Throughout the season, organisers make a real effort to keep the emphasis on horticulture. Lifestyle, food and craft shopping are an essential feature for many visitors but the heart of every show relies, for its integrity, on our independent nurseries: Hartside Nurseries at Harrogate or Dysons Salvias at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show for instance.
For many tourist attractions, our gardens included, Chatsworth sets the gold standard for tourists and visitors seeking an excellent customer experience. I love porcelain and bone china and, of course, I am potty about plants so this was a dream combination for me.
Despite the teething problems (traffic, dealing with the extremes of british weather and untested structures,) this new show ought to become a firm fixture in the show calendar. It was a sell out, the setting was unbeatable and some big names featured in the exhibitors and show garden areas.
Trends in Show Gardens
The trend seen at RHS Chelsea continued at Chatsworth; stylised recreations of pastures, uplands and shady copses were everywhere. This is great news for us as it is a style of gardening that we embrace. It’s wild gardening in the best sense. It is floral, creates complex tapestries that take a while to look at and take in and, crucially, it also encourages the small things to thrive in the garden.
‘Natural gardens’ like these create a peaceful atmosphere, increased birdsong and, with so much wild activity, they encourage the visitor or gardener to feel they are part of something and not merely an observer. Chemicals, in most cases, become unnecessary. It’s not a low maintenance option and hand weeding is essential from early spring until mid july. It’s good to see the RHS and garden designers helping to explain to some garden visitors that wild flowers are not ‘weeds’.
Snowdrops grow from a bulb. They have a small white flower (almost always just one to a stem) and strappy green leaves. They grow to 4″-8″ high.
When you start growing snowdrops, the two forms you are most likely to come across are Galanthus nivalis (the single snowdrop – with just 3 interior petals) and Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Flore Pleno’ (the double snowdrop -packed with interior petals.) If you see snowdrops flowering in January, with big leaves and flowers, they are probably a species called Galanthus elwesii.
The majority of snowdrops flower in February. This is when you will see them in churchyards, on the side of the road or nestling under hedges. They have become semi-naturalised in the UK spreading out from gardens and even rubbish dumps (where a bulb has been thrown out.)
It’s worth considering growing snowdrops for their scent. In order to attract the few insects on the wing in February, the flowers need to send a very strong signal that they are here, so they are scented. The common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, has a honey scent that is delicious on a sunny day; you can cut the flowers and put them in a posy vase to appreciate them in a warm house. We offer a beautifully wrapped bunch of these snowdrops in our online shop.
When and where to buy snowdrops
Traditionally you should order your bulbs ‘in the green’ for delivery in March. This means they arrive after the plant has flowered but while the leaves are still green.
Mail order companies will deliver hundreds of the common varieties for amazing value or you can order just one bulb and pay hundreds of pounds.We sell a small range from the gardens in our online shop.
The RHS regional shows and specialist snowdrop events are excellent places to find and order unusual snowdrop bulbs.
Visit gardens in February, including those open just for snowdrops, where you will find a range of spring bulbs for sale. Wikipedia offers a good place to start looking for snowdrop gardens to visit.
Positioning your bulbs
Snowdrops will flower under hedges, in short grass, in containers and in flower beds. Anywhere not too dry and where the winter light catches them; they will flower. Think about where you have seen snowdrops growing in other gardens or in the countryside. This will give you an idea as to the kind of soil, aspect and other conditions that they need to grow. In a small garden, plant them under a twiggy shrub.
Looking after your snowdrops
Plant your snowdrops in good friable soil and add plenty of sand or grit to help with drainage if you garden on a clay (sticky) soil. Plant them deeply, allowing only the green part of the leaves to show above ground.
The leaves are important as they will be out from January to April and will gather energy from the sun to take back into the bulb for next year’s flowers. This means that, after flowering, you need to leave the leaves alone. They will wither and die back by May and the bulb will now just sit and do nothing until Autumn when the process starts again.
You can plant summer flowering perennials in the empty space; the bulbs won’t mind. They are very relaxed about the roots of other plants and may even grow through them in the spring.
