Winter Bulbs at Lambley
The last autumn leaf has barely dropped before the first snowdrops flower here. The earliest of all the Galanthus which starts to flower during late June and is at its best during early July is a variety I got from Bryan Tonkin’s Nursery some twenty odd years ago. I bought it as Galanthus caucasica but it is probably just an early flowered form of Galanthus elwesii. Be that as it may it is such a joy to have it in full flower now during the first week in July. I grow it under an olive tree and in ten years each bulb has made a twelve fold increase.
Snowdrops are very difficult bulbs for nurserymen to despatch during the summer/autumn bulb selling period as they don’t like to dry out. In the UK they are often sent “in the green”, that is sent after they’ve finished flowering but whilst still in leaf. This treatment does them no harm at all and to my mind is probably the best way to treat them in Australia.
Snowdrops have naturalised so widely in English woods that they are often wrongly thought to be native. They were in fact introduced to England during medieval times. Galanthus nivalis was probably brought home by pilgrims to the holy land. As this Galanthus is in flower on February 2nd they were planted around ecclesiastical buildings in the UK. February 2nd is forty days after the birth of Jesus and is the day that the Feast of Presentation of Jesus to the Temple was celebrated as well as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin. These were very important feasts in the medieval church calender. Snowdrops can still be found growing around ecclesiastical buildings. A beech wood in the garden of the rectory in my village of Lambley in the East Midlands was carpeted by tens if not hundreds of thousands of snowdrops and once a year the rector allowed church going children to pick bunches for our mothers.
I find the few snowdrop varieties which I grow here at Lambley to be easy to accommodate. All they need is a spot in well drained soil with good winter light and summer shade. They grew very well under some 140 years old elms here at Lambley until one of the elms split during wet weather last year. I moved the snowdrops so that the tree could be cut down and removed.
The first hoop petticoat daffodils to flower here start at the beginning of May. I was given three or four bulbs of Narcissus ‘Nylon’ about thirty years ago. When Criss and I moved to Burnside twenty years ago I had several hundred bulbs and I planted these under catmint, Nepeta ‘Six Hill’s Giant’, along a low wall some thirty metres in length. This bed isn’t ever watered which suits the daffodil as it needs a good summer baking to flower well. The catmint is cut to the ground in early May which allows the daffodil to flower. By the time the catmint is growing again the following spring the daffodil will have grown, flowered, seeded and died down. One of the special joys of Narcissus ‘Nylon’ is its beautiful spicy fragrance.
Narcissus ‘Fyno’ is a similar daffodil which is at its best in June but is still is good in July. The ivory white flowers are produced in profusion and the thin, dark green reed-like leaves are in perfect proportion to the flowers. The flower stem is 15cm tall and the leaves are about the same.
I planted fifty Narcissus ‘Spoirot’ under olive trees in the dry garden ten years ago. This is a superb hybrid raised by Rod Barwick in Tasmania. The original bulbs though have self sown so I now have a hybrid swarm ranging in colour from the original creamy white through lemons to deep yellow. They cover an area some three metres long by a two metres wide and are so densely packed together that each year I lift a lot when they are in flower, divide the clumps into individual bulbs and replant them straight away giving them a sip of water immediately after planting.
I mostly divide the bulbs that I grow in the garden whilst they are in full flower as then I know what I’m working with. I first lift the clump of the variety I want to divide and then pull the clump apart holding the bulbs not the leaves. It does no harm to replant at this time of year as long as the bulb roots don’t dry out. If I wait until the bulbs are dormant two things are likely to happen. I will forget that I wanted to replant them or I won’t remember where they are.
I can’t write about winter flowering daffodils without mentioning Narcissus ‘Rijnvelds Early Sensation’ which is, by a long shot, the earliest of the trumpet daffodils. In the garden they were in full flower two weeks ago during the second half of June and are still delighting me three weeks later. This perfectly shaped, rich daffodil yellow trumpet is a superb bulb to grow in pots for bringing into the house during the shortest and most dismal days of winter. It also picks well. It is quite dwarf as the stem are only 20cm tall.