Since a recent garden visit had been cancelled due to the snowy weather I had been looking forward to visiting Chelsea Physic Garden’s Snowdrop day. It is a garden I have not seen for about five years. I have always considered it a real gem and it really lived up to expectation. It is only just 4 acres in size so I knew that I would not be seeing whole swathes of snowdrops, but the charm of this beautiful walled garden lies in its originality.
The visit started, not with a stroll through snowdrops, but with a fascinating walk and talk from the Garden’s Head of Education on the wonders of winter. He focussed on how some of the garden’s plants and animals cope in winter. We saw a few of the garden’s bumblebees from the garden’s own hives, a couple of its resident toads living beneath their own log pile house in the wildlife area and numerous gnat larvae from the pond. Hibernating for the winter were ladybirds. What I had not realised that they could well be using the crevices in the really large cork oak in the garden as a choice place to spend their winter. Ladybirds contain a type of antifreeze to help them survive the cold!
Evergreen trees use different mechanisms to cope with the cold. The shape of the leaves on the Yew tree and the shine and thickness of the leaves on a Magnolia tree with all help them to retain water and protect. Particularly important in the ground is frozen for a long period of time. A highlight for me was the grapefruit. The garden has the most northerly outdoor fruiting grapefruit tree in the world. Yes, there it was in the middle of a UK winter with large fruit on the tree. One had fallen on the floor so it was cut open for us to see and just like us it had a large thick coat on help protect it from the cold. The fruit is used in the garden to make marmalade.
I learnt that the botanical name for snowdrops Galanthus is derived from the Greek meaning milk (gala) and flower (anthos). A special snowdrop trial had been established containing 15 different varieties. It weaved through some of the winter flowering bushes and trees. Not only was it a visual spectacle you were continually seeking the origins of a tantalising scent. As the garden is full of aroma from Winter Box, Sarcococca confusa and various types of Daphne. The Daphne Bholua Jacqueline Postill photographed above was stunning.
There was so much to see, in addition to the snowdrops, in this garden in early February. An inspiration for any gardener. If you have easy access to central London I would highly recommend it. I already have another visit planned for later in the year.