I planted Leucojum aestivum into the banks behind the house ten years ago now. I had a vision of them below the crab apples, following on neatly after the Crocus tomassinianus, but being there for the duration of spring. First with the sky-blue spangle of Anemone blanda and then, as the meadow turf lengthened and the crabs came into flower, with Pheasant’s Eye Narcissus and the creaminess of tapering camassia.
Having a vision in your mind’s eye is important when planning a garden and I always have one at the beginning even though the reality may take many years to come to fruition. The years needed for the Anemone blanda to naturalise and for the turf under the crab apples to be fine enough in their young shadows to introduce a scarlet slash of Tulipa sprengeri. But things do not always come to pass, despite best judgement. Gardens are places where a myriad of unseen elements have to be negotiated.
The getting to know, what does and what doesn’t do, is a conversation of sorts, a silent one based on observation, response and adjustment. Sometimes you have to let go of an idea and I feel I have waited long enough for this particular vision to materialise. The leucojum appear and flower, but never flourish as I had imagined they might with lush clumps of strappy foliage and arching droplets of flower. Though our ground is heavy and retentive, the bank is drier than I had thought with a native hedge at the top drawing upon resources and a steep slope that drains freely. The primroses love it, proving there is spring moisture, and the winter snowdrops thrive here too as they like to dry out in the summer, but the leucojum simply do not thrive and I can feel it.
So it is time to change tack, a response that very often yields the results you had planned for. A plant may simply not like the place you have chosen for it and moving it somewhere that it may prefer is often all that is required.
Though they are adaptable garden plants, I want to open up the best possible opportunity now that I have decided to try them in a new position. Read about the native habitat of Leucojum aestivum in Europe and one particular image of them growing in a Croatian wet meadow amongst crack willows stays very much in mind. In ground that lies damp and may well flood in winter, the leucojum find a niche in a competitive environment where they have the moisture they need to thrive in company and to naturalise.
Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’, is a strong-growing form selected by the naturalist William Robinson and named after his home at Gravetye Manor. The bulbs were potted last autumn so that I could introduce them after the ditch has been trimmed in early winter. I have planted two new colonies. One in the garden in a non-competitive environment, in open ground amongst the sanguisorbas where they will have the early window of April to flower and feed before the burnets fill out and take the position. The other in the wet banks that slope steeply into the ditch.
The damp ground in the ditch near our own crack willow is where I am hoping to naturalise snakeshead fritillaries and winter aconites. The bulb layer will come ahead of the early summer rush of damp-loving natives that thrive here. Meadowsweet, giant horsetails and wild angelicas take this ground, but I’ve been working in a number of bulky perennials that can tough it out in what become rough growing conditions come high summer, amongst them marsh spurge (Euphorbia palustris) and moist woodlander, Aruncus dioicus. Plants that like wet feet and can get their head and shoulders above the crowd as the leucojum fade and retreat into dormancy. My hope is that the summer snowflakes will find their niche here. A place where they can thrive rather than simply do and somewhere that will help me fulfil a vision that is still very much up and running, but has simply moved locations.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 12 March 2022