Snowdrops and other spring flowers
Selborne has several fine drifts of the native or common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) and the Crimean Snowdrop (Galanthus plicatus). However we are now trying to establish a colony of Selborne’s very own Galanthus elwesii ‘Selborne Green Tips’. This was first discovered in Selborne in 1982 by well-known galanthophiles Ruby and David Baker. This snowdrop has two excellent qualities: it is early flowering, and it can produce two flowers on a single stem. It has fine green markings on the tips of the white outer segments and V-shaped green markings with a broad green bar above on the white inner segments. The latin name for the genus, ‘Galanthus’, comes from the Greek ‘gala’ meaning ‘milk’ and ‘anthos’ meaning ‘flower’, ‘milkflower’ being perhaps not as pretty a name as ‘snowdrop’. The species elwesii (Giant Snowdrop) of which the Selborne Greentips is one, is named after Henry John Elwes (1846-1922), a British naturalist, traveller, plant collector and entomologist, who discovered this species in Turkey in 1874. Gilbert White himself living in Selborne in the Eighteenth Century would have likely only recognised the Galanthus Nivalis which is thought to have been brought over during the Crusades of the Middle Ages.
Gardens play an important role in Jane Austen’s work. Cottage gardens, formal gardens and great estates provide the backdrop for her characters. Jane loved gardens and frequently wrote about the Chawton cottage garden in letters to her sister. Although Jane Austen’s House Museum garden is lovingly tended and the flowering scheme is planned, the snowdrops which appear under the Yew trees and outside the garden wall bring the greatest pleasure and signal that spring is on its way. This year the first snowdrops appeared at the end of January and have survived rain and freezing winds since then. More can be read about the changing seasons in the garden at Jane Austen’s House on the gardener’s regular blog.
The warm and wet weather caused snowdrops to flower early at Chawton House Library as well this year, bursting through the dewy grass and carpeting the lawn. Chawton House Library held a special ‘Snowdrop Sunday’ when visitors enjoyed the snowdrops on the south lawn and in the ‘wilderness’ (a garden feature dating back to the seventeenth century). There was also the chance to explore the Walled Garden, originally built by Jane Austen’s brother Edward and mentioned in her letters. As new Garden Manager Andrew Bentley led garden tours, visitors were able to understand how the ‘pale blossom’ inspired some of the works by women writers housed in the library collection such as Anna Letitia Barbauld (1743-1825) in her poem, The Snowdrop:
Already the Snowdrop dares appear,
The first pale blossom of th’ unripen’d year;
As Flora’s breath, by some transforming power,
Had chang’d an icicle into a flower,
Its name and hue the scentless plant retains,
And winter lingers in its icy veins.
The Snowdrop, Anna Letitia Barbauld (1743-1825)
Flora Twort (1893-1985) painted many fine landscapes around Petersfield and further afar, for instance on her travels to Tenby in Wales or to the Alps. From 15th March until the end of November, the Flora Twort Gallery will show a representative selection of watercolours, pencil drawings, prints and oils.
While she painted her town scenes in a great amount of detail, Flora Twort did not do the same in her landscape painting. Mostly working out of doors, she used broad brush strokes to render colour and movement, and smaller plants such as flowers are just indicated. However, there are exceptions, such as this lovely card of the entrance to her cottage in Church Path (now the Flora Twort Gallery). The flowers outside the Gallery and on the church green in front still look very similar today and greet our visitors with a burst of colour.