Snowdropping 2018

Four snowdrop gardens in one beautiful day was a little too much.  We started early, had a tight schedule, but even with the best intentions still didn’t have nearly enough time.  It was still a thrill though, and with brilliant sunshine combined with comfortable sweater weather we really enjoyed our annual Philly drop adventure.

galanthus nivalis

The common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) plus winter aconite (Eranthis hemelis) in the rooty, mossy shade of a large cherry tree.

We started at Paula’s and I couldn’t resist checking up on nearly every drop she has.  Of course that takes time since you don’t just look and move on, you instead admire it, ask where it’s from, how it’s doing…  to keep a long story short you’ll be relieved to know this is the ‘executive post’ and you’ll be spared from at least 99% of our comments and 99.9% of my photos.  You can thank me later.

galanthus kermode bear

Galanthus ‘Kermode Bear’.  One of the ‘bears’ coming out of Canada, an attractive ‘poc’ elwesii with six nice long outers and none of the usual shorter inners.

I did have to show ‘Kermode Bear’.  He’s a newer snowdrop out of the breeding work of Calvor P. in Victoria Canada.  All the Bears are poculiform elwesii which means they’re these nice, large snowdrops with ‘poc’ flowers… meaning the three normally short inner petals are expanded to be nearly as large as the three outers.  I’m a fan, just as I was a fan of many of Paula’s other drops, but the clock was ticking and we were already an hour off schedule by the time we arrived at our second garden.

masses of snowdrops

Sloped beds covered with sheets of snowdrops and winter aconite.  Hard to imagine this gardener began with an empty field and a few gifted clumps.

There were masses of snowdrops at our next garden.  Dozens of years of dividing and transplanting the original clumps can lead to amazing things, and we hit it at the exactly the right moment.  The February sunshine and warm temperatures had everything up and open, including the first hellebores.

hellebore

An amazing newer hellebore with huge flowers, clear rose with a darker center, and flowers facing out and up.  It was even nicer in person!

Again, I’m leaving out so many hellebore and snowdrop closeups it’s practically negligence, but I don’t want to cause too much suffering for those who don’t have quite as much tolerance or enthusiasm as we do.  Here’s a quick image to give you an idea of just how elaborate the rest of the grounds are.  It was intimidating to think of what a force of nature this gardener must be, considering she does all the maintenance herself and has been doing so for several decades now.  Inspiring is probably a better description.

garden design

A parterre off the house overlooking the open fields.  The homeowner admitted she was still in the process of trimming back the grasses.  I’m embarrassed to say mine look worse.

I’m afraid we overstayed our welcome, but our host was still remarkably gracious, and although we tried to hurry on our way the schedule still suffered further.  The light was getting lower by the time we reached our third garden, the home of the King of Cyclamen (in the US at least), Dr. John Lonsdale.

hardy cyclamen

Cyclamen coum in the greenhouse.  They’re perfectly hardy outdoors but these are all potted up and ready to go on a roadtrip to the next specialty plant sale.

John tolerates us very well.  We’re always late, we always stay too long, and we always ask way too many questions, and I can’t imagine our plant purchases and gifts of beer make up for the time we waste, but he’s yet to kick us out and so far he hasn’t put us to work.  Probably for the best of course, since I’m not sure we could be trusted with a weeder or trowel around so many treasures.

eranthis hyemalis

Snowdrops and several varieties of winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis).

To put it in perspective, there were probably more treasures seeded into the walkways than I have special things in my entire garden.  Give his online photo database a browse if you don’t believe the extent of his collection, there’s everything from the rarest species to the newest galanthius variety…. oh look at that, I hadn’t mentioned snowdrops for at least five sentences.  Here’s just one which can’t be left out, galanthus ‘Elsje Mitchell’.  She’s a new and extremely rare  snowdrop out of Europe, and rumor has it John might be potting up one or two for this weekend’s Galathus Gala.  The price remains to be seen, but even in Europe the price runs into several hundred dollars…

galanthus elsje Mitchell

Galanthus nivalis ‘Elsje Mitchell’.  A delicate Dutch snowdrop with fine markings both inside and out.

