Take your pick: Swoon over snowdrops or crocuses – or double up and see both

SNOWDROPS or crocuses – which one of these winter-to-spring jewels will sparkle more brightly for you?

Or, even better, you can pick the pair and visit both gardens, soon to open for the National Garden Scheme’s nursing and caring charities.

Each garden is set in beautifully tranquil spots in rural North Devon – snowdrops at Higher Cherubeer, two miles east of Dolton, crocuses at East Worlington, two miles west of Witheridge.

And those important diary dates: Snowdrops – Friday 8 February, Friday 15 February and Saturday 23 February from 2pm-5pm.

Crocuses – Sunday 3 March and Sunday 10 March from 1.30pm-5pm. Admission to both spectacles is £4, with no charge for children.

Jo Hynes, who lives at Higher Cherubeer with husband Tom, confesses to being a snowdrop devotee, popularly known as a galanthophile after the flower’s botanical name.

She has amassed more than 400 varieties since she was given a handful of name bulbs back in the mid-1980s and continues to be fascinated by the subtle pattern variations – usually in green, occasionally in yellow or gold – that have turned the genus into a cult following in recent years.

There’s much more to see at 1½-acre Cherubeer, not least woodland paths lined with snowdrops, hellebores and winter and spring-flowering shrubs. Keep an eye open for some of Jo’s National Collection of hardy cyclamen that display their dainty heads for almost 12 months of the year.

Enjoy refreshments, too, and a chance to buy plants, including snowdrops, of course.

But a horticultural weather warning from Jo that many of her snowdrops are opening early, so turning up on the 8th may prove advantageous again waiting another fortnight.

Over at East Worlington, visitors will feast their eyes on thousands of purple crocuses – among many other seasonal blooms – that have naturalised and spread over nearly a century across the two-acre garden and into the neighbouring churchyard. Eyes can also be trained on gorgeous views of the valley and Little Dart river that are framed in near-panorama dimensions.

crocuses e worlington

Owners Campie and Barnabas Hurst-Bannister lost a day a year ago because of the freak March snow but hopes are high for an uninterrupted show this time.

And to combat the possible effects of cold, thirst and hunger, cream teas will be served next door in the parish hall, where the final stages of refurbishment will benefit from profits.

⏩⏩➡» Jo Hynes will be chatting to gardener Toby Buckland on Radio Devon between 11am and 12 noon tomorrow (Sunday), talking about her love of snowdrops and life as a gardening guru.

⏩⏩➡» How to get there: Higher Cherubeer – From Torrington on the A3124 between Beaford and Winkleigh turn right at the Stafford Moor sign and take the first right. The garden is about 500 yards on left. East Worlington House – From Witheridge square, turn right towards the village, after 1½ miles turn right at the T-junction in Drayford, over the bridge, then left to Worlington. After a third of a mile turn left at another T-junction and see garden 200 yards on left.

⏩⏩➡» www.ngs.org.uk

jo hynes & snowdrops1

crocuses & mossy bark

⏩⏩➡» Winter wonders: From top: Galanthus Elwesei Green Tip and John Gray;  crocuses in close-up at East Worlington; Jo Hynes with clusters of snowdrops in her woodland; crocuses and daffodils welcome garden-goers.



Need a pin-up? Try Madelaine and Lucy – they’re super snowdrops

THINK of giant-sized pin-up posters and who springs to mind? Madonna? Tom Jones? George Clooney? Mariah Carey?
Well, who needs any of these celebs gazing across the bedroom when you can swoon long and hard at Galanthus?

Glorious Galanthus, in fact.

That’s the name of an A2 poster despatched by Somerset-based Avon Bulbs to all customers who adore snowdrops – those delights that have real celebrity status, of course.

It’s a double-sided placard filled with numerous pictures of our favourite mid-winter charmer that again features strongly in Avon’s 2019 catalogue.

