Are you a galanthophile? For me, a relatively new gardener, things could go either way: there’s still for me to develop the urge to collect rare, expensive snowdrop bulbs; or else galanthophilia may never take hold and I will be content to enjoy plain old G. nivalis dotting its pretty, native head around my borders for the rest of my life.
In fact, I am thrilled by any snowdrop, including nivalis, and I am not yet prepared to spend up to fifty pounds on a rare snowdrop that varies in tiny, almost indistinguishable ways. I say ‘not yet’, because it is just the sort of bandwagon I could see myself hopping on in later life.
Therefore it didn’t seem like too bad an idea to cultivate some prior knowledge by visiting a galanthophile’s garden, Shepherd House Garden, for their snowdrop weekend as part of the National Gardens Scheme. Shepherd House Gardens is a private garden of about one acre containing more than 70 different varieties of snowdrop, each one carefully labelled with name and distinguishing feature. [For a previous visit to Shepherd House Garden in early summer 2016, click here]
I studiously and obediently observed the snowdrops, trying to distinguish the minute differences between them. Some were obvious straight away: the yellow of the aptly named ‘Primrose Warburg’, for example; others less so: I tried in vain to see the scissors of ‘Daphne’s Scissors’, lifting the delicate heads and peering inside to no avail. It was only when I got home and started processing my photos that the scissors suddenly jumped out at me.
But for many of the varieties, the name was just a name. I couldn’t understand what had caused someone to notice that a snowdrop seedling found in a garden was a different variety from those snowdrops that surrounded it. It would take an avid galanthophile, studying each snowdrop that appeared, to spot the differences. It made me wonder about all the new snowdrop varieties popping up in the gardens of non-galanthophiles that go unnoticed. I mean, could I be unwittingly harbouring any rare snowdrops among my plain ordinary nivalis? There is one patch of snowdrops down by my Sarcococca that is slightly taller and came out much earlier than their compatriots. Is it a new variety, or just nivalis doing better in a more advantageous environment? I would have to compare it with about 1000 other varieties, using a magnifying glass. And in the end, even if it were a new variety, would the tiny variations matter to anyone except a collector of names?
I suppose these unappreciative questions mean that I am not, yet, a galanthophile, or possibly even one in the making. I am not much of a ‘details’ person, rather someone who appreciates the aesthetics of the bigger picture, a mass of snowdrops among winter aconites, or spreading under a tree whose leaves are bathed in pale sunlight, and in such idyllic vignettes the variety hardly matters, as long as the snowdrops spread wildly and enthusiastically.
Elsewhere in the garden, spring was making herself known. Crocuses, anemones, hellebores and dwarf irises made well placed spots and carpets of colour. A crab-apple hedge was bright with red crab-apples against the blue fence posts, cheerful urns of violas made unexpected appearances in shady corners, and early white blossom stood out against an ochre wall.
Shepherd House Garden remains one of my favourite retreats from the city. It maintains a feel of a private, family garden whilst elevating itself above the ordinary by the wit, art and imagination of its owners, the Frasers, who can usually be spied pottering about the garden among the visitors. It is open for charity at various times of year, as well as on Tuesdays and Thursdays during spring and early summer (see website for details of this year’s opening days).