Peter Dowdall reveals why all roads will lead to Tullow in County Carlow on February 1
Each year, round about now, Co Carlow plays host to a gathering of Galantophiles. What is a Galantophile, I hear you shout. Many people once they get this gardening bug, can become a bit obsessed and sometimes more than “a bit” about a particular genus or genera of plants. The botanical name for snowdrop is Galanthus and there’s your hint. A Galantophile is, too put it gently, a person who has a particular affection for or interest in the genus Galanthus. A snowdrop aficionado or collector, if you will.
Saturday, February 1, is the date that any self-respecting Galantophiles will be found at the Mount Wolseley Hotel in Tullow, Co Carlow. They will be there to hear Catherine Erskine of Cambo Gardens in Scotland, home to a National Collection of Galanthus with over 350 different snowdrops. Catherine will talk about how the restoration of Cambo Stables and Gardens has been fuelled and largely financed by snowdrops along with Ross Barbour and Helen Picton of Old Court Nurseries and Garden who will speak of their passion for snowdrops and the late winter and early spring companion plants for snowdrops “from the subtle to the vibrant”.
Catherine Erskine has been a keen amateur gardener all her life. Her interest in snowdrops started when she came to live at Cambo Estate in 1976 and sought ways to make the walled garden pay its way. She launched Cambo Snowdrops, a mail-order business, in 1986 as a way to increase income. This initiative developed into the Scottish Snowdrop Festival in 2007 and has now developed into Discover Scottish Gardens. Catherine has been very involved with Scotland’s Garden Scheme as a garden owner, district organiser and trustee for many years. Her lecture will cover how income generated from snowdrops and snowdrop visitors attracted by the Scottish Snowdrop Festival has given new life to Cambo Gardens.
Ross Barbour and Helen Picton have been running Old Court Nurseries and The Picton Garden since 2014 continuing the family tradition. Helen represents the third generation to be involved with the nursery while Ross trained in horticulture and spent many years as head gardener at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire before meeting and marrying Helen. Working within the mature woody structure planted by Helen’s father, Paul, they have developed the late winter and spring display including an ever-expanding collection of Galanthus.
The Carlow Garden Trail is in rude health with many superb gardens open to the public throughout the year and others at specific times. Among the finest in the county is Altamont Gardens and it is one of the finest gardens in Ireland to visit to see winter beauty at its best. All the winter and early spring bulbs are present as you would expect and so too, numerous strains of helleborus, winter-flowering shrubs such as daphne, hamamelis, corylopsis and early viburnums.
Visitors to the Snowdrop Gala will have the privilege of a guided tour of the gardens at Altamont after lunch. This tour will be guided by head gardener Paul Cutler and I use the word “privilege” as that is what it is to be shown around such a beautiful place by Paul, who knows every nook and cranny and every twist and turn in the place and as a result, visitors will gain a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the place.
There will also be a specialist plant sale with snowdrops from Avon Bulbs, snowdrops and other spring plants from Old Court Nurseries (Helen Picton/Ross Barbour), Catherine Erskine Cambo (snowdrops), snowdrops and other spring bulbs including hellebores from Ashwood and Harrington’s from Altamont Plant Sales, and snowdrops and narcissus and other spring treasures from Coosheen Plants.
Tickets for the Snowdrop Gala which cover lectures, lunch, admission to the bulb sale, guided tour, afternoon tea and cake at Altamont are €90 and are available from Hester Forde, Coosheen Garden, firstname.lastname@example.org and Robert Miller, Altamont Plants, email@example.com