On one side, a formal array of snowdrop portraits – all carefully labelled – showing the many subtle pattern variations; on the other a more varied and expansive display of snowdrop clusters.

What a great idea! That’s a gorgeous 16½in by 23in, so give yourself ample wall space.

Given a choice, I’d much prefer ogling at Madelaine – that’s a variety costing £30 a bulb – over Madonna and most definitely admiring George Elwes – £15 a shot – over George Clooney!

Posters are £5 each to include postage.

As for Avon’s snowdrops, here’s a true galaxy of galanthus, reigning supreme over all its bulb rivals, with the first 24 of 58 pages devoted entirely to them.

avon bulbs 2019

Avon owner Chris Ireland-Jones hails them as the crown jewels of the winter garden, with interest growing steadily year-on-year.

But growing them on the nursery is very labour-intensive which is reflected in the eye-streaming price of some varieties – £120 each, for example, for Kryptomite and Long John Silver, £75 for Lucy, £100 for the green-washed Matt Bishop, £85 for the gold-marked Midas and £80 for the green, claw-like Mr Stinker.

They’re not all wallet-bruising, of course. You’ll pay around £6 or £7 for bulbs dug out of the ground and despatched in the green for immediate planting.

Elsewhere, the catalogue is brimming with photos of bulbs, corms, tubers and herbaceous perennials that will set your spring and summer ambitions aglow.

The agapanthus, astrantia, dahlias, lilies and eucomis selections are particularly outstanding.

⏩⏩➡» www.avonbulbs.co.uk/01460 242177.

⏩⏩➡» During a busy February, Avon will be exhibiting at the RHS’s Rosemoor Garden at Torrington, Devon, which is staging a Snowdrop Weekend on 2 and 3 February (from 10am). On the Sunday only, they will join a wealth of nurseries showing off their own galanthus, while visitors can join guided walks to see impressive drifts of snowdrops in the gardens.

Among events in February Avon will be attending are a snowdrop sale at the Garden House at Buckland Monachorum, Devon, on 2 Feb (from 11am), Shaftesbury Showdrop Study Day, Dorset, on 9 Feb, Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival on 16 Feb and events in Germany and Denmark on 16, 17, 23 and 24 February.

avonbulbs snowdrop

⏩⏩➡» Top – Avon Bulbs 2019 catalogue; above – one of the snowdrop pages showing some of the collectors’ varieties of this cult flower.

The mystic of black: So does this little gem win the gold medal?

DARK and mystical, black is the one colour that can claim to be the holy grail of horticulture.

Yes, there’s “black” which, invariably, turns out to be a deep, deep purple or red and there’s a true black . . . but as the pigments that flowers employ to tinge their petals don’t produce black the result is “black-looking” or “near black” rather than a dead-pan ebony.

So it’s a case of so near, so far as the breeders battle on to become the first to proclaim: “Eureka, an honest, pure, kosher, jet, bone fide black.”

Seed and plant suppliers Johnsons come petal-close with an exclusive viola named Back to Black.

Without wishing to get carried away by the colourful publicity, I must say this little 4in hardy gem looks closer to the real thing than any other I’ve clapped eyes on – photographically only.

“Mini-flowered and on small, neat plants, the petals are truly jet-black and beautifully contrasted with a bright yellow eye. Flowering over an extremely long season, they are perfect for all baskets, patio containers and dramatic bedding displays,” say Johnsons.

Black to Black costs £2.35 for 100 seeds.

Supporting Fleuroselect’s Year of the Nasturtium, Johnsons have also added nasturtium Red Troika (£2.35 for 25 seeds) to the dark colour range. A deep red variety with semi-trailing, variegated foliage, this one is spot-on for mixed containers and summer borders.

Other Johnsons highlights include lightly fragrant brachycome Blue Star (£1.85/200 seeds). A half-hardy annual selected for its pretty star-shaped blooms, they are an invaluable addition to a sunny border or mixed container.

