Snowdropping ’22

It snowed Wednesday.  It’s snowing today.  Time to revisit last weekend when winter thought it would be funny to go North for a day and see what happens.  Now don’t go thinking that spring exploded around this end of Pennsylvania in just one day.  For that to happen it’s going to take a string of warmer days and we’re no there yet (maybe next week?), for this glimpse of spring we needed to crack open the kid’s college fund, fill the tank with gas, and head down South to the outskirts of Philly.  Spring is revving up down there and it was the perfect time for Paula and I to celebrate our annual Snowdropping Day!

Scott arboretum snowdrops

Snowdrops and winter aconite (Galanthus and Eranthis hyemalis) around the Scott Arboretum

It was a warm forecast with just a trace of rain in the morning, so of course it was pouring when we arrived at our first stop.  Rumor had it that Swarthmore College’s Scott Arboretum is rich with early spring bloomers and plenty of Witch Hazel (Hamamelis), and that of course turned out to be true.  It also turned out that I was able to cross off a bucket list plant sighting by seeing Leucojum vernum ‘Gertrude Wister’ growing lustily in what is rumored to be its garden of origin, the Wister Garden of the Scott Arb.  This double Leucojum (actually a fused flower, not double) still needs to grow in my garden, but for now it is doing very well for itself closer to home.

leucojum gertrude wister

A fantastic clump of Leucojum ‘Gertrude Wister’ at the Scott Arboretum.

Gertrude Wister by the way is a name it wouldn’t hurt knowing more about.  She was an accomplished horticulturalist and author in both the Philly area and nationally and instrumental in promoting plants and horticulture in the mid 1900’s.  You can read more >here<.

Scott arboretum snowdrops

Winter garden standards surrounding the arboretum headquarters.

So with Leucojum ‘Gertrude Wister’ checked off the list we continued to explore the grounds while enjoying the soft and then hearty drizzle.  It seems only right that our snowdrop day would bring on precipitation.

Scott arboretum snowdrops

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) filling in amongst the trunks of a Metasequoia allee.  Very nice if you ask me.

Actually the rain wasn’t too bad.  I had a hat after all, so that at least kept my hair as stylish as usual.

Scott arboretum snowdrops

Snowdrops, hellebores, and Rohdea japonica make for a nice groundcover under the dawn redwoods.

The rest of the visit was a ‘but wait, there’s more’ tour as we wandered from one witch hazel to the next.  They were perfect and the rain only made their color shine more warmly, even when it stopped for a minute here and there.

hamamelis angelly strawberries and cream westerstede

From left to right, Hamamelis ‘Angelly’, ‘Westerstede’, and ‘Strawberries and Cream’

hamamelis strawberries and cream

From pictures and descriptions I did not think ‘Strawberries and Cream’ would be a color I’d enjoy, but with a dark background and complimented by the yellows, it drew me in.

Growers of the spring blooming, Asian, witch hazels are probably aware that one of the more common problems is their tendency to hold onto last year’s dried and browned foliage.  Some people claim to not mind but I prefer the leafless look, and have been neurotic about searching out hints as to which ones tend to hold leaves and what cultural conditions encourage leaf drop.  I don’t know if I have any answers but we did see a few cultivars which held firm to last year’s leaves.

hammemelis doerak

Actually I didn’t mind the bright orange of Hamamelis ‘Doerak’ against the rich brown of the wet leaves, but dry it out and I’m not sure I’d feel the same.  Also there was another reddish cultivar who’s flowers were lost amongst the leaves, so I’m always going to place my vote for leaves-which-drop cultivars, and pass on this one.

Witch hazels are oddly rare in my neck of the woods, I suspect because they bloom prior to ‘go out to the nursery and buy all the plants for my yard’ day and people just don’t know about them, but slowly I’m finding plants and making a witch hazel show happen here.  I’ve got reddish, orange, yellow, and need more of all but in the past I’ve been thumbing my nose at the ‘purple’ forms.  Stupid me to think they wouldn’t show up in the brown and gritty winter landscape, I saw some awesome examples and of course now I have to do even more searching (Broken Arrow, Forest Farm, and Rare Finds Nursery will lead off the search).

hamamelis tsukubana-kurenai

Hamamelis ‘Tsukubana-kurenai’.  I’m going out on a limb and suggesting this is a Japanese cultivar, and I believe I need this one.

