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