The sun was much lower by the time we started to make our way out to the car.  It was beautiful to see the witch hazel flowers glow in the low sunshine but sad to consider we were running out of time.  One more garden though.

hardy cactus

There’s never enough time to really check out the hardy cactus, yucca, and agaves which fill the side yard.  The light through the spines was amazing.

We got to our last garden as the light was fading and temperatures were beginning to drop.  The snowdrops were closing up for the night and I believe our host had almost given up on us ever getting there, but was still incredibly enthusiastic and accommodating in spite of the unreliability of his visitors.

hellebore planting

A beautiful garden filled with layers of snowdrops and hellebores, witch hazels and dogwoods, and a tall canopy of deciduous trees.

The light was fading and even though this garden also has masses of early spring bulbs and carefully designed vignettes there were far too many distracting snowdrops and interesting garden stories to pay attention to.  I love going here and could have easily spent another hour or two poking around.  I will spare you most of the rest of my dimly lit photos and leave you with just two more particularly wonderful scenes.

galanthus seraph philippe Andre Meyer

Galanthus ‘Seraph’ and ‘Philippe Andre Meyer’ in the protected nursery beds.

Before the most special drops go out into the open garden this gardener bulks them up in one of several nursery beds.  There were a number of treasures such as galanthus ‘Seraph’, “Philippe Andre Meyer’, and ‘Matt Bishop’ plus many, many others.  Some people are really nuts about snowdrops.  With this in mind I’ll leave you with one last drop who’s name really seemed appropriate for our adventure.

galanthus grave concern

I believe Galanthus ‘Grave Concern’ was discovered in a cemetery, but considering how much my wanted list grew on this trip I think it’s a perfect name to end this post on.

If you’ve made it this far I thank you,  just as I thank the wonderful people who allowed us to tie up their schedules for as long as we did.  On top of that I’d also like to point out that this upcoming week is just filled with a bonanza of other Philadelphia PA snowdropping events which amazingly coincide with the peak of this year’s season.

Here’s a quick rundown starting out with my most anticipted event, the >second annual Galanthus Gala< this Saturday (March 3rd) in Downingtown PA.  This celebration of snowdrops and other late winter flowers and shrubs is hosted by the plantsman, author and designer David Culp, and promises to be a wealth of plants, talks, sales, and all things snowdrop on this side of the Atlantic.  Free admission is a plus, but I challenge you to walk out again without some little treasure in your hands.

You might also want to consider stopping by >Carolyn’s Shade Gardens< in Bryn Mawr PA.  It’s about 35 minutes away from the Gala location and word is Carolyn is hosting an open garden Saturday, March 3, from 1:30 to 5 pm, and Sunday, March 4, from 1 to 4 pm.  Snowdrops and hellebores in full bloom plus plants available for sale.  The address is 325 South Roberts Road, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010, 610-525-4664.

If that isn’t enough, the >Philadelphia flower show< also kicks off this weekend and runs through the week, and to cap it all off >Winterthur Museum and Gardens< will be holding their annual ‘Bank to Bend’ lecture and plant sale on Saturday, March 10th.  The grounds should be perfectly full of snowdrops snd other spring bloomers, and the lecture by Dr. Peter Zale promises to be exceptional.

The season looks like it’s off to a good start, and as long as we survive this last burst of winter I think we’ll be in good shape.  Have a great weekend!

And it Begins…

February seems to be on its way to becoming the new March with the way these warm spells sneak in.  Today the afternoon high hit 75F (24C) and it was actually a bit unsettling to break a sweat in the garden knowing that the thermometer will drop down to freezing within the next few hours.  That could have been a serious concern, but obviously my thoughts on global warming vanished the minute I saw how much the snowdrops had come along.  I spent the entire afternoon trimming things, poking around for shoots, and admiring the early birds which had already come into bloom.

galanthus elwesii

Galanthus elwesii, the giant snowdrop.  One of the earliest to rear its head in my garden.

