There are quite a number of gardeners who put away their tools at the end of October and don’t reckon to get them out again until March. I would like to take them for a walk round my garden on the first day of February.
A week ago I couldn’t see a single crocus and now the cheerful little Crocus tomasinianus has come up all over the place and there are flowers from the palest lavender to deep pinky-lilac. I plant them in the grass round trees and I don’t really want them in flower beds and rock garden, in paving cracks or troughs where I grow treasures. They are prolific seeders but they must also be very quick workers to produce so many flowering bulbs in all parts of the garden. Unfortunately they root themselves deeply so that to extract them often means disturbing other things. I wouldn’t mind leaving them in some places, but this year’s singleton will be a clump next year—or so it seems—and the attendant foliage is too untidy to accept. I am assured that it doesn’t hurt the bulbs to take out the leaves by handfuls, and I am afraid that is what I do now. But all the disadvantages are forgotten when the sun shines on a February morning and hundreds of little flowers open their petals to reveal the colours glowing within and their bright orange stamens.
Snowdrops seem to come up overnight too. The large Galan- thus elwesii has been out for several weeks, but the little G. nivalis which grows in the grass under the apple trees weren’t showing at the beginning of the week. Now they are flowering on all sides, singles and doubles, and they are all lovely. The double G. n. Green Tip with green tips to its outer petals is fascinating, and so is the single snowdrop with outer petals marked with green, G. nivalis viriclapicis, which grows to 8″–to”.
The handsome G. nivalis S. Arnott isn’t one of the very early varieties but it comes out before February is far advanced. It has round flowers on stems that can be iz” high. The different forms of G. plicatus are many and even the extra width in their folded leaves can give them individual status. Many of these came to England from men serving in the Crimean War, and take their names from the gardens of recipients, G. plicatus Warham being one of the best.
Although I don’t really like the “yellow” snowdrops as well as the green ones, I should be upset if they did not reappear each year. The double form of G. lutescens Lady Elphinstone does far better in my garden than the single one and one or two bulbs growing in a trough have become a flourishing colony. The single one is in another trough and there are anxious moments until it appears, which it always does when my back is turned. But it doesn’t increase and there is still only one little snowdrop with a yellow petticoat.
The snowdrop called Straffan gets its name from the house on the River Anna Liffey where the Hon. Mrs. Barton was living in 1856. She received some bulbs from her brother, Lord Clarina, who was serving in the Crimea. One bulb had two flowers and was so much better than the others that it was picked out and from it all those grown today were raised. It is easy to distinguish with its habit of producing two stalks from each bulb. Slight variations have crept in over the years; the one that Mr. Bowles grew at Myddleton House goes under that name and there is the McMarney Straffan and others, for collectors get excited over the slightest difference; an extra touch of green or different length of petal or stem. Magnet has a long, curved pedicel so that it swings gracefully in the wind, and it too produces two stems from each bulb. The peculiarity of G. invalids scharloki is the divided spate, which stands up above the flower-like ears. It is one of the few snowdrops that has a temperament.
Some of the double snowdrops are delightful, and if possible they should be grown above eye level for their charm lies in the neatly arranged petals, which are really a work of art. Our little double form of nivalis always has a few extra crumpled petals which spoil the symmetry, but such charmers as G. Poe and Miss Hassell’s are exquisite in their workmanship. The greener there is on the petals the more interesting the snowdrop. In Merlin, the inner petals are all green, and in Coles- bourne, which opens a little later, an edging of white finishes the all-green inner petals. And so it goes on, with G. virescens having green both inside and out, a miniature which Mr. Bowles called Norfolk and many others.
The little woodland snowdrops, plain G. nivalis, look lovely growing in grass but the named ones must be labelled, and these I can study best in little colonies growing in pockets on the shady banks of my ditch. The brilliant crimson leaves of Bergenia delavayi and purpurascens are attractive with the snowdrops, the large shiny foliage of Fatshedera lkei is lovely with the large glaucous leaves and glistening flowers of G. elwesii, and the spotted leaves and little blue and pink flowers of pulmonaria seem to go with snowdrops, and so do the small ivies, some of which are variegated. The silver-leaved pulmonaria (which I call P. argentea to identify it) makes a good companion for G. ik.ariae, which has green leaves.