The great plantsman, Henry John Elwes planted widely, and the garden today contains magnificent populations of snowdrops, many of them hybrids, descended from those original plantings. The present day collection has been built up over the years through purchases, gifts and exchanges with other collectors such as Herbert Ransom, who grew snowdrops for the Giant Snowdrop Company, and galanthophiles such as Ruth Birchall, Primrose Warburg and Richard Nutt. Carolyn and Henry Elwes, and more recently Shane Ball and Will Fletcher plant out thousands of snowdrops each year and new varieties are added when possible. With the collection now totalling some 350 cultivars, though not all are on display at the same time. 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. The original bulbs were sent to H.J. Elwes by the Scottish gardener Samuel Arnott, and the Colesbourne stock is derived from a clump discovered under a bramble bush by Carolyn Elwes in about 1985. 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. 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.
Several fine cultivars have been selected from among the seedling populations in the garden. Most surprising is G. elwesii ‘Carolyn Elwes’ , accounted the first yellow G. elwesii. The inner segment markings, and often the tips of the leaves and spathes as well, are a soft limey-yellow. Its desirability was highlighted when, following the first Colesbourne snowdrop open days in 1997, the original large clump was stolen from the grounds. The theft was widely publicised, but no trace of the bulbs has ever been found, perhaps because the cultivar is too distinctive to be easily ‘laundered’. Other cultivars discovered and named at Colesbourne include Galanthus ‘Lord Lieutenant’ and Galanthus ‘George Elwes’.
We now swap bulbs with enthusiasts throughout the United Kingdom and Europe, ensuring that the collection remains vibrant and up-to-date. Rarer snowdrops may be found in the Spring Garden and in beds close to the house, where their differences can be compared more carefully. Our aim is to multiply all our snowdrops that prove worthy and to continually expand the plantings.
A very early-blooming snowdrop is G. plicatus ‘Colossus’, which has often finished flowering by the time of the open days. It 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.
Wonderful collection of snowdrops in a peaceful haven -all the better for visitors being able to wander and explore.Visitor 2019