Snowdrops at Colesbourne Park

Snowdrops at Colesbourne Park

When I was at school, I used to always think that the first signs of snowdrops pushing their way through the earth, meant that spring (and hayfever!) was on its way. Married to a gardener, snowdrops also signify a whole new raft of jobs in the horticultural calendar – but Tom loves them nonetheless.

To celebrate, the early signs of spring we went to see the snowdrops at  Colesbourne Park, Gloucestershire – famous for its vast collection of Galanthus (snowdrops to the uninitiated).  Henry John Elwes, FRS, born in 1846, became a well-known traveller, naturalist and gardener.

Snowdrops at Colesbourne Park

At 16 Henry was mostly interested in birds and rather than joining the Scots Guard he travelled across Europe as a twitcher. From the age of 17, he never stayed the whole year in the UK.

Snowdrops at Colesbourne Park

The first Colesbourne snowdrop

Henry became an expert in Asian ornithology and was the first person to describe the biogeographical distribution of Asian birds and was made a fellow of the Royal Society.

Snowdrops at Colesbourne Park

In 1871, Henry married Susan Lowndes who encouraged her husband to embrace flora as well as fauna. It was after a trip to West Turkey, that Henry returned with several new species of Crocus and Fritillaria, but most notably a new snowdrop – which is now known as Galanthus elwesii. Henry’s letter describing the excitement of this new flower still survives.

Snowdrops at Colesbourne Park

Henry and Susan finally settled at Colesbourne Park just before the turn of the century in 1891 were he developed what is said to be the finest collection of bulbous plants in the world.

Snowdrops at Colesbourne Park

Today’s snowdrop collection has been cared for by the current Henry and Carolyn Elwes. The rarities have been added to and the existing naturalised drifts of snowdrops have been extended by lifting and replanting.

Snowdrops are members of the genus Galanthus, with nineteen species found in the world through Europe and Western Asia. The common snowdrop Galanthus nivalis is not actually native to the British Isles and was probably introduced in the Middle Ages.

Most of us would recognise a snowdrop – with its familiar flower shape. Technically, it’s three large perianths which form a skirt around the inner shorter perianth segments.  That’s about where the commonality ends as each species will show different green markings, foliage, height and flower head sizes.  Just ask a galanthophile – they’ll tell you what makes a snowdrop special. In fact, some varieties will even go for £175 a bulb!

Snowdrops at Colesbourne Park

Galanthus elwesii ‘Carlyn Elwes’ is the first yellow form of the elwesii varieties and occurred as a seedling at the park. It was named after Carolyn Elwes, but the majority of the clump was stolen in 1997, never to be traced.  

Colesbourne’s displays are open to the public on weekends until 4th March 2018. Find out more here: https://www.colesbournegardens.org.uk/visit-us/snowdrop-open-days-2018.html There’s a packed little tea room on site run by a local charity and of course, snowdrops for sale. Tom came back with the car boot loaded up!  

Snowdrops at Colesbourne Park

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