There are a lot of snowdrop favorites in this garden and one near the top is Galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’.  He’s a handsome snowdrop, and of course he’s looking exceptional this spring.

galanthus godfrey owen

Galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’, rising up fresh and clean amongst the winter wreckage of last season.

Godfrey is special for his doubled outer petals which make a brilliant star when fully open and looked at from above… this is how most sane people admire these tiny little late winter flowers.

galanthus godfrey owen

‘Godfrey Owen’ from above.

Another snowdrop which also shows some variation from the standard three outer petals, three inners, is ‘Natalie Garton’.  She’s a new one to the garden this spring but I wanted to show the interesting inner ‘extras’ which hang down from the middle of some of the flowers.  New is always special, so we’ll have to wait for time to tell if this strange inner remains just interesting or slowly becomes a classic.  (fyi for the snowdrop nerds, word is that this snowdrop is the same as a similar one named ‘Chris Sanders’.  Natalie G is now the accepted name).

galanthus natalie garton

Galanthus ‘Natalie Garton’ with her extra inner petals.  

Green snowdrops are also a thing.  ‘Rosemary Burnham’ is one of the classics and today she was looking fantastic.  She’s a Canadian originally and as such is one of a limited number of named North American snowdrops, but her true specialness lies in the solid green wash to her outer petals.  The flowers don’t jump out in the garden and are a little on the small size but I think they’re amazing.

galanthus rosemary burnham

Galanthus ‘Rosemary Burnham’ looking great on her first day open.

The majority of the other snowdrops are yet to come, but here’s one last plain old white one.

galanthus bill bishop

Galanthus ‘Bill Bishop’ has extra grande flowers on a short plant.  Of course it’s one of the favorites.

Keep your fingers crossed for a gentle ride into real spring.  The last few years have been on the harsh side as far as late winter flowers go, so I promise that even if 2018 is the most exceptional snowdrop season I’ll try to control myself.  I kind of recognize that not everyone is as obsessed with these short little plants and hopefully you won’t have to resort to praying for another tornado to save you from my snowdrop overkill!

That Wasn’t Smart 8.0

In hindsight this is the time of year when winter interest should take center stage, and the addition of conifers to the winter garden is probably the best way to keep the yard attractive during the bleakest of winter months.  I’ve heard that and have seen it in print as well, and even the most reluctant gardener will throw a few evergreens around the house as the first step in crafting an attractive landscape.   The message is out, and the majority of houses around here have a sensible foundation planting filled with neatly trimmed yews and junipers and whatever else can snuggle up to the house for year round appeal.

foundation border

Our own slightly less neat foundation plantings, with respectable holly, juniper, and chamaecyparis plantings lined up along the foundation. 

Why this gardener would chose December to remove a large juniper from a prominent front-of-the-house location is foolish enough, but to replace it with a small ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Amber Jubilee) is over into the not so smart category.  Reliable evergreen replaced with small clump of deciduous twigs… maybe you can understand that ‘uh-oh’ feeling I had as I stood there holding the saw and staring at a pile of juniper branches.

foundation border

If you look closely you might be able to see the newest addition to this foundation planting.  It’s right there at the center of the gaping hole which was created when the juniper was removed. 

In all honesty I never liked the juniper.  It made me itch and bored me and even though there were a thousand better things which I could be doing I suddenly needed to plant that ninebark at that minute even though I was right in the middle of putting up the Christmas lights.  As long as we’re opening up here, the Christmas lights were turning into a whole other project in themselves.

Christmas porch decoration

A Longwood inspired twig archway with lights.  Lots of lights.  

The reason I had the saw out in the first place was because I needed to take a walk in the woods and cut down and drag back enough birch trees to make a decent arch leading onto the porch.  I’m pretty sure a twig archway was what our holiday decorations have been lacking.

