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January / February 2009

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'Castlegar', 'Coolballintaggart' and Galanthus nivalis

I spent a lot of time in the autumn re-arranging my small bulbs particularly the snowdrops. I am starting to reap the benefits of my labour now. A lot of my snowdrops were overcrowded and producing more leaves than flowers. I moved and divided them in late summer and early autumn. I worried a bit that I might lose some. I need not have bothered myself as they are all fine and are flowering better then ever.

I love snowdrops and nothing pleases me more than scrutinising these tiny flowers for the variations that distinguish one kind from another. I suppose the attraction of the snowdrop lies in the fact that they flower when few other flowers are visible and they withstand whatever the weather can throw at them.

I grow a snowdrop named Galanthus ‘Castlegar' given to me by my friend Dr Keith Lamb, who noticed this flowering in a copse in the Mahon estate at Castlegar, Ahascragh, Co. Galway in the month of November and was responsible for bringing them to the attention of galanthophiles. They are now a very sought-after bulb. Mine always flower before Christmas. They are slow to increase. I moved a few with great care and trepidation this year and in their new site they surprised me by flowering in mid-November, 12 November to be precise. The ones in the original clump flowered as usual on 20 December. A few years ago, at a party, I met the present owner of the estate where Galanthus ‘Castlegar' was found. He had no knowledge of the snowdrop and he said he would check if was still there. Alas, he reported, it seems to no longer exist there.

While most snowdrops are small there are a few that reach 12 to 18 inches in flower. I grow two of these giants Galanthus ‘Coolballintaggart' and one that I got from a great gardener in Co. Tipperary. Unfortunately he had no name for it and didn't know anything of its history. This is a pity because if anything it is the largest-flowered snowdrop I have ever seen.

While the rare snowdrops attract the attention of the snowdrop-obsessed like myself, there is nothing to beat a drift of the ordinary common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, under a great spreading leafless beech tree. This is truly one of the great sights of winter and one we have been working on for some years. I say we, but it is really Ralph that has been painstakingly moving the individual bulbs. His work is finally producing the required result and the great thing is that it will go on getting better as the years pass. That is of course if the National Roads Authority doesn't sweep them all away to make room for the new N4 road. However the recession seems to have given us a reprieve - it's an ill wind! a

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