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An interview with Naomi Slade

by Timber Press on December 6, 2016

in Gardening

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Pretty double Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Lady Elphinstone’ is well worth celebrating in a vase. Photo by Jo Whitworth.

“They are tiny but they are hardy and reliable, and that gives people hope.” —Naomi Slade

The Plant Lover’s Guide to Snowdrops profiles sixty hybrids, species, and cultivars with comprehensive information like flowering time, distinguishing features, and ease of cultivation. What is the most common error made by gardeners unfamiliar with snowdrops?

Thinking that they are all the same! The plant is actually quite widespread in origin and has around twenty separate species; these can vary visually within the species and also interbreed in cultivation, so there are now thousands of distinct cultivars available to gardeners.

What is it about snowdrops that first attracted you to them?

Snowdrops are beautiful, simple flowers, and I first became attracted to them as a child looking for spring flowers to pick for my mother. One of the things that makes them so enduringly appealing is that they appear when very little else is in flower, right at the end of winter when people need it most. They are tiny but they are hardy and reliable, and that gives people hope.

What are your favorite companion plants to pair with snowdrops for a garden design with winter interest?

In a fairly small garden, snowdrops look best as part of a considered scheme rather than poking up out of bare earth. They need a foil and a context, so they look great with plants that have complementary leaves like Arum ‘Marmoratum’, cyclamen, and evergreen ferns. They also go well with other plants that flower at the same time—hellebores, aconites, and early crocuses spring to mind.

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Snowdrops look best planted in company; here Galanthus ×valentinei is planted with Euphorbia myrsinites. Photo by Naomi Slade.

Was there any information you were surprised to learn while writing The Plant Lover’s Guide to Snowdrops?

I was surprised by all sorts of things! The process of writing was a thrilling galanthophile voyage of discovery. One of the most interesting, however, was how late the plant appeared in the literature in Britain and the debate on when it first arrived. I was also interested to discover why it was always said that you should plant snowdrops “in the green.” It turns out that it was to make sure they were alive, rather than actually being good for the plant.

Some snowdrop species are threatened in their wild habitats. What can be done to conserve snowdrops?

Due to unregulated and profligate wild collection in the latter half of the twentieth century, snowdrops are now protected by CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). This imposes quotas strictly limiting collection to certain areas and species, so it is now a far more sustainable activity. With snowdrops, as with any plant that may be wild-collected, the best thing that a home gardener can do is buy only from a reputable supplier, preferably one who propagates their own stock. That way the plants are likely to be traceable and sustainable, and they are likely to be better quality too.

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Galanthus ‘South Hayes’ in a glass bottle is quietly sophisticated. Photo by Andrea Jones.

In 2012, you won a gold medal and Best Garden in Show for a punk-themed conceptual garden at the National Gardening Show. Can you tell us more about your inspiration for that design? Where do you usually get your garden design inspiration?

I like to do things differently—look at the world in a new way. Having been to lots of gardening shows, I had never seen a punk-themed garden, and it appealed to me enormously. My general attitude tends to be quite punk—in its purest sense as an art movement, rather than in the safety-pin-in-the-nose-and-spitting-at-the-Queen sense—so I got on and did it. Worked rather well, I thought.

You’ve won three Chelsea Flower Show silver-gilt medals. What is the most gratifying thing about competing in flower shows?

Creativity for its own sake, and really high standards. You see the audience, talk to them, see their responses—that is very different from writing and researching books and articles, and it is a huge buzz!

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Galanthus nivalis runs riot in the woods at Welford Park. Photography by Naomi Slade.

What have you planted in your home garden most recently?

I like to have as much garden interest as possible, and when designing from scratch, I tend to mentally start with what it will look like in winter and work backwards. It has been a fabulous autumn with really good leaf colour, but to give the late flowers a boost my latest purchase was the lovely purple daisy, Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’.

If you could only give one piece of advice to a beginning gardener, what would you say?

Don’t worry about what you don’t know. Just get on with growing the things you like, and everything else will follow.

Naomi Slade is a horticultural journalist with a lifelong interest in all things snowdrop. An avid gardener, trained biologist, and creative communicator, she skillfully blends practical gardening advice with scientifically accurate information in this fresh and lively account of spring’s earliest blooming flower. Naomi lives in Berkshire, England, where she is seeking to re-establish sheets of old and new snowdrops in her orchards and gardens.

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Click image for a look inside this book.

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“Lavishly illustrated.” —The New York Times Book Review

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