We delve into the beautiful setting of the Churn valley to explore the Snowdrops at Colesbourne Park.
The Colesbourne estate lies in the beautiful setting of the Churn valley, halfway between Cirencester and Cheltenham, in the heart of the Cotswolds. John Elwes, son of the celebrated miser, purchased the estate of 1600 acres in 1789 and over the next few years more land was added to make a total of 6000 acres.
The original house, situated near the church, comprised a very elegant Queen Anne front built onto an ancient manor house in 1703 by the Sheppard family, clothiers of Minchinhampton.
The snowdrop collection at Colesbourne Park originated in the plantings made by Henry John Elwes (1846-1922). In 1874 he had discovered Galanthus elwesii while travelling in western Turkey and he became one of the prominent galanthophiles of his day.
It is clear that he planted widely, as the garden today contains large populations of snowdrops, many of them hybrids, descended from those plantings. The present day collection, and the magnificent swathes of cultivars such as 'S. Arnott' and G.plicatus 'Colossus' are the result of the renewed interest of Carolyn and Henry Elwes, who have devoted much time to replanting and expanding the groups.
Colesbourne Park is renowned as one of the best places to see large groups of choice snowdrops. According to Country Life (1999) it is 'England's greatest snowdrop garden.'
The patch of Galanthus 'S.Arnott' at Colesbourne is one of the sights of the snowdrop world, and to walk past on a warm day is a delight; all the flowers are wide open and releasing their fragrance.
Another large snowdrop to be seen in big drifts throughout the garden is James Backhouse, a member of the Atkinsii Group with a proportion of deformed flowers that add interest but do not detract from its excellence in the garden. It originated in the Backhouse nurseries in York in 1875.
The wonderfully vigorous double snowdrops raised by H.A. Greatorex are also very successful here, with large patches of Ophelia and Hippolyta in the wood.
A very early-blooming snowdrop is G. plicatus'Colossus', has huge leaves that are ornamental in their own right. It was found at Colesbourne as a vigorous clump, and has since been divided into the large areas seen today.
The collection has been built up over the years through purchases, gifts and exchanges with other collectors. In the early days snowdrops came from friends such as Herbert Ransom, who grew snowdrops for the Giant Snowdrop Company, and galanthophiles such as Ruth Birchall, Primrose Warburg and Richard Nutt.
Snowdrop bulbs are now swapped with enthusiasts throughout the United Kingdom and Europe, ensuring that the collection remains vibrant and up-to-date.
At Colesbourne Park the snowdrops are only ever moved as dormant bulbs. This is seen to be extremely successful, enabling rapid establishment with no loss of vigour or flowering in the following season. Division while in growth inevitably damages the roots and although the plant usually survives, it is often set back by going dormant too soon without making up a full bulb for the following season.
If planting snowdrops in the green ensure that they are well watered while in growth to compensate for this root damage.
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