Cornflower Classic Magic (£2.35/200 seeds) is a highly unusual, harmonious blend of colours which make an ideal filler for a border or as a cut flower. For a summer-long show, silene Blue Angel (£1.85/1,000 seeds) provides eye-catching, electric blue flowers.

RHS AGM winner carrot Malbec (£3.05/350 seeds) heads up the new varieties added to Johnsons’ vegetable range. With vibrant red roots and exceptional flavour, it’s one of the best red carrots around – and particularly moreish when roasted.

Two F1 additions complete the edible line-up – celery Hadrian (£2.35/200 seeds) is UK-bred and chosen for flavour. With green-green stems, it also shows good disease resistance. Tomato Super Mama (£2.35/10 seeds) is a full-flavoured plum x beef tom cross with a rich taste, fleshy, high-yielding and perfect for pasta, soups and salsa.

⏩⏩➡» The new Johnsons range is available now from selected garden centres. Log on at www.johnsons-seeds.com

⏩⏩➡» Black beauty: Above – viola Back to Black with its stunning yellow eye; above right – Cornflower Classic Magic; below – Carrot Malbec.

Black Magic – without witches and broomsticks

THERE have been many close calls for a true black over the years – Alcea rosea Black Beauty, Iris Superstition, Primula auricula Gizabroon, sweet william Sooty, a few hellebore hybrids, Nemophila Pennie Black and Tulip Queen of Night to name a brief list of contenders.

Plenty of near-black foliage too – Pittosporum tenuifolium Tom Thumb, Anthriscus sylvestris Ravenswing, Geranium pratense Purple Haze and Sempervivum Dark Beauty are among the front runners in the ultra-dark stakes.

All these plants are illustrated in a delightful book entitled Black Magic & Purple Passion, whose author Karen Platt kindly sent me a signed copy in December 2000, the year it was published.

Karen runs Black Plants Nursery, near Sheffield – online sales only – which specialises in black and dark-flowered and foliage plants.

Author of several horticultural books, Karen founded the International Black Plant Society in 2002 and has since popularised this esoteric shade in flowers and foliage.

The 128-page publication is still available online and inside you’ll uncover details of hundreds of plants in dark, inky hues in a true A-Z chronicle – from abelia to zelkova, in fact.

karen platt black plants

The dahlia is back with a bang – so check out this Moroccan masterpiece

FLORAL FADS – like tastes in music or food – ebb and flow across the decades. Nothing highlights this more than the rise, fall and rise of the dahlia.

Back in the 1970s they were adored, especially those football-size blooms that wooed the judges at the local flower show and kept growers on their toes until late at night tending the intricate blooms.

Indeed, in the late Philip Damp, the National Dahlia Society paid a full-time secretary to oversee membership and major events and I had the pleasure of meeting this affable fellow at his home in Leamington Spa and writing about his fascinating work for the local paper.

Roll on to the 1990s and dahlias fell out of favour for several years as gardeners’ attentions switched to other plants.

But now, this flower of a thousand faces is back with a bang – not the giants, more the tennis ball sizes of the collerettes, miniatures, small decoratives, small cactus and balls.

With their popularity surge in mind, mail order and online plant specialists Woolmans is offering three new and exclusive dahlia collections for the 2019 season.

moroccan spice dahlias (wool)

The varieties chosen for each batch have been selected and graded from the company’s own trials garden in Suffolk where more than 100 varieties were tested out last summer.

Famous for growing chrysanthemums for over a century, Woolmans is now an established supplier of dahlias and has seen a sales rise year on year.

The firm’s Tim Stimpson comments: “Sales for our dahlia collections are up by nearly 20% so far this season which is really encouraging.”

As well as growing varieties in their own trial gardens, the Woolmans team regularly visit the Dutch trial fields in late summer and autumn.

Tom goes on: “It’s really important for us to visit our Dutch growers and see first-hand what new varieties are in the pipeline. There is definitely a trend for strong and vibrant colours, so we’ll be trialling more of these in 2019.”

