Rare plant of the month – February 2018

Galanthus ‘Aunt Agnes’

February is the month of the snowdrop and with huge numbers of beautiful rare species and varieties it would be impossible to choose just two to write about. I was really pleased therefore to be told about Olive Mason and her introduction to snowdrops.

It doesn’t matter where our interests and passions in horticulture begin, but sometimes the story behind a plant takes us to an important person in our lives. When that introduction to the plant world ignites a lifelong passion for a particular genus, being able to remember a person by naming a flower for them is incredibly special.

Olive Mason has long been an established and recognised snowdrop grower, and her wonderful garden, Dial Park, has appeared in many articles and the media in relation to the snowdrop.

She told us that it was her Aunt Agnes, then living in the farmhouse at Dial Park who introduced her to the flowers, writing that ‘without my Aunt I may never have grown snowdrops’.

Many years later, a chance seedling arose in the Mason’s garden,  Olive recognising it as ‘the best seedling’ she had found. In honour and memory of her aunt, she chose to name it G. ‘Aunt Agnes’.

In normal circumstances, Olive would grow on seedlings before they are ‘deemed to be worthy of a name’, but Galanthus ‘Aunt Agnes’ was distinct enough from it’s parent (G. ‘Trym’) to deserve recognition.

As a seedling of G. plicatus ‘Trym’, Aunt Agnes shares many features of the parent. The outer and inner segments of the flower are nearly the same length, with broad, slightly undulating and arching leaves up to 10cms long.

Another beautiful and vigorous snowdrop was found by Olive Mason in a Worcestershire churchyard. Elmley Lovett is a small village and having seen an excellent seedling in the churchyard there,  Olive was able to ask for, and was granted permission to take just five bulbs. It proved to be ‘a strong and reliable variety, which increases well’ and all plants currently in circulation come from repeated division of those original 5 bulbs. Olive subsequently named it for the village – Galanthus from Elmley Lovett.

This seedling arose from a G. elwesii parent, Olive naming it G. elwesii from Elmley Lovett (it now appears listed also as G. ‘Elmley Lovett’). It has recognisable snowdrop flowers with green markings on the inner segment. As all G. elwesii varieties, the leaves can be up to 30cms long, lush green and broad (3.5cms).

Like many, Galanthus ‘Aunt Agnes’ and ‘Elmley Lovett’ are well known and recognised, but both are rare, so eligible for the Plant Guardian scheme. The beauty of this story is that the fact that Olive Mason has shared plants of these varieties over the years (‘Aunt Agnes’ has only ever been given away) and although neither is freely available, both are known to be growing in gardens around the country.

When Olive Mason’s Aunt Agnes shared her knowledge to a niece, she wouldn’t have imagined the lifelong passion that introduction to snowdrops ignited, and the knowledge and plants that have been shared and conserved for the future.

Our thanks to Olive Mason for her story. She is Vice-President of the Worcestershire Group of Plant Heritage and previously served as vice -chair of the Group and as Collections Coordinator.

Grateful thanks to John and Janet of Judy’s Snowdrops, for allowing us to use their photos. www.judyssnowdrops.co.uk

As ever I was delighted and grateful to be told of another special plant story, my thanks to Margaret Stone, Brockamin Plants, for an accidental conversation.


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