A purple and another orange are just what I need.  The oranges are my favorites, and ‘Chris’ has just enough of an orange tint to thrill me.  I suspect it is named after the UK authority, collector and grower of witch hazels, Chris Lane, but I’m only guessing.  Like many things today I feel like I can just guess at things and once they’re in writing on the internet that’s valid enough, but I’m digressing now…  To sum it up here’s a >more qualified writeup on hamamelis< which you may want to look at.  One mislabeled photo does not disqualify all the other excellent information the article contains.

hamamelis chris

Hamamelis ‘Chris’.  Heavy flowering, large flowers, bold color.  I loved it.

Hmmm.  It seems like this might be a long post since I’m only about an hour or two into our day, but whatever.  We’re up to about four inches of new snow here today so it’s off to our second Swarthmore PA stop, Hedgleigh Spring, the gardens of author/horticulturalist Charles Cresson.

charles cresson garden

I noticed that this is a neighborhood of above average gardeners, but Charles’ front garden states it loudly with a sweep of naturalizing crocus tommasinianus and patches of self-sown snowdrops.

On our last visit to see the fall camellias, Charles made the casual comment that we should see all the spring bulbs filling the meadow along the stream.  Absolutely.  We set the date but I’m not sure if Charles really expected us to go through with it based on the look he gave us when we showed up.  I can’t believe it was the steady rain or our mostly soaked appearance because at least Paula had enough sense to bring an umbrella, I think it was explained later when Charles mentioned two phones suddenly began ringing the minute we pressed the doorbell.  All was well though and off we went!

hedgleigh spring hellebore

Some of the hellebores scattered throughout the grounds.  My favorites are always the yellows.

Charles donates a plethora of special seeds to (among others)the Mid Atlantic Hardy Plant Society seed exchange, and I always have to smile as I see plants here which I have seedlings of in my own garden.

hedgleigh spring hellebore

This ‘seafoam’ colored hellebore is one I have a few seedlings of.  It has a greenish color with the slightest blue cast and I hope some of mine pick up a similar shade.

Several camellia seedlings also have roots here.  Flowering was just starting but it still amazes me to see how vigorous these shrubs grow in this northern edge of their range.

hedgleigh spring camellia

The recent cold had only done a slight bit of damage, but the main show of camellias looked extremely promising.

There were quite a few other ‘wows’.  The winter blooming Iris unguicularis was one of them.  Perfectly formed flowers of rich colors were quite a surprise out in the open garden.

iris unguicularis

These Iris unguicularis had been enjoying the shelter of a clear plastic tote over the winter and I shall have to revive my own bucketing efforts because the results are absolutely worth it.

There were many Adonis cultivars as well.  Some were just sprouting, some were being troublesome, and some were just excellent.  In case you’re not in the know, Adonis amurensis is one of the earliest woodland-edge perennials to push up flowers in shades of yellow to red.  Trouble free in a spot it likes, it’s not always easy to find a spot it likes, and at prices which rival snowdrops, the heartbreak of a lost plant is only matched by the sting your wallet feels.

cresson adonis

Adonis in full bloom and quite happy.  Single yellow is affordable, anything which runs to double or deeper shades of orange will require mortgage refinancing.

But enough on silly expensive perennials.  We came to see little bulbs, and they were everywhere.  Patches of named forms, drifts of the most common types, and seedlings galore with all kinds of excellent markings to thrill a galanthophile’s heart.

hedgleigh spring snowdrops

Small early bulbs were throughout the gardens.  This is how I love them most, scattered and naturalized into comfortable patches.

Some of the patches were decades old and showed up all over, with the newest and rarest limited to just a few beds.  Nearly each bunch had a story to go with it and to hear Charles talk of the forms and where they came from was a who’s who of the local gardening community.

galanthus white dream

Galanthus ‘White Dream’ was the most special non-special drop I saw.  Amazing.  Plain and white and perfect.

But what we really came to see was the meadow which lies behind the garden fence.  When Paula got her first glimpse she grabbed my shoulder with that crazy look in her eyes which I of course never show and I was afraid she was about to jump the creek to get there.

hedgleigh spring snowdrops

The creek and meadow outside the garden proper.  Mostly native perennials and bulbs.  Lots of bulbs, from the earliest days of spring to the last days of fall.

Charles told us about the hours spent on knees digging and dividing and replanting clump after clump to spread snowdrops far and wide.  Bulbs from elsewhere were added and over the last forty years seedlings have matured and clumped up and added their own genetics.

hedgleigh spring snowdrops

Most of the galanthus are G. nivalis, G. elwesii, and hybrids between the two.  As usual crocus were everywhere.