Introducing the collection trio: The Moroccan Spice Collection – Black Narcissus, El Santo and Summer Flame. Rich and spicy colours, from the warm hues of Summer Flame and the sweet pinks of El Santo combine perfectly with the dark and spider-like blooms of Black Narcissus to create a display fit for a souk in Marrakesh.

Chocolate Orange Collection: A striking duo which came about by chance last summer when Woolmans were cutting blooms in their trial gardens. Laid against each other, totally by chance and waiting to be photographed and judged, the contrasting colours of dark-flowered Black Jack and the sharpness of Orange Cap worked superbly together.

Marshmallow Collection: Soft and luxuriant, this beautiful blend, in shades of lilac and pale pink, combines three graceful and elegant varieties for a calm and soothing colour palette. “Enthusiastically recommended,” say Woolmans. Varieties include Bitsy, Babylon Lilac and Sweet Lady.

Prices: Moroccan Spice – one tuber of each variety £10.95; Chocolate Orange – two tubers each of Black Jack and Orange Cap £12.95;  Marshmallow – one tuber of each variety £10.95.

Despatch is timed for late March.


marshmallow dahlias (wool)

chocolate orange dahlias (wool)

⏩⏩➡» Dazzlers: Top – Moroccan Spice, centre – Marshmallow; above – Chocolate Orange, all showing off their stunning liveries.

Vivid tubular bells that give a month-long extension to summer

NAME CHANGES are nothing new to those creators of late-summer cascades of dynamic colour.

They were once tritonia, antholyza and curtonus before the  boffins settled on crocosmia.

Yet most traditionalists still know them as montbretia which bear scores of glorious tubular bells in the second half of summer on slender, arching stems and are usually closely followed by the kaffir lilies.

And what flowers they display! In dazzling shades of scarlet, yellow, gold, orange or copper, sometimes in patterned combinations, South African crocosmia are simply cracking plants that will seldom let you down and add zest to beds, borders, rockery slopes and in between shrubs.

My interest in crocosmia was re-ignited thanks to the brand new bulb catalogue from Broadleigh Gardens, of Bishops Hull, near Taunton.

It”s not too chunky a handbook – 34 pages to be precise – yet there is plenty to attract the bulb and corm enthusiast in the thumb-through.

Crocosmias, especially, are given generous space, with a dozen varieties up for buying. They include the golden-yellow Canary Bird (24in), Hell Fire (3ft) in intense velvet red, Prince of Orange (2ft 6in), which produces upright stems instead of arching ones, Saracen (2ft) with deep red flowers and bronze leaves, and newcomer Zambesi (2ft 6in) with widely flaring flowers in salmon-orange and a deep central stripe.

Not forgetting Lucifer (3ft), by far the most famous and widely grown crocosmia, no doubt adored because of its vibrant flame-red funnels that are among the earliest to show. All have long, sword-shaped leaves, distinctly ribbed the entire length.

One big plus-point with these corms is how inexpensive they are. True, you will pay a little more from Broadleigh, compared with a discount store, but, even so, £4 for three Lucifers and the same for three Prince of Orange is no bad deal.

Choose even choicer – and rarer – varieties and the costs rise, as with any plant from any catalogue.

But do remember these virtual hardy perennials will last for years and increasing your personal supply is child’s play because they do it for you. To spread out your display simply dig up the young plantlets and give them a new home. You’ll have plenty to give to your admiring neighbours or family.

Whatever you select, you’ll find quality comes as standard from Broadleigh which was begun in 1972 by Christine Skelmersdale and her Conservative peer and politician husband Roger, who sadly died suddenly at the end of October aged 73.

It was Roger himself who hit on the idea of a section dedicated to Drought Busters, following the long, hot, sizzling summer of 2018.

There you’ll find the tall yellow Asphodeline liburnica, the equally lofty and white starry-flowered Asphodelus albus, two alliums – tuberosum and senescens – and convallaria Pawlowsky Gold, the familiar lily-of-the-valley, among others.


