Thursday, March 8, 2018

The dwarf winter irises

Have you ever bought a packet of the dwarf, winter flowering irises, planted them out in a nice sunny spot in Autumn, watched them flower the first year and then dwindle away?  If that's the case you're not alone.  It's a common lament amongst gardeners.  No wonder we treat beauties such as Iris reticulata 'Katherine Hodgkin' as temporary treats, re-bought annually.

Iris reticulata 'Katherine Hodgkin'
At The Garden House they treat them a little differently.  The Bulb Meadow is an area of the garden on a North facing slope, well drained with the addition of grit to the underlying shale soil, and annually mulched with shredded bracken from local Dartmoor farms.  Summer herbaceous planting - hardy geraniums and begonias - ensure the roots remain cool and dry and this enables the bulbs to increase rather than diminish year on year.  They're also grown in cool beds that will be shaded by shrubs in the summer.  It's a policy also advocated by Broadleigh Bulbs, a prominent UK grower of these pretty little treasures.

The net result is a display of these winter treasures that recurs year after year.  Long may it continue.

Iris reticulata 'Katherine Hodgkin'

Iris reticulata 'Alida'
Iris histrioides 'Angel's Tears'

Iris histrioides 'George'

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Snowdrops at The Garden House

Galanthus elwesii ’Monostictus’
I am not a galanthophile, a passionate lover and collector of snowdrops.   In common with most gardeners I can’t help but like their cheerful indifference to the worst of winter weather but I’ve never been interested enough or had the room to grow more than a handful.  But spending the colder months of 2016-17 photographing the collection built up at The Garden House by Matt Bishop, the previous head gardener, has opened my eyes to their beauty and variety.

Galanthus reginae-olgae

The Garden House had no sooner closed for the winter season than the first of them had opened.  Early November saw Galanthus elwesii ’Monostictus’, closely followed by G.reginae-olgae.  December saw more until the floodgates opened in January and February.

Galanthus elwesii 'Fly Fishing'
The giant snowdrop, G.elwesii, with silvery
leaves and the largest flowers, is an imposing sight no matter the variety.  It’s hard to pick favourites – I leave that to the true experts – but I was certainly taken by two I photographed in mid-January.  ‘Fly Fishing’ is characterised by extremely long flower stalks.  The slightest breeze and the blooms dance in the wind.  ‘Godfrey Owen’ has six inner and six outer petals producing a symmetrical bowl shaped bloom. A perfect double flower – if not the doubling we normally associate with snowdrops.

Galanthus elwesii 'Godfrey Owen'
With doubles it’s more common to have an intense doubling of the inner petals and no doubling of the outer petals.  Photographing this isn’t always easy for snowdrops growing in the garden.  They’re small and hang their heads down – which means working at ground level, usually with wet knees.  But, with persistence, they do reveal their secrets.  More refined is ‘L.P Long’, particularly when compared with the blowsier ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’.

Galanthus 'L.P.Lomg'
Galanthus 'Lady Beatrix Stanley'
There are times when the situation makes it easy to photograph up and into the heart of the flowers.  G.nivalis Sam Arnott’ is grown in a raised bed under the wedding cake tree, Cornus controversa ’Variegata’, perfectly positioned to admire the green markings on the inner petals.

Galanthus nivalis 'Sam Arnott'
Such markings are standard on the inner petals of most snowdrops  but the effect is more pronounced and even extends to the outer petals in some of the selected forms grown at The Garden House. Some have the conventional snowdrop flower shape, as with G.’Alan’s Treat’ or G.plicatus ‘Greenfinch’.  Others, such as ‘Trumps’, begin to deviate from the normal form.

Galanthus x hybridus 'Trumps'
Galanthus 'Alan's Treat'
Galanthus plicatus 'Greenfinch'

Some varieties take this even further, combining heavy marking with elongated outer petals.  G.nivalis ‘Walrus’ retains elegance but looks very little like a normal snowdrop while G.’Doncaster’s Double Sharlock’ offers even further variation on the norm.  Fascinating curiosities that were a pleasure to photograph and admire.

Galanthus nivalis 'Walrus'
Galanthus 'Doncaster's Double Sharlock'
This is only a fraction of the collection at The Garden House.  There are many more interesting variants on the basic white with green markings snowdrop design to be seen on the open days in Winter.  If you've previously visited I hope this will be a reminder to drop in again.  If not, well the open days and directions to the garden can be found on The Garden House website.  Visit The Garden House for the latest details.

I’ll finish with my own favourites, the varieties where green has been replaced with yellow in the ovaries and the markings.  And what better to illustrate this than G.plicatus ‘Wendy’s Gold’, which flaunts itself close to the entrance to the garden.

Galanthus plicatus 'Wendy's Gold'
I'll be out at The Garden House throughout this winter to add more photos to the collection.  The images are available for purchase through the Alamy stock agency or by contacting me directly.  Many of the species and varieties are available through Matt Bishop's own website.  Matt Bishop's Snowdrops contains all the details and a link to his publications and detailed monograph on the genus (co authors A.Davis and John Grimshaw).