We spent quite some time back there, first admiring the overall effect and then finally crouching down to examine anything and everything which looked specialer.

charles cresson garden

Charles and Paula inspecting the masses of daffodil sprouts and snowdrop blooms.

We found a bunch of cool things.  I suggested that we take the three best forms and name them Charles, Paula, and Frank and start spreading them around in honor of the day, but of course they thought I was joking.  Hah hah.  Of course I was…

prunus mume

Prunus mume, the Japanese Apricot blooming away back in the main garden

We finished the tour and then continued to overstay our welcome.  It had stopped raining and after I said how much I loved the Prunus mume and Charles said it self seeds all the time, we were all rooting around through the mulch looking for seedlings.  Our visit had really degenerated into what it always does, the schedule goes out the window and we end up dirty.

Eventually it was off to the next garden.  Matthew and Jamie Bricker were completely polite about us showing up at 5pm on a Sunday to drag them through the garden.  They’re about three years into a new garden and it’s astounding how much they’ve already accomplished in a garden which had to be wrestled back from overgrown neglect…. Plus three kids and plenty of home improvement projects… I was suddenly very insecure about my own questionable progress 🙂

bricker garden

Just a small slice of the Bricker garden. Snowdrops were already spreading into decent clumps all over the garden, all nicely mulched with a plethora of sweet gum balls from the mature sweet gum trees (Liquidambar)

This is where the pictures end.  We ran out of light before we ran through our hosts’ patience but it was great seeing how far this garden had already grown and the shape it was taking.  We will hopefully be back.  The Brickers are putting together an outstanding snowdrop collection and for local gardeners and Gala attendees they’re already a great source for potted extras.  Once he gets more settled into the new spot I suspect he won’t mind being listed as a source, but for now… well it never hurts to ask 😉 I’m sure you’ll be able to find him on Facebook.

Scott arboretum snowdrops

Snowdrops (‘Brenda Troyle’ actually) in the dark.  It was still far too warm (and dry now) to call it a night.

I don’t know if Paula thought I was joking when I said we were still going to get through her garden by flashlight, but we did.  It was warm, the drops were open and glowing, and the wind had settled down completely.  For the first few minutes the rustling in the garden was a bit eerie but then we realized it was all the nightcrawlers brought up by the rain and active in the warmth and it was slightly less creepy.  Even in the dark by flashlight with giant earthworms stalking us it was a perfect end to the day.  Her garden looks great as all our gardens did that day, and as usual our snowdropping day was an excellent start to the season.  Now if it would just stop snowing…

Thanks to our hosts, enjoy the season, and all the best!

31 comments on “Snowdropping ’22

  1. I enjoyed the tour. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Paddy Tobin says:

    Beautiful gardens and plants!

    • bittster says:

      They were, and now watch how quickly our gardens catch up to yours! We’ll have roses flowering in another week or so 😉

      • Paddy Tobin says:

        We planted bare-rooted roses only this week so it will be some time before we have roses in flower.

  3. Kerry says:

    Oh, how lovely! And giving me a glimmer of hope that spring will soon arrive around these parts. Here in Minnesota we’re still under a good 4 feet of snow!

    • bittster says:

      Oh gosh, four feet!? -and here I am being a baby complaining about a few inches! Hopefully you’ll see some progress now that the days are getting noticeably longer and the sun refreshingly stronger. We are just up out of the teens this morning and the birds are singing anyway. I think they know something.
      Hang in there!

  4. Eliza Waters says:

    A lovely holiday to celebrate. Charles’ naturalized garden is drool-worthy. If only I wasn’t such a garden slouch, imagine the garden I’d have after 30+ years?!

    • bittster says:

      Haha, yes, such a slouch you are! lol
      I spend plenty of time trying to fix mistakes around here, so sometimes it’s better to leave things be rather than plant a row of spruce seedlings thinking ‘I’ll. move them to a better spot next fall’ and then wonder where all the shade came from. It’s all fun though. Mostly… until you decide to do construction which requires a bulldozer running through your garden.

  5. TimC says:

    Oh, how envious I am! What a fabulous day. Thanks for the vicarious pleasures!

