Can spring be far behind as the snowdrops arrive?

Peter Dowdall muses on the harbinger bloom, the delicate-looking, but tough-as-old-boots, Galanthus.

It’s one of the first flowers of each New Year. When you see it poking its head up through frozen and frosty ground, its dainty and delicate head nodding on top of short stems, you can’t help but be impressed by its sheer resilience and determination.

Each year it intrigues me that something so beautiful, delicated and so simple-looking can be so tough. You see, it gives of its best during the harshest of weather. Snow and ice and cold temperatures may well keep we gardeners out of the garden, sending us indoors to the fireside to enjoy the seed catalogues and maybe a horticultural christmas present, but not so the snowdrops. Blooming from now on, they are a sure sign that no matter how bad the winter we experience, that spring is on its way.

Snowdrops are one of those plants that attract fanatics. Stalkers of the plant world, if you will, I’m sure they won’t mind me referring to them as such, because sometimes a plant can just get under your skin and it becomes an addiction. Some particular snowdrop bulbs will sell for £250stg — just to give you an idea.

Over the last number of years a dedicated group of Galantaphiles, which is how snowdrop addicts are referred to, have organised a snowdrop gala which has become a constant now in the diary for those interested in spring flowers and in particular snowdrops and other spring flowering bulbs.

This year the gala takes place in Ballykealy Manor in Carlow, near Altamont. Two great speakers, Jennifer Harmer, and Colin Crosbie will be there on the day and will be sure to inspire.

Jennifer Harmer is a practical gardener and garden historian, with a particular interest in the history of plants and the people who bred them. She has been a trustee for the Hardy Plant Society on two occasions and is the Society’s Historian. 

She is also consultant editor for Hillier’s ‘Plants, People and Places’, which takes an in-depth look at plants — where they came from, who discovered them, and how they came to be named — as well as including stories about plant explorers and their often dangerous journeys. She fell in love with snowdrops many years ago.

Her new lecture is based on her extensive research work for the book she is co-writing with Jane Kilpatrick on Galanthophiles. It tells the story of the Victorians who started the mania for snowdrops and their successors who continue the craze to this day. It takes an in-depth look at the Galanthus they introduced.

Colin Crosbie is the curator at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey. He trained at the West of Scotland Agricultural College and was head gardener at Royal Lodge, the former private residence of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

Colin is a passionate plantsman, treehugger, author and proud Gallovidian and spring is his favourite time of year, as he finds the colours uplifting and refreshing, especially in the theatrical displays of camellia, rhododendron and azalea.

But Spring is not just about bold displays. There are the little bulbs coming through— snowdrops, daffodils, Trilliums, Erythroniums to mention but a few,which make spring in the garden so wonderful and interesting.

After the presentations there will be lunch at Ballykealey Manor which will be followed by a visit to the magnificent Altamont Gardens. The 16-hectare gardens, which were taken over by the State in 1999 upon the death of Corona North, who had spent many years loving and developing Altamont, combining formal and informal garden styles which are particularly beautiful during these next few months with the spring bulb display. The garden is now also home to the Corona North Commemorative Border. 

This took over a year to design, build and plant, and was opened in 2000 to honour Altamont’s late owner. Many of the plants in the border were donated by friends of Corona and fellow great Irish gardeners. Specialist nurseries there on the day will include Avon Bulbs, Altamont Plant Sales, Ashwood Nurseries and Hester Forde’s Coosheen Plants will be offering Snowdrops, Spring bulbs, Hellebores and other plants for sale.

For further info on this special event in the gardening calendar contact: Hester Forde on 086 8654972 or Robert Miller (Altamont Plant Sales) on 087 9822135


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