✴ Crocosmias are either fully hardy or almost so. They don’t mind semi-shade but enjoy moments of full sun where possible. Avoid very windy spots which could faze them in winter.

✴ Plant corms 3-4in deep and 4-5in apart in any soil, preferably mixed with leaf mould or compost.

✴ Montbretia was named after Antoine de Montbret, one of the botanists accompanying Napoleon’s forces when they invaded Egypt in 1798.

✴ The wild montbretias seen growing near sea cliffs, on grassy banks and often on poor, rubble-strewn ground are Crocosmia crocosmiiflora (yes, that’s a double ‘i’), displaying smaller, orange-red trumpets from July to October.

✴ www.broadleighbulbs.co.uk/01823 286231.


⏩⏩➡» Beauty at Broadleigh: Left – the catalogue’s front page showing agapanthus, nerines, snowdrop, Iris unguicularis and hellebores. Right – the back cover with (from top, l-r), Lilium Friso, Lilium Casa Blanca, Allium senescens, Cyclamen hederifolium, a myriad of crocosmias and Agapanthus praecox albiflorus.


Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! These ravishing roses are icons of the 1960s too


LIKE ELVIS and The Beatles in rock and pop, England winning the football World Cup and the gunning down of JFK in Dallas, many nuggets of life in the 50s and 60s stay vividly in focus.

Horticulturally, I’d wager the same analogies apply to Sam McGredy, arguably Britain’s most successful and productive rose breeder of all time.

His autumn 1968 to spring 1969 catalogue is one that I simply cannot commit to the bin and is, therefore, firmly fixed to my bookshelf.

It has now reached its half-century and its 80 pages glow from a fabulous array of roses, most of which were bred by McGredy, the remainder introduced by him when he was treading the soil and dusting the pollen in his native Northern Ireland.

With prices ranging from six shillings (30p) for established roses to a mighty 12 shillings and sixpence (62½p) for new varieties and a front page photo of McGredy surrounded by his beloved roses, the handbook invariably evokes memories of an old-fashioned, less complex era.

It’s the nearest thing to a botanical time machine!

Samuel Darragh McGredy, holder of a CBE, is the fourth generation of international rose maestros, starting off in Northern Ireland where he grew 150,000 seedlings a year. Then, in 1972, Sam escaped The Troubles and began a new life in New Zealand’s North Island where he raised 60,000 plants annually and captivated royalty and showbiz celebrities with a dazzling array of debutantes.

I actually met the man in around 1971 when he came to Coventry’s then still fairly new cathedral to name a floribunda after the ultra-modern building constructed alongside the war-bombed cathedral ruins.

After  a career spanning 270 varieties, Sam, now 86, retired and enjoys fishing New Zealand’s spectacular scenery.

Well, I hope he still does. My last email remained unanswered, so I cannot be absolutely sure he is still fit and well.

Most of the varieties of 68-69 have now vanished from nurseries and garden centres, though I’m hoping a number of older rose lovers still grow those famous old names that have stayed the course – Timothy Eaton (pink), City of Belfast (orange-scarlet), Bantry Bay (semi-double light pink climber), Bobbie Lucas (deep salmon), Casino (yellow climber), Chanelle (cream), Colour Wonder (salmon and yellow), Garvey (pink), Kronenbourg (claret red, straw reverse), Paddy McGredy (vivid pink), Piccadilly (scarlet and gold), Red Lion (deadpan crimson), Santa Fé (salmon pink), Shannon (mid-pink, rounded foliage), Tiki (pinky apricot), Violet Carson (peach, yellow reverse) and Western Sun (deep yellow).

Do let me know if you grow any of these.


⏩⏩➡» Captivating catalogue: That’s Sam McGredy in his garden back in 1968 and some of his finest roses, complete with descriptions.