Once you have one or two bulbs, they will start to form more bulbs underground. By lifting (ie digging up) the bulbs in the spring (after they have flowered but while the leaves are still green) and splitting them into individual bulbs and replanting separately, you will never have to buy another snowdrop!
Feeding and aftercare
If snowdrops are happy, very little care is needed. One of the best conditioners for the soil and your snowdrops is the leaf litter that falls from the trees above every year. In containers, you can imitate this by scraping off the top few centimetres and applying a new layer of compost.
If your soil is hungry, you can help to boost your snowdrops’ performance by applying a slow release fertiliser in autumn and gently forking it in to the soil. Obviously, once the shoots appear this is much harder to do. Splitting the bulbs to prevent congestion will also improve the number of flowers in a clump.
Obviously we spend all year working with gardening products and talking to thousands of keen gardeners who visit each year. So here is a proper list of present experiences and gift ideas for the garden that real gardeners will love.
Using this guide: there are lots of links to the relevant pages throughout this blog. If you click on the product name they will open in a new page so you can still return to the guide by clicking on the tab at the top of your browser.
New to us this year is this fantastic propagator which has given us easy new plants FREE all year. This domestic misting propagator fills the gap between fiddling around with plastic bags on pots and the commercial propagating units. We have loved using this, so much so that we have bought another, larger version and highly recommend it.
Plants have rooted in our propagator in less than two weeks.
Gloves you can work with all day in the garden and still have clean hands that haven’t been stung. They fit very closely, somewhere between surgical and washing up gloves so you can still feel what you are doing and we use them every day.
This is top of my Christmas presents for gardeners list. A whopper of a book containing all you need to know about the plants in your garden and the ones you plan to buy. Easy to navigate, this is an indispensable reference guide that lists over 15,000 plants and is suitable for all levels of gardeners and horticulturalists. Makes great reading over the winter!
Something a bit different for someone who loves gardening but perhaps is renting, moving or has all the kit! Join our botanical art course this spring focussing on snowdrops. We ran a similar workshop in the autumn with the same tutor and it was brilliantly received by the people on the course, so here is one specifically about snowdrops.
If you are thinking of sending flowers by post in late winter, our snowdrops by post make a fantastic (and very good value) alternative and they last a lifetime. Beautifully wrapped they come with information on getting the best out of your snowdrops including planting out in the garden after they have finished flowering.
We are members of the Historic Houses Association despite the fact that most our house has been pulled down! The Association has over 1600 properties and their season ticket allows you to visit over 300 of them for free. The magazine also offers trips to houses that are almost never open and most have gardens that are maintained by the owners so you can find some brilliant, sometimes eccentric, places to visit throughout the UK.
For larger gardens, or if you are looking to give a gift to last a lifetime, how about a whole meadow? Gee Farnsworth is a garden designer friend who has established several meadows using specially designed turf and lots of bulbs! The pleasure of this present grows with each year as the flowers change. Gee is happy to talk you through the process before you commit. Below are a couple of pictures showing meadows maturing over time.
David Austin has been breeding roses for over half a century. His first rose Rosa ‘Constance Spry’ was introduced in 1961 and is still well worth growing. His roses are so recognisable that they are often called English Roses. Try Golden Celebration for an anniversary, or the dependable Gertrude Jekyll for a beautiful, good garden rose. Rosa ‘Mayflower’ is outstanding as a group plant in informal settings and ‘The Generous Gardener’ is simply beautiful. She will climb to about 2 metres.
An unusual rose garden in our rose meadow where we combine David Austin Roses with wildflowers. I included the image below so that you can see our custom made support for a new climbing rose on the right hand side.
We get asked about our rose supports a lot. Ours were made for us but Agriframes supply good value, solid steel structures ranging from fruit cages to a single stake. Obelisks from their Somerset range are particularly suitable for supporting roses but this umbrella form (also from the somerset range) is the type you need to provide a cascade of flowers and should create a similar effect to the climbing roses in our meadows.