Galanthophilia (and other charms of spring) at Shepherd House, Inveresk

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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]

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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.

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G. ‘Primrose Warburg’

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 compatriotsIs 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?

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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.

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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.

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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).

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32 Comments

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  1. Beautiful photos! I am with you on the galanthophilia; I can appreciate them individually for their prettiness, and they are even better in self- seeded carpets but in the first photo for example it was the Hellebore that stood out for me! I obviously lack the requisite subtlety to be a galanthophile, I’m too distracted by the bigger, showier flowers. My favourite photo of all though is those stunning anemones with the rain drops on.

    • Oh yes, those anemones were gorgeous, weren’t they. And that stray hellebore photobombing the snowdrops was wonderful. I myself do prefer subtler flowers to the more showy ones, but mainly I just appreciate cohesion of style, no matter what types and kinds of flowers and plants are chosen.

  2. Complete spring garden envy…and great photos too.

  3. The flowers are beautiful. I never realized there were so many varieties. I’m only familiar with tall, that we grow in Texas and short ones up north.

  4. What a wonderful place! Thanks for such a great tour and a nice text! When it comes to snowdrops, I am in the same situation.

  5. Such a beautiful garden. I will put it on my list next time I am in Scotland.

  6. Always love your photos, and that garden – spectacular. Wish I was there to see it with you. I am thinking you are more a generalist than a Galanthophile? I know I am. Of course, I am also nearsighted.

    • Yes, generalist is the word! I am nearsighted too, and find that when my eyesight is uncorrected I can peer at tiny details very closely, which could be an advantage.

      • Love it, I fall into the generalist category and like a little bit of almost anything – possible exception varigated yellow plants. As far as the nearsightedness goes, once you hit bifocal age it is hard to decide between contacts and glasses when you want to read the ketchup bottle ingredients.

  7. Like you, while I can appreciate a collector’s ardor, I’m happy without the details on snowdrops. Just seeing the abundance of spring is enough. Lucky you to be so close to such a marvelous garden, Joanna!

    • Thank you Eliza … I do feel lucky to be near to this garden, and have resolved to search around for other small, private gardens open to the public as they have such a wonderful feel to them. The lone artist’s prerogative leading to tight coherence to his or her theme rather than groups of municipal workers compromising between themselves.

      • Yes!
        We have something similar here called the Garden Conservancy, where private gardens are open on select days. It is a treat to see these gardens not generally open to the public.

  8. It’s a glorious garden! I think I probably sit someone near you on the galanthophile spectrum although I have bought a few of the less eye wateringly expense cultivars. G nivalis en masse will always do it for me too. I love some of the combos, like the snowdrops with the hellebore and aconites.

    • I have a feeling that when we finally decide to stay put in one place I may splash out on some interesting varieties of snowdrop. I would hate to plant something pricey and then be forced to dig around the garden trying to find it if we were moving house in July, for example! Snowdrops do look fantastic paired with other plants, especially darker-leaved plants, for the contrast.

  9. Oh what a glorious garden, at both times of year that you visited – one to remember when when we are in the locality at an appropriate time of year

  10. You want to see a miracle, just look at flowers.

  11. It puzzles me how galanthophiles manage to keep their snowdrops separate. Many years ago I bought a few double snowdrops (some sort of elwesii I think) and put them in my snowdrop place. Now I have no other sort, the single ones have intermarried and no longer exist, only some of the double ones are rather strange and spikey. I love them anyway. But of your pictures, who could not love the blue anemone best? The scissors are very fetching, too.

    • Oh dear… well I suppose you could keep them in labelled pots? As long as you remembered to water them throughout the year. The spikey ones could be a new variety: Galanthus ‘Earth Mother’. You could make a fortune. I’d definitely buy one or two bulbs of that.

  12. What a beautiful spring garden. I love the snowdrops, and the yellow one is pretty, the scissors fun and I can see why someone might want to collect them, but not me. I did once collect regal pelargoniums, but then I did live in South Africa at the time and were easy to find. I think we reached 27 varieties, mainly some sort of ‘slam’ like Lavender Grand Slam! Actually my favourite of all your fab photos is the blue anemones! Now I did have some of those in a pot, but haven’t seen any sign of them this year. Must be time to buy some more!

    • Thank you Jude – yes, the anemones do seem to be popular! I have some darling little anemones coming up that I planted in autumn, very shy ones, which I am hoping will spread enthusiastically when they have stopped feeling so self-conscious. I do hope yours show up somewhere, but it’s always nice to treat oneself to new plants. The regal pelargoniums (which I’ve just had to look up) must have looked splendid en masse!

  13. I admit to a passion for snowdrops but gradually some of those that require a photograph to comprehend the point of the name have lost a certain attraction. That said, those with clear markings, or distinct yellow, or conspicuous size will win out. (“Big Boy” is beautiful and big and worth forking out for.) I’ve never visited Shepherd House … yet.

    • Agreed – the ones that are clearly different are worth another look, especially if their shape, size or colour complements a companion plant. I could imagine a pot of yellow snowdrops and purple anemones or violas, for example. Since there are giant snowdrops, are there correspondingly miniature ones?

  14. What a fabulous garden to visit Joanna at whatever time of year. I believe that the lady of the house is a talented artist. I must confess to having quite a few named snowdrops which have been acquired over the years. Besotted though I am I wouldn’t dream of spending fifty pounds on a snowdrop – the expensive ones come down in price if you are prepared to be patient and wait a few years 🙂 I’ve also met some fellow addicts so swaps ensue which is much kinder on the purse strings.

    • Oh yes, Mrs Fraser is foremost an artist, and the garden was designed with an artist’s eye. Her prints and cards are for sale in the garden, and make good birthday cards for aunts. A snowdrop swap with fellow addicts sounds fun. No need for confession… I can quite see how the passion for collecting these beauties could envelope someone!

  15. I’ve never visited gardens with lots of snowdrops but I could imagine morphing into a Galanthophile because snowdrops are so fascinating. If I became a collector, I would have difficulty deciding which plant. Perhaps Hellebores? Or Salvia? Or.. Amelia

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