Speaking of things lacking, this blog has been lacking a snowdrop photo for months and since so many of you have been asking how the snowdrops are doing I guess it’s time to jump back into that world.  Here’s a batch of fall bloomers which my friend Paula shared with me a couple years ago.  They’re out on the driveway for this photo but have since moved into the garage in anticipation for the approaching cold… lows for next week show numbers around 10F (-12C) and that’s just not appropriate for such an innocent little flower… or for the box of tulip bulbs which just showed up on the doorstep this afternoon.

fall snowdrops

Fall blooming giant snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii) with a nice green pattern to the inners.  

If pushed I’d have to admit that no one has actually asked about the snowdrops, but I’m sure they were wondering and I didn’t want to rudely ignore that.

Now I’m off to check out something I can’t even ignore for a minute.  Pamela at Pam’s English Garden has put up the post detailing her own recent visit to Longwood Gardens.  I knew she was there within a few days of my own visit and I’ve been looking forward to seeing her own impressions of the decorations.  I hope she doesn’t point out a bunch of cool things which I missed!

Snowdropping 2017

Rather than face 9 inches of snow and a 12F (-11C) low lets take a trip back to just four days ago when the springtime warmth brought on an emergency trip to enjoy this year’s first snowdrop trip.  It’s early of course, but we were on a mission this time and with the thermometer peaking at 60F (15C) it was now or never.  The mission was to visit Dr. John Lonsdale at Edgewood Gardens, and take a tour of his overflowing snowdrop and cyclamen greenhouses before the warm weather set all the flowers to seed.  We were not disappointed.

galanthus and cyclamen

Snowdrops and hardy cyclamen filling the greenhouse benches.

John lives and gardens in Exton, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia and from the looks of things you’d never guess he has yet to quit his day job.  These thousands of drops and bulbs (plus about a billion other plants spread out across his yard) are just a passionate hobby and sideline which is Edgewood Gardens.  You may already know this since he is a regular feature at garden events and lectures up and down the East coast, but to see his garden and hear him talk you would think for sure he lives the life of a full time nurseryman.

galanthus homersfield

Galanthus ‘Homersfield’ in the Lonsdale greenhouse.

I have plenty of pictures here and will likely ramble on too long so to keep things focused I’ll just add that John will be putting out his first snowdrop sales list this summer, and if you’re even just slightly interested in seeing what drops might be available send him an email via his Edgewood Gardens website.

forced snowdrops

I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I thought.  Most of my visit was spent poking through the benches admiring all the characteristics and nuances that a plain little green and white winter flowering bulb can give.

John may be growing a few extra bulbs for sale, but it doesn’t take more than a walk up his driveway to recognize he’s plant obsessed with a weakness towards collecting.

potted snowdrops

Hundreds of carefully inventoried and labeled pots fill every square inch.

The full range of snowdrops is represented in the greenhouse, selections from seed grown species right alongside some of the most coveted European varieties, many of which are nearly impossible to find on either side of the Atlantic.  This is even more impressive when you consider the cost and complications which are involved in bringing these plants into the States legally (something you’ll quickly notice when browsing overseas sources).

galanthus green tear

An all green snowdrop, Galanthus ‘Green Tear’, is one of those drops which broke records a few years ago when first offered on eBay.  Someone thought $500 for a single bulb was just right for feeding their obsession.

When they’re all together like this it’s hard to pick out favorites…. or even distinguish one white drop from another, but a few stand out even to a beginner like myself.

galanthus diggory

The puffy pantaloons look of Galanthus ‘Diggory’ (pantaloons as in pants, not the twenty one pilots song)

Travel is supposed to broaden the mind but I’m afraid all this trip did was make my snowdrop obsession worse.  I picked up several new names to add to the want-list…

galanthus duckie

Galanthus ‘Duckie’ on the left and top.  I loved the wide flat petals.

galanthus moortown

I also like how the green mark inside Galanthus ‘Moortown’ bleeds up a bit and stains the inside.  Plus it’s a nice big sturdy drop 🙂

galanthus green mile

Galanthus ‘Green Mile’, another sought after, deeply saturated green snowdrop.