    • bittster says:

      It was fun, and thanks for sharing your garden just about every day! Someday I hope to ‘stop by’… but don’t get nervous yet, that’s not a warning lol

  6. Deborah Banks says:

    What a wonderful tour! Funny to hear you describe the Philly area as a distant mecca of warm weather. I think of you as part of it, because when I get to Allentown on the northeast extension, I feel I’m almost to Philly.
    BTW, a great source for young cheap Hamamelis cultivars is Cold Water Pond in Ithaca. Might be a compelling reason for you to come to the Garden Fair again this year… if they have it. 🙂

    • bittster says:

      Haha, I guess it’s not that far for me but it still feels like a tropical escape on some visits! Something about going through that tunnel, it’s like the snow melts and the sun comes out…. sometimes 😉
      Ugh, don’t mention Cold Water Pond. I was able to browse their offerings at the last Ithaca sale and I keep hoping to get back there again. Last summer I almost drove two and a half hours because they were planning to sell at a different farmer’s market… but at that point I could just make the three hour drive to the actual nursery. I think if they’re selling at the Rock Garden Conference I may just sneak up for the day as a volunteer which would be fun.
      Congrats on the article. Your primrose look amazing and what a good story!

      • Deborah Banks says:

        Thanks. It’s nothing compared to all the writing you post. I always enjoy your blog posts and all the photographs. How do you find the time?
        I hope you do come for part (or all?) of the conference. It will be a good time. I don’t know if Cold Water will be there but I heard Garden VIsions will be there which is exciting. I think it’s her last year selling epimediums.

      • Deborah Banks says:

        I just email John and Carol, and John answered back already. Yes, Cold Water Pond will be there!

  7. Pauline says:

    Many thanks for a wonderful tour of your snowdrop gardens, as well as the snowdrops, the witch hazels are amazing! What an amazing day you had!

    • bittster says:

      I can’t wait until my witch hazels grow up some and also put on a nice show. Growing conditions here are much less ‘ideal’ so it’s somewhat a struggle, but even a poor showing of color is excellent in early March. Thanks, we did have a fun day 🙂

  8. P says:

    A first in the annals of snowdrop adventure days, a night tour with very mild temperatures. Wonderful! And scary earthworms lol
    Thanks bud

    • bittster says:

      Thanks to you as well, we always have fun don’t we? Well maybe last year was less fun than usual… snow is ok, rain is annoying, but both on the same day? yuck.
      The earthworms made me jump more than just a few times 😉

  9. Steve Shaw says:

    Wow. You had me at Metasequoia allee.

    • bittster says:

      They were looking excellent and should only improve over the years. Metasequoia with snowdrops amongst the roots seems to be a thing in all the best gardens.

  10. Despite the rain, it looks like the two of you had a fabulous day. And how nice that you shared it with us. I keep hoping to get out to the Scott Arboretum. That Dawn Redwood allee alone would make it worth the trip.

    • bittster says:

      The rain was tolerable since the thermometer was supposed to get up near 70 (although it never did), it’s those cold sleety visits which can drag you down!
      We barely scratched the surface of Scott Arboretum, most of our visit was through the plantings amongst the buildings and we didn’t even venture out into the more open areas. Some summer day I hope to visit Scott, Tyler, and Morris which sounds excessive to have three arboreta so close together, but I guess that’s why they like to promote Philly as the garden capital.

      • Deborah Banks says:

        The Perennial Plant Conference is at Swarthmore every year in October (pre-COVID anyway), and they offer tours of the campus gardens for early birds. It’s always amazing, even in October.

  11. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    What a lovely day out. The ‘Gertude Wister’ was worth the drive. Nightcrawlers can be quite noisy. I have seen Robins eating earth worms lately. Bulking up for the nesting season. Love all of those Witch Hazels. Mine never seem to have as large blooms as are pictured here. I am envious when I see them like that. Hopefully your snow will melt off quick. Have a good week.

    • bittster says:

      This was the first time I’ve ever witnessed a night crawler spring frenzy, it was not at all what I was expecting during a snowdrop visit 🙂
      All of these witch hazels are the Asian types, the native forms bloom in the autumn and early winter and most are not as showy. They also are usually grown from grafts and I’ve seen it that the root stock takes over and the fancy part gets snothered.

  12. What a lovely day! I am so envious of all the things they have in bloom. My prunus (prunii? prunuses?) aren’t even thinking about flowering yet, or is my camellia. Even though next week is supposed to be in the 50s, those are April plants here. My witch hazel (Arnold Promise), snowdrops (not many) and eranthis are all that is open now.

  13. Cathy says:

    I really enjoyed this post and the gardens you visited! All those snowdrops and spring flowers are a heart-warming sight. Especially love that pink Prunus, and the witch hazels. Strawberries and Cream looks delicious, and the Japanese one too. I think I need another one now as well! Wishing you some milder weather Frank. And thanks for sharing!

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