Snowdrops At The Physic Garden
The Snowdrop Theatre
Today is the first Snowdrop Day at Chelsea Physic Garden. Each year, I rise early and take the District Line over to West London to join the other passionate horticulturalists at opening time. The Garden is closed during winter months but these special openings permit the opportunity to admire the drifts of snowdrops, supplemented by rare species on display in a Snowdrop Theatre and a sale of exotic varieties.
The snowdrops in my garden in Spitalfields have already been in flower for a couple of weeks, encouraging my anticipation of seeing those at the Physic Garden. Through the passing years, the wonder of these flowers that appear in the depths of winter, glowing white against the dark earth as the first harbingers of spring, has never dimmed for me. Yet such is my short-sightedness, I wonder whether the differentiation of multiple varieties may be no more than academic in my case.
Fortunately, the Physic Garden has strategies to bring snowdrops to your eye level. As you come through the entrance in Swan Walk, you encounter snowdrops growing in moss balls hanging from the trees – in the Japanese style – and then you arrive at the Snowdrop Theatre where sixteen different specimens line up for your scrutiny behind a crimson proscenium. To my mind, there has always been a drama in the appearance of snowdrops emerging out of the darkness and, placed in a theatre, their natural stage presence delivers an effortless performance worthy of applause.
Once you have taken a stroll through the woodland planting upon the southern edge of the garden where clumps of snowdrops may be viewed in an approximation of their natural environment, attending by starry yellow aconites and pale-hued hellebores, you visit the marquee where dozens of varieties are lined up on a long table just waiting for you take them home and cherish them.
I pace up and down, peering over and looking closely to ascertain the precise nature of the distinctions between all these snowdrops – some in showcases containing expensive varieties at thirty and sixty pounds a pop. Yet I cannot not bring myself to favour any particular example over another. The differences are immaterial to me because I love all snowdrops equally.
Moss balls planted with snowdrops hang from trees
Selecting snowdrops from dozens of varieties on sale
Sir Hans Sloane leased the land for the Chelsea Physic Garden to the Society of Apothecaries in 1673
SNOWDROP DAYS run at the Chelsea Physic Garden, 66 Royal Hospital Rd, Chelsea, until Sunday 24th January from 10am-4pm – including a variety of lectures, walks & workshops with snowdrop experts.
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