I have been taught a lesson, a hard and harsh gardening lesson, but I have survived it and all will be well.
Some years back a friend from Yorkshire, Alan Briggs, was staying with friends of his in Co. Wexford for the New Year and was intrigued to see snowdrops included in various posies around the house. He is an enthusiastic collector of snowdrops and was given some bulbs to bring home to grow in his own garden. I heard of them when he posted photographs on the Scottish Rock Garden Club website forum and he later sent some bulbs to me because I have a special interest in Irish snowdrops.
Alan had also passed them around to friends in England but they failed to thrive in each garden where they were planted. However, it simply romped away when planted in my garden and went from strength to strength year after year until I, surely, had a clump of 100 or more flowers but reports from Alan suggested that I might be the only person with a thriving planting.
Was I proud to have it so do well in my hands? Yes, I was and delighted but the whisper of the voice of Phylis Lady Moore rustled through my mind regularly and I knew that I had to follow her advice that “the best way to keep a plant is to give it away”. I knew that it was not a good idea to have all my eggs in the one basket, so to speak, and that the best way to ensure this Irish snowdrop – Galanthus ‘Longraigue’ after the house where is was found – continued to be grown was to give it to other gardeners.
Giving away snowdrops does not mean they are lost; they are simply being grown by friends and it is always possible to ask for a bulb from them should disaster strike. Paul Cutler, who is the Head Gardener at Altamont Gardens in Co. Carlow, and Robert Millar, who has his garden centre in the walled garden at Altamont, are both not only snowdrop enthusiasts but also have a special interest in Irish snowdrops so I gave each a few bulbs last summer.
Surely enough, disaster struck and it struck in the most dramatic and upsetting manner. This snowdrop, Galanthus ‘Longraigue’, was selected for inclusion in the “Heritage Irish Plants – Plandai Oidhreachta” project of the Irish Garden Plant Society and the Irish Society of Botanical Artists. Shevaun Doherty was to illustrate Galanthus ‘Longraigue’ and when I went to lift bulbs in mid winter to send on to her I came on a sight which sends dread into those who grow snowdrops – the orange and brown streaking of the foliage which shows that the dreadful Stagonospora curtisii was present. This is a fungal infection which can wipe out a planting of snowdrops in a single season. It is particularly insidious as it enters the clump at the time the foliage is dying down and is not discovered until the foliage begins to grow again by which time most bulbs will have been destroyed. Present restrictions on the chemicals we use means there is no effective treatment.
Of the 100 or so bulbs which had been so very beautiful last spring I now had a mere half dozen and these were very miserable. I lifted them with hope rather than confidence and sent them to Shevaun but it was immediately obvious to her that she couldn’t use them and all seemed lost. Robert Millar came to the rescue for the bulbs I had passed on to him had done wonderfully well, are now with Shevaun and will appear in the exhibition in autumn and it will be a special delight for me to see them. The wisdom on Lady Moore’s words had been borne out once again: “The best way to keep a plant is to give it away”
Don’t forget Snowdrop Week at Altamont Gardens between the 8th and the 15th of February and that Robert Millar will have a new and exciting selection of snowdrops for sale in the walled garden.