Ok, so that might be plenty of snowdrops, but before we leave the greenhouse the hardy Cyclamen coum deserve some attention as well.  Not to pat myself on the back too strongly, but these are the same plants which John offers for sale through his website, and somehow through a remarkable feat of self control I managed to limit myself to just four carefully selected plants.

cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum at their peak in the greenhouse.  It will be another few weeks before the ones I have here in my own garden begin to flower, and weather permitting they will be just as nice.

There were also plenty of seedlings coming along for future sales.

hardy cyclamen seedlings

Various hardy and not so hardy cyclamen seedlings coming along in the “other” greenhouse.   If you look closely you can even see some of the cool purple centered C hederifolium coming along in the center of the photo.  Even the little babies color up!

… and that’s just in the greenhouses.  Because of the exceptional temperatures things were pushing ahead outside as well.

colchicum kesselringii

The absolutely perfect Colchicum kesselringii, a late winter flowering relative of the more common fall blooming colcicum.

adonis amurensis

The first of the Adonis amurensis were coming up to take advantage of the sun.

And cactus.  I barely mentioned the cactus beds, but there they were looking as if they were growing a few hundred miles West and South of this Philly garden.

purple opuntia

An opuntia (prickly pear) which wrinkles up and takes on an unusual purple color once temperatures fall.  I wonder if it blooms as nicely as the regular version, the spines sure do look just as fierce!

Oh and I’m sure you’re done with snowdrops, but there were more outside as well, both in bloom and just beginning to sprout.

galanthus Mrs Macnamara

I believe this is Galanthus ‘Mrs Macnamara’, a perfect beauty and surprisingly hardy and early.  Word is this bunch has been going strong for a couple weeks already, and still looks this good.

Hellebores were also just beginning.

helleborus niger

A few of many Helleborus niger (Christmas rose) which were coming up around the garden.  Here on the slope they looked absolutely perfect.

Even a few of the trees and shrubs were showing signs of life.  The witch hazels (Hamamelis) were in bloom all over the gardens, but the delicate flowers of the Japanese plum (Prunus mume) really look too delicate for a Pennsylvania February.

prunus mume

Prunus mume.  Dr. Lonsdale told me the cultivar but at that point I’m pretty sure my brain was way too full to retain any lengthy Japanese names.

I could easily spend all day or another day at Edgewood Gardens, but if you’re at all familiar with our Philly snowdrop jaunts you’ll know we always fit in way too much for the still short days.  Before our greenhouse visit we happily dropped an hour and a half at a local park to again admire the sheets of naturalized winter aconite (Eranthis Hyemalis) which grow there.

naturalized eranthis bulbs

The forest floor was buzzing with hundreds of honeybees taking advantage of these first flowers of 2017.

We even managed to find a few snowdrops just coming up.  What a perfect combination, and quite a contrast to the deer chewed pachysandra, weeds and brambles.

naturalized eranthis bulbs

Naturalized eranthis and snowdrop bulbs.  Given a few acres and about 150 years and you might also have a similar show.

We were so lucky with the weather this year.  Snowdropping in February is one thing, doing it in short sleeves is unheard of even in the warmest of years.  Hopefully when March rolls around and it’s time to head north to visit Hitch Lyman and Temple Gardens we will be just as lucky.  History says otherwise though.

playing in the snow

Temperatures dropped to normal within 24 hours of our visit and we finally got a good coating of snow to cover up any signs of spring.  It now looks more normal for February, but that doesn’t explain why the kids can’t just go sledding in their snow pants like everyone else.

As usual a special thanks goes out to Paula for her annual enthusiasm for these trips, and also a big thanks goes out to Dr. Lonsdale for being so generous with his time, his knowledge and also his garden.  Truth be told I may have just kind of invited myself over that day, but you would never have guessed it by how warmly I was received by both John and by his other (more scheduled) visitors.  It was great getting to see everyone and I hope we do this again!