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Plant writings, gardening thoughts & observations of Paul Hervey - Brookes, Award Winning Garden Designer & Plantsman.
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Sunday, 10 January 2010

Snowdrop Family

For those of you who know that our nursery and design business is based at the Rococo Garden Painswick, which is 928ft above sea level, and yes covered in snow currently, you will also know that the Rococo Garden is famous for its snowdrops.  The woodlands dating back to the 18th Century are covered in the 1000’s.  There are some unusual varieties with the first plantings taking in place in the Victorian period.

(Photo: The View From Painswick Beacon)
Before I post about snowdrop’s and the current craze for them I wanted to talk about the family of plants they belong to, Amaryillidaceae, and at first glance they don’t share to much in common with Amarylllis, the genus the family takes its name from.  In fact there are sixty genera and across the world 800 species which belong to this group.  


Some of them are well known, from Narcissus, Crinum, Clivia, Leucojum, Nerine, Eucharis and Sternbergia.  The family is therefore mainly bulbous, although Clivia is tuberous (a rare occurrence in the family) and they are often deciduous in habit.  The most diverse range of genera belonging to the family is found in Peru, where you will find treasures such as Clianthus


(Photo: Clianthus variegatus)
These bulbous perennials, the size of a golf ball produce long rich green strap like leaves and on Clianthus variegatus, produce clusters of hanging ivory flowers with green petals.  They prefer pot culture in the United Kingdom, protection from frost, humus rich soils and partial shade.  A slightly more brash, and somewhat boring orange can be found in the flower of Clianthus coccineus.  Another Peruvian native you will find in many alpine houses is Zephyranthes, these little bulbs produce open starry flowers in a range of colours.  Zephyranthes primulina, native to Mexico,  can be found flowering from April until October when grown in cultivation.  In the wild it needs a drought to flower which is a shame as its soft lemon flowers are both delicate and cheering to look at.



(Photo:Zephyranthes primulina)
Amaryillidaceae was first described, or grouped scientifically by French naturalist Jean Henri Jaume Saint-Hilaire in 1805. The name Amaryllis comes from descriptions, by Theocritus, Virgil and Ovid of a beautiful sheperdess.  The family is closely related to Alliums, Alliaceae and Agapanthus, Agapanthaceae.



(Photo:Heamanthus albiflos)
A South African genus I quite like the history of is Haemanthus.  First described by Linnaeus in 1753, they are a genus of about 22 species.  The genus was illustrated in 1797 in a series of paintings made at the Schonbrunn, bring it to popular attention.
Heamanthus albiflos in one of the most famous, being an evergreen bulb extremely tolerant of neglect.  In its natural habit it prefers cool shady coastal spots.  Sitting high in the soil up to half of the bulb can be exposed and green.  The leaves are produced in pairs and may be covered in tiny soft hairs and occasionally has yellow spots on the underneath.  It produces two leaves annually.  Perhaps the most unusual aspect are the flowers looking more like artists brushes dipped in golden paint.  These are produced from April to July.  In the United Kingdom this is generally grown as a houseplant, which it quite enjoys or in a heated conservatory.  It will produce offsets which are best removed after the flowering period.


These warm climate bulbs almost make me forget that the countryside around me is covered in a thick layer of snow.  However being a gardener the snow becomes very quickly, a beautiful nuisance.  After a long cold winter I am eager for the signs of spring and the burst of buds.  Even the robin’s, blue-tit’s and woodpecker at the nursery are rather hoping for an improvement in the current conditions.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

What an unusual selection of plants, I would never have associated them with snowdrops.

Mary Johnson said...

Paul and Sean, just wanted to say the nursery is looking stunning even though it is covered in snow, what a transformation from last year! My husband and I are looking forward to the spring and seeing what plants you are going to offer this year. Mary

Edith Hope said...

I was hoping to visit the garden at the weekend but, as I would have had to travel some distance, was put off by the snow. My concern is that the paths may not be very safe. Such a pity since your plant list is very tempting. Still, there are always other times.

patientgardener said...

Glad to stumble over your blog on Blotanical. I am planning to visit Painswick to see the snowdrops, not a snowdrop collector but my blogging friend Veg Plotting is so we hope to visit in February. Hadnt realised there was a nursery so this has really peaked my interest

Paul Hervey-Brookes said...

Hello Patient Gardener, Edith & Mary. The best time for Snowdrops is February but the Trust have a website, which I bet you know, and they keep it up to date at this time of year to make sure people know the best time for the snowdrops. Do let me know when you are planning to come up and I will try to make sure I am here and say hello to you both.

All the best, Paul.

Liza said...

Gorgeous photos, thanks for sharing. I, too, found you through blotanical.

Edith Hope said...

Thank you so much for your helpful advice about the best time for Snowdrops. New to blogging, and all things technological, I had not thought to look at the Trust's website before now.

Encouraged by friends I have just begun writing about my own garden, in London, and have had to confess about not yet having planted my tulip bulbs! I can only imagine that with your nursery and garden design business you must be literally snowed under!!

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