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.
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.
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.