Sunday, March 1, 2009

On galanthophiles and perennials

A trip to Scotland to go to Cambo House, famous for its snowdrops, although I’m writing about the garden in September. The snowdrops are pretty spectacular, along with snowflakes (Leucojum vernum) and other woodland goodies. It feels like a pretty remote spot to me, but I guess there must be a lot of golf widows wending their way down from St. Andrews; and it’s only 1.5 hours from Edinburgh. The sales area, snowdrop gift shop etc. is all very understated and tastefully done.

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.

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Anonymous said...

Noel, just dropping by to say hello. We're experiencing December in March... endless rain, but hopefully the reservoirs will fill before the dry season commences. Cheers!

Rob (ourfrenchgarden) said...

I enjoyed reading this.

I bet it will be a sight to behold next year. I am well aware of the beauty of naturalistic planting and equally appreciative that it is no mean feat to achieve it.
Come Sept I'll grab me a copy of GI.


june from maine, usa said...

Well, you dont have to convince me about the beauty and amazing gardens at Cambo estate.!!! I was fortunate to have done a year apprenticeship there after studying at the RBGE .I was literally in paradise. And I have been coming back now for almost 9 years and helping out with the snowdrop season.From Maine to Scotland was quite a zone change and working in the 2 acre walled garden with Elliot and other gardeners was a phenomenal experience. Catherine is an amazing Plantswoman and has created a Galanthus collection to die for and the energy and constant new additions of plants, ideas areas of gardens etc. is mindblowing. Elliot is a designer of such unsurpassed beautiful gardens there that ones jaw is just hanging open as you meander all the eclectic areas of the walled garden and see the varied plantings.Cambo sits in a majestic setting snug up tight to the North sea with amazing vistas . i love Cambo and the gardens and the people. this is one place you do not want to miss.

june from maine, usa said...

Well, you dont have to tell me what an amazing garden and snowdrop collection Cambo Estate has. I was fortunate to have done a year apprenticeship there after studying at the RBGE. I was literally in Paradise for that wonderful year. Working in the 2 acre walled garden with Elliot and other gardeners and Volunteers was such an unbelievable experience. Coming from a Zone 5 in Maine to a Zone 8 in Scotland and experiencing the amazing plant selection one can use there was phenomenal for me. I learned so much and enjoyed it immensely. Elliot is a designer extroidinare and the unsurpassed beauty of the designs just makes ones jaw hang open while meandering the varied eclectic plantings in the walled garden and around the grounds. Catherine is one amazing Plantswoman and has created a Galanthus collection to die for .The energy at Cambo is brilliant with constant new additions of plants, collections, new ideas etc., you just can't imagine. I love the whole aura of Cambo, the gardens , the people , everything about it. And it sits hugging the coast of the North Sea in splendor. The vista's are magical. Thats what Cambo is ---a very Magical place that is not to be missed. This is one destination you will soon want to make a regular visit to , to see the beauty thru all the different seasons!!!!!