Eastern Wisdom

I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.
Chinese proverb

Even with the cool weather we are having this year, a visit to a NC of snowdrops in June would seem a little late –  Mercy had visited Margaret and David MacLennan and their snowdrops in February last year.  But after my visit to Myddleton House  earlier this year I had read up on how to propagate snowdrops by twin scaling and Mercy suggested that I contact Margaret to find out more.

When David and Margaret returned to the UK after living abroad for many years, they gradually added to their garden; it now extends to seven acres and is open by appointment all year round.


They have developed the garden to maximise the effects of the plant combinations and minimise the amount of work required to keep it looking immaculate.  Other than using the services of a bricklayer to create edges for the lawns and foundations for cold frames, all the work is done by David and Margaret.


Cool beds of Hosta,


colourful early summer borders,


heather garden,


orchard with many different types of trees including mirabelles,


arboretum of native and specimen trees,


with bee orchids scattered throughout,

IMG_0147and of course the National Plant Collection of Galanthus which comprises over 1000 taxa – found in the flower beds,


as well as in purpose made cold frames, covered in netting to keep out the pheasants and Narcissus fly.


All the pots are labelled at least twice and they are all deadheaded to prevent seed ‘contaminating’ the named cultivar.  Margaret uses a system of coloured labels to record the year of propagation, the size of the bulbs and any queries to be investigated, as well as detailed paper and computer records listing the results of the propagation and sources of material.  She swaps bulbs with other collectors as well as propagating for other Galanthophiles.


Once we had visited the edges of the garden where snowdrops are allowed to set seed – in case anything interesting turns up, we headed back to the greenhouse and the first stage in the propagation process.


Blood donors are asked their names a dozen times to avoid mislabelling of the blood, but bulbs can’t talk, so Margaret is scrupulous about tracking the bulbs once they are taken from their original pot.


Once the bulbs are roughly trimmed and labelled they are taken indoors so that the propagation can be done in a little more comfort.


The bulbs are washed and dried, ready for processing.


Margaret was a teacher, so I didn’t sit watching her and taking photographs, I was doing the action.  This is me wiping the bulb with methylated spirits before proceeding.


Hygiene is of supreme importance: to avoid cross-contamination a new blade is used for each bulb and all surfaces are disinfected after each bulb.  Chips are created by slicing through the bulb, each section having a slice of the base plate.  Twin scaling involves cutting a chip into two pieces by dividing the scales into two equal parts and again ensuring that each portion has a piece of the base plate.  In this way more material is available for propagation, which for some rare cultivars is very important.  Again labelling is of supreme importance and a label is written for the bag of vermiculite.


A carefully measured amount of water is added to the vermiculite before starting the cutting – heat is released on adding the water, so this has to dissipate before adding the bulb sections.


Once the vermiculite has cooled, it is measured out into plastic bags and the chips and twin scales are added.  The bag is labelled and sealed with an elastic band and kept at 20°C for twelve weeks.


Margaret has a sophisticated sealed propagator system to heat or cool the bulbs, but I have this bag at home in my airing cupboard.  I am keeping an eye on it and hoping for some material suitable for planting up by early September.

Having heard, seen and done, I hope that I will be able to show you the results of my lesson in propagation later in the year.  I am extremely grateful to David and Margaret, for their hospitality and to Margaret for spending a valuable day with me to share her skills.