The flowers that always bring out a smile

It was fantastic to hear one of the castle gardeners in an excited voice exclaim “look the first snowdrops are flowering”, after the landscape and gardens being buffeted by the high winds we had last week.

Wednesday, 18th January 2012, 9:10 am

These majestic elegant little flowers always bring out a smile. No more so than for the hundreds of ‘Galanthophiles’ (snowdrop enthusiasts) who are passionate about these wonderful plants, giving us all hope that spring is nearly here.

I first became aware of Galanthophiles about 10 years ago when working on an English Heritage site in Essex. We had planted 50,000 snowdrops, in the green, which were added to the already extensive collection, in the aim to open the gates in the winter for the first time to visitors.

I was astonished at the enormous numbers of Galanthophiles with their immense passion and knowledge of snowdrops, the enormous varieties and most of all the history behind how they ended up in Britain.

The common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, has been known throughout Europe for centuries, and is believed to have been grown from the earliest medieval times.

The Galanthus plicatus was believed to have been brought back with the soldiers from the Crimean War, 1853-1854, in their backpacks; and this in turn ignited the collectors’ enthusiasm.

By 1892 snowdrop passion throughout Britain had taken hold; and a specialist Royal Horticultural Society conference was held where James Allen revealed his extensive hybridising work to an audience keen to try new cultivars and seedlings.

Our horticulturalists are busy in the Tropical House and Vine House on a number of tasks. Issy is busy fan training the peaches against the south wall; removing any diseased, crowding or ageing wood, and tying in using raffia rather than string, which makes it hard for mealy bugs to accumulate in.

Peaches fruit on the wood from the previous year, so the method behind this is known as “replacement pruning”, making sure the older wood is cut out and the younger laterals tied in.

Kate has been pruning back the figs, a job taken with care due to the milky sap that can be an irritant and stain one’s clothing!

Being in the south of Britain you can grow some fig varieties such as Brown Turkey outside, we grow figs both inside and out in the organic kitchen garden.

Tips from the castle garden team:

l In the vegetable garden cover the ground with black plastic sheet to keep the soil dry and warm ready for your early outdoor seed sowings and plantings later on.

l Continue to prepare new beds and borders when the soil is workable and not too wet.

l Examine your apple trees for signs of ‘canker’ and remove it by pruning back to healthy wood.

l It’s a good time for a general garden tidy up, clean your glasshouses/pollytunnels, and clear away debris that accumulates as these could house snails and other pests.

Happy Gardening!

Arundel Castle & Gardens - open from Saturday March 31 to Sunday November 4 2012, Tuesdays to Sundays inclusive, Bank Holiday Mondays and August Mondays.


Martin Duncan - Arundel Castle Head Gardener