Bridal Silk and Crapaudine: The beauty and the beast of the seed world

IMAGINE a rose, a rhododendron or a peony being christened Crapaudine. Not very flattering, I’m sure you’ll agree, and a name, surely, to prove the ultimate customer turn-off.

But what about a beetroot? Not the most elegant of veg, they are nonetheless loved by many – myself among them – for adding another colour to salads and for their health-giving properties.

The essential with beetroot, of course, is to avoid spilling the juice down your brand new white shirt or across the pale blue table cloth! Eradication is one of life’s near-impossibilities.

thumbnail_Beetroot, 'Crapaudine' 1710T

⏩⏩➡»  Beautiful beetroot? Introducing Crapaudine, all set to grace your salads.

Among the many additions to the Chiltern Seeds’ newest catalogue is one of the oddest looking beets I’ve known.

More closely shaped like a carrot, Crapaudine gets its name from the French word for toad – crapaud – and, like our amphibious friends, it has a tough, rough skin resembling tree bark the root, but once you peel back the root you’ll discover beautifully rich-coloured, dark flesh and a superior flavour favoured by chefs.

Chiltern, perhaps unsurprisingly, wonder why Crapaudine is not more widely grown. It is possibly one of the oldest beets of all and Chiltern reassure us by saying: “It tastes better than it looks.”

Crapaudine: Remember that name but be careful how you say it!

As always, the Chiltern handbooks – one for flowers, one for veg – fall into the difficult-to-put-down category.

With  combined total of more than 200 pages, the detail is thorough and informative, whether your interests are annuals, perennials, shrubs, cut flowers, meadow, pond and woodland mixtures or green manuring plants, as well as a bounteous assortment of veg, with many like our friend Crapaudine featured in comedy pose.

In this 43rd edition, there are no fewer than 230 newcomers alongside hundreds of tried and trusted varieties, so being spoiled for choice is routine down Chiltern way.

Among debutantes that caught my eye:

Echinacea Paradiso Mix: Superb, brightly coloured daisies for mid-summer to autumn blooms in pink, yellow, white, rusty-orange and dark red, some with contrasting cones. 2½ft.

Antirrhinum Madame Butterfly Dark Red: A real dazzler of an award-winning snapdragon in the recently introduced double series. Flowers are long-lasting and look like double azaleas, reflecting their alternative name, azalea snapdragon. 2½ft.

Delphinium consolida Salmon Beauty: This is larkspur, the annual delph, so no second season unless you sow more seed. Tall spires of unusual salmony-pink, papery flowers, maybe to grown alongside Splish Splash, a fun and distinctive newbie with white blooms splashed purple and pink. 4ft.

Papaver rhoeas Bridal Silk: A huge Chiltern choice in poppies, this one is among the most elegant, bearing in summer silken flowers of pure sparkling white. 2ft.

Next year Chiltern will be supporting two worthy charities. They will donate £1.50 from every packet of Antirrhinum majus Ruby sold to the charity Thrive which celebrates its 40th – ruby – anniversary.

Chiltern are also supporting a new venture in 2019 – Life at Number 27 (http://www.lifeatno27.com).

Annabelle Padwick, the inspirational founder – and an ambassador for Thrive – is launching a non-profit organisation which aims to use gardening and grow-you-own as an alternative therapy for mental health illnesses.

The firm are donating 50p from each packet sold of five different vegetables – beetroot Boston, carrot Sugarsnax, pea Alderman, salad rocket Astra and tomato Black Cherry.

  ⏩⏩➡» www.chilternseeds.co.uk/01491 824675

⏩⏩➡» Fabulous flowers: Top – Echinacea Paradiso Mix; above left – Antirrhinum Madame Butterfly; centre – Larkspur Salmon Beauty; right – Poppy Bridal Silk.


⏩⏩➡» Front to back: The Chiltern Seeds 2019 catalogue featuring Digitalis Pam’s Choice and chilli Etna which will live up to its name for heat so mind how you eat!