There can be no doubt that, particularly as I write this piece in the first weeks of February 2011 when still well and truly hamstrung by the wintry weather, “momentary joy”, the emergence of snowdrops and winter aconites brings hope of the arrival of spring. Rather than offering just one plant of the month, I thought it appropriate to highlight two bulbous plants which will certainly delight the discerning gardener and beginner, alike.
My first choice is the very special snowdrop cultivar, Galanthus plicatus ‘Sophie North’. This outstanding plant was brought to the fore by Dr. Evelyn Stevens who gardens in Sherriffmuir by Dunblane. She has a quite remarkable garden with a national collection of Meconopsis, as well as a natural plantation of snowdrops in a woodland setting. I first brought a specimen of this snowdrop down to an RHS show in Westminster in 1996 from Evelyn and it immediately caught the attention of the snowdrop experts. At this time it was named Galanthus plicatus ssp. byzantinus, one of the most beautiful forms of this very distinct species originating in its native Turkey. This cultivar, which arose in Evelyn’s garden, was subsequently named in memory of one of the children killed in the Dunblane Primary School tragedy.
G. ‘Sophie North’ is a sturdy snowdrop of short stature with distinctly broad, glaucous leaves. What is so notable about the foliage is the inrolled margin of the leaf and combined with its large dumpy flowers, makes this an outstanding and choice snowdrop. Such are the crazy prices paid for the rarest snowdrop cultivars, that it is reassuring to be able to recommend one that is sensibly priced and, in my experience, a good grower and of good constitution.
My second choice is a plant that will associate admirably with the foregoing snowdrop. The winter aconite Eranthis hyemalis is native to France, Italy and the Balkan region where it can be found in deciduous woods and rocky terrain. The characteristic, yellow buttercup-like flowers are set against a frilly, bright green ruff of leaves. Winter aconites have been grown in British gardens for over 400 years and many of us will have our favourite places where they can be seen in vast sheets, seeding freely beneath deciduous trees and shrubs, often naturalised in short grass. I must point out that this little bulbous plant, for all its charming beauty, is one of the most poisonous plants we grow in our gardens.
During the past century there have been some attempts to raise hybrids between this species and its Turkish cousin, Eranthis cilicica. In 1923 a hybrid was raised by Mr. J.M.C. Hoog in Haarlem, The Netherlands and named E. x tubergenii ‘Guinea Gold’. As the botanists and taxonomists keep busy, a new name was borne and I believe the latest name for this pretty cultivar is, E. Hyemalis Cilicica Group ‘Guinea Gold’. What makes this cultivar stand out is the fact that it is completely sterile and therefore puts all its energy into forming a generous compact clump. Added to this quality is the distinct bronze-tinged foliage and larger flowers. When you purchase your plants either as dormant, dry little corms or growing plantlets, plant them out in a cool position with added leafmould or well-rotted garden compost and label clearly. Allow the plants to establish for a number of years before lifting it after flowering and carefully slicing the little gnarled corm in to a few pieces. I have it planted amongst snowdrops and Corydalis solida forms where the flowering association is a delight during the months of February and early March.
Both my recommendations for February can be sourced from the following nurseries:
Edrom Nurseries, 018907 71386
Christies Alpine Plant Nursery, 01575 572977
Kevock Garden Plants, 0131 454 0660