Tuesday, 21 February 2012


'What news?  What news in this our tottering State?' asked the First Baron Hastings, and with good reason.  England was as broke, in 1483, as Greece is now and although Lord H was a vital link between the bankrupt monarchy and London's rich city bankers, Richard of Gloucester chopped off his head.  Ungrateful bastard!  

A kangaroo court convicted poor old Hastings on a series of ludicrously trumped up charges, including witchcraft and adultery with mediaeval totty, Jane Shore.  (It should be said that Jane, one helluva party animal, was also enjoying bedroom romps at the time, with King Edward IV, the Marquess of Dorset and plenty more of the then rich and famous. 

Jane Shore lived to be at least 80, which for the fifteenth century was pretty good, so there is some sort of divine justice after all.  (The other nobles mostly killed each other while still in their prime and nasty Richard caught it in 1485 when he was 33 and that mardy-boots, sour-faced misery-guts Henry Tudor took the crown.)

WHAT ON EARTH AM I GOING ON ABOUT?  RIDICULOUS!!  I suppose it's because the economic cock-ups in Europe, and in particular, the Hellenic 'balls out' that's going on, with big central banks trying vainly to bolster up the poor old Greeks, and keep them tucked safely into the  Eurobed, is about as illogical, pointless and scandalous as were the Wars of the Roses in England, back in the fifteenth century.


So.  Gardenish stuff, then.

Crocus ancyrencis, the golden bunch crocus in out my garden this week.  Small but exceptionally good natured and, like Smarties – or M&Ms if you're American – inadequate when enjoyed singly but fabulously good in big handfuls. Cheerful is what they are - a bunch of February sunshine.  (Click pics to enlarge.)

There is absolutely nothing so cheerful as a crocus. Forget snowdrops, never mind aconites, lovely though they are.  Both are strictly winter flowers, effective for lifting one from the despair induced by post-Christmas dieting, income tax bills, and treacherous weather but not nearly enough to make one sing or dance.  

A crocus, on the other hand, elicits a verbal greeting.  The first appearance, of a proper spring crocus - rather than the precocious, skinny midwinter species - causes one to rush back into the house, grab the PG by her protesting arm and drag her outside to coo over those glowing egg-yolk petals as they open to the sun.

Crocus luteus 'Golden Yellow' aka 'Dutch Yellow Crocus.' – much larger than C. ancyrencis, and frowned upon by gardeners who prefer the soft mauves, purples, whites and stripes of C. vernus varieties.  But to me, this is easily the finest and most dependable of all, coping with all weathers and most soil types and looking sublimely happy, after enduring a night at -13.5ºC last week. More of these should be grown.

I heard certain world-weary journos, at last weeks RHS London Show, suggesting that snowrops have become rather old hat.  'Everyone's done them,' she sighed. 'One's is so weary of hearing about them.  To compound her ennui, I dragged her off to see, first hand, the horribleness of the variety Galanthus 'Blewbury Tart.'  In fact I dragged several folk whom I knew not, to see the same abominable things on one of the bulb exhibits.

But despite yawns of the gardening fashionistas, snowdrop mania is still decidedly with us. And the freakiest varieties have excited not only your run of the mill galanthobores but also, the mail order giant, Thompson and Morgan.  

T&M have just paid £725 for one bulb of a variety called 'Elizabeth Harrison.'  I believe it's a chance-discovered form of Galanthus woronoii - the species I think we once called G. ikariae - which has dark foliage, more the bottle green of bluebell leaves, than the familiar, glaucous narcissussy tint.

But this one has an amazing added virtue.  It's ovaries and the little vee marks on its tepals are, wait for it, not green, but YELLOW!  Like 'Wendy's Gold,' in fact, and a handful of other galanthonasties, but with dark leaves!  

Yellow!  Well lah-di-bloody dah!  A snowdrop with icterine bits instead of green. Hmmm.  Why is my pulse not quickening at the thought of a snowdrop with yellow bits?  Could it possibly be that the beauty of this frail species is the exquisite contrast between the white and the green on the petals, tepals or whatever botanists call the prettier bits of a monocot flower?

I beg you sir, madam, chum, cobber -  to pick a snowdrop: an ordinary, single-flowered G. nivalis snowdrop – as soon as you've read this.  Look at those outer petals.  Do you note the subtle shading, in soft lines, running through the plant's tissue like a watermark?  Do you see the boat-like shape of those three outer petals?  Now lift one, gently, and study the inner parts of the flower. Do you see how that green has a slight iridescence, making the colour stand out from the stem and leaves?  And do you note the slightly less subtle grey-green striping above the deep green? Oh, and can you detect that slightly naughty muskiness of the perfume, and the twin lobed, toothy base of those inner petals?  Study the flower, I beg you, for some minutes.  Such beauty cannot be improved upon.

A fairly ordinary snowdrop.

So,  would yellow look better than green on those inner parts?  NO!  
Is a yellow ovary, rather than a green one attractive? NO!  
Would you pay £725 for a single bulb of this variety?  If you were wealthy enough for it not to matter?  Well, would you???

Should anyone be prepared to pay £725 for a single snowdrop bulb?  
Well, apparently, yes. T&M are a huge and successful business. Clearly, they know what they're doing and no doubt, there will be lots of gardeners positively itching to have a G. woronoii with yellow where the green should be.

I wish them well.  And if you can't wait to have this thing, I wish you well, too.  But before you sign up for it, have another five minute gaze at the ordinary one.  It really cannot be improved upon.

I'm listening to Brahms Clarinet Quintet in B Minor Op 115.

This week's film was The Prince and the Showgirl, in which Laurence Olivier is acted off the screen, for the first hour at least, by Marilyn Monroe.  Ham versus film star - tangible proof that acing to a camera is a little different from declaiming to the man at the back of the Dress Circle or Balcony.

This time yesterday, I was sipping a glass of champagne to celebrate my 68th birthday.  Old, creaky, crabby but still loving work and still revelling in the mess that calls itself my garden.

Bless you for reading this far - and enjoy your snowdrop gazing.


  1. Happy Birthday, old fruit.

    Although, speaking as one who was just about to write a blog about the 700 quid Snowdrop I hope the champagne gave you mild indigestion as I now have to scratch my head and come up with another topic.

  2. Aha! I was just saying on one of James' blogs that I am married to a GalanthoPhilistine who loves yellow snowdrops. We found a nursery, a walled garden called West Acre (they have some stunning plants) in Norfolk, where they have them growing in their lovely grounds - and four years ago they didn't even know they were there. We discovered them lurking by a wall behind a shrub, GP tried to buy some, but they realised that they had a potential moneymaker on their hands and refused. Much to my relief.

  3. You're not the only one that is old, creaky, and crabby. I would gladly comply with your direction to pick a snowdrop if the task did not require removal of three plus feet of snow and application of heat lamps to coax the little things out of the ground.

    Pfui to a long, cold winter!

    Christine in Alaska, no snowdrops, no flowers of any kind for months

  4. I love snowdrops, but I'm slightly baffled by all the fuss and certainly not convinced that a snowdrop with yellow bits is in any way an improvement...

    Belated congratulations!

  5. I'm rather hoping they rename the variety Galanthus "Lah-di-bloody dah" - it has a certain ring to it.

    And belated happy birthday sir!

  6. I work with a Jane Shore but I dont think she is a similar character to her amorous ancestor. As for yellow snowdrops, I saw one last year at John Sales garden and to be honest it looked sick. Its just wrong

    Happy birthday for tother day

  7. Wishing you a belated Happy Birthday! Reading your post made my day...spot on in soooo many ways! LOL
    xoxo Sioux