Despite the reputation for snowdrops, I’m not sure Catherine Erskine of Cambo really wants to be known as a galanthophile. Over lunch she tells me about new varieties selling for what seem like absurd sums of money, then appearing on Ebay next year after having been split. And snowdrops from gardens disappearing. The truth is that any genetically varied population of snowdrops is going to show quite a lot of variation in the flowers. BUT Brit snowdrops are genetically limited, as they are not natives, so we see little variation – any that does occur seems to cause a galanthophile rush. A colleague at the Ljubljana Botanic Garden did a research project on wild populations in Slovenia – showing the level of variation. He should probably have split them all up and sold them to gullible galanthophiles over here for some easy research funding. Catherine’s opinion is that there is no point adding to the list of cultivars (apparently 1,000 and growing) unless something is really distinctive.
Meanwhile, the rest of the garden at Cambo.
Having been banging on about naturalistic planting for years (since about 1996 I reckon) I sometimes wonder just how much impact I, and other proponents of ecology-inspired planting have had. There is a terrible tendency for people to take things up in a very superficial way – plant a couple of miscanthus in their border and rename it a ‘prairie’ border. Wyevale garden centres are handing out a glossy leaflet which tells you how to plant up a prairie border too; it recommends planting in clumps. AAARRGH. They have clearly paid no attention.
So, pure joy to be at Cambo where head gardener Elliott Forsyth has clearly done his homework, and been to Germany to visit Westpark and Hermannshof, and is planting big borders with perennials and grasses, diffusing varieties through and trying lots of ways of combining and juxtaposing varieties. His wife Sue is an artist, so he has been swotting up and putting into practice some art theory too. I long to see it all in summer, but winter was convincing enough, as they had left all the seedheads up for me to see. This spring a huge 90 species prairie is going in, with thousands of plants which have been grown from seed over the last year.
Wonderful that someone has been listening!
The article about Cambo will be in the September Gardens Illustrated.
Cambo House is open daily. www.camboestate.com
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