: the Egyptian goose and the Mandarin duck, both originally brought in as ornamental ducks for grand gardens. They have of course escaped and are described as feral. How Saville’s are named is another matter, it being one of the grand gardens. They are much too pretty to be feral. Related to the shelduck, the Egyptian goose has built up quite a population in the Norfolk coast and Broads. Mandarins are seem more widely in England and Wales but in my experience they are still not common.

Egyptian goose

Mandarin duck

Felley Priory and sixty varieties of snowdrops

We only discovered Felley Priory last summer. The garden is one for the plant collector being full of choice shrubs and perennials, all clearly labelled and serviced by a nursery that unusually seems to source its own plants from the gardens rather than some huge Dutch transporter. It is situated only half a mile from Junction 27 of the M1 though due to its setting in a hidden valley one would hardly know it, Sophia and Victoria Chaworth-Musters, granddaughters of Major Robert Chawarth-Musters who purchased the house in 1973, live in the  house itself, parts of which date back to 1557 and, I have to say, the gardens are manicured to a very high standard. For today I shall content myself with documenting some of the varieties of snowdrops that took my fancy. Later I’ll post other views and winter plants. I also bought some roses from there in the summer and in time I’ll post about these too.

And my favourite on the day…. “Silbertoft Manor”

Galanthus "Ding Dong"

“Ding Dong” is in flower in mid-January in our garden and among snowdrops that look very similar until close inspection, they are is easy to spot. They are also a great buy for they clump up very well. I aimed for a mixed display in one of the garden beds, and here among “Magnet” and “Brenda Troyle” they draw the eye with their slender petals and  lovely lime coloured ovary that mirrors the inner green inverted U shape of the markings. I confess that the images I have seen on the internet suggest some flowers have a two toned green, mine have only the one.  Maybe I’ll call it Dong Dong. Alan Street from Avon Bulbs has named a fair few of my snowdrops, here it’s a nudge towards the cosmetic firm that delivers to one’s door: “Ding Dong, Avon calling!”

Galanthus "Trumps", 24th January

“Trumps” is a stunning early snowdrop. It was yet another discovery by Matt Bishop in the late 1990s, this time in John Morley’s Suffolk garden at North Green. I believe few sights are more spectacular than a pot of the variety, the green splashes on the shapely petals seemingly hand painted to produce maximum effect. And a pot full is not too far from reality for “Trumps” bulks up well. My bulbs, with one exception below, are a little immature as yet but as ever I look forward to next year. Matt describes it as a “very decent snowdrop” and I say “stunning”. As for Matt’s choice of the name well, “I knew I’d come up trumps with that one!” By the way, John Morley produces the very best free online catalogue available. Download it in PDF form, look at the specials there, and drool.

Galanthus "Lapwing"

Galanthus “Lapwing” was discovered by 1977 by Phil Cornish in Warwickshire near Lapworth and it has retained a popularity due to its characteristic two toned cross that stands out even in the winter gloom, bobbing from a long pedicel in the winter storms when I took the photographs on Saturday. A first rate snowdrop that is in its second year here and already robust with two blooms and healthy foliage.

Galanthus elwesii "Godfrey Owen", 1st February

Many named snowdrops might readily be lost if they were in a crowd. Most discerning plant lovers should spot “Godfrey Owen” the only elwesii cultivar to have six outer and six inner segments. It was found in 1996 in the Shropshire garden of Mrs Margaret Owen and named after her late husband. A noted galanthophile, Margaret herself died in December 2014 at the age of 83, a lady remembered for her regular snowdrop sales, the proceeds of which were given to the Multiple Sclerosis Society. She maintained no less than four Plant Heritage collections, Camassia, Veratrum, Dictamnus and Nerine. I bought three “Godfrey Owen” bulbs last year but had an apologetic message from the seller saying that the bulbs were unexpectedly small so we agreed on five of the bulbs, four of which are in flower or bud. They will most certainly clump out well next year. I have it beside “Mrs Thompson” and “E. A. Bowles”, good company indeed, and both with large flowers, larger than the more petite “Godfrey Owen”. But diamonds do not have to dwarf the finger and this is a shapely, symmetrical snowdrop well justifying its reputation. Certainly in my top ten.

Wentworth Woodhouse, 31st January 2016

Built by the Watson family who became the Fitzwilliams (amazing what money can do) on the basis of vast revenues from their coal seams, the 300 room Wentworth Woodhouse with its 185m facade is an epic house and has an epic tale of family feuding. After the Second World War everything went belly up with the South Yorkshire family fortunes as, in a spirit of rebuilding the nation and a socialist disdain for the rich, the Minister of Fuel and Power, Mannie Shinwell, ordered that the whole estate be dug up for open cast coal mining. The mining went right up to the house with inevitable subsidence. When in 1948 the eighth earl was killed in a car crash alongside his lover, “Kick” Kennedy, sister of JFK, the house became Lady Mabel College of Further Education, the majestic Marble Hall, below, a gymnasium. Decline upon decline, until it was purchased in 1999 by architect Clifford Newbold, who died in April 2015. The house is still for sale at £8m from Savills. Subsidence is still a problem. And one sale has fallen through. We visited on a dark day at the end of January, and in the drizzle the house still looks vast, grand and sadly, if one looks beyond that glorious facade, a tad neglected.

Postscript (4th February) And ever on the pulse as always   .. a matter of days after I wrote the above comes the news that the property has been sold to, very good news here, the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust for £7m, half of which came from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. A spokesman for the Trust said, “The long-term strategy is for the public to visit and enjoy all the most interesting parts of the property while restoring the others for revenue-earning uses such as events and holiday lets with business units in the stables.”

Wentworth Garden Centre, Historic Garden

This is a tale of garden renovation that requires wider publicity, so I will spread the word to my reader. A full history may be found here, but briefly the gardens at Wentworth Woodhouse, Rotherham, were commenced in the mid 18th century, once occupied up to 36 gardeners, were more or less abandoned after the Second World War and their decline mirrors the decline in the fortunes of the house dealt with in tomorrow’s post. Actually the gardens were in a far worse state than the house. Thirty years ago, with the success of the Garden Centre from its opening in 1976, there has been an on-going project to restore the gardens on which the centre stands, from total dereliction to the haven we visited yesterday. Each year sees more work, whether it be on the fantastic maze or, as with our visit, the woodland trail through the terraced sunken garden brim full of stonework, water features and topiary. Thousands of snowdrops and other bulbs have been planted in the last few years and they were well displayed for the last day of January. For 2016 the garden has become part of the RHS Partner Garden Scheme. A labour of love. Do visit.