Snowdrop Sensation: We Explore Great Comp Garden in Kent

We woke up this Sunday to a radiantly clear blue sky, just beckoning us to step outside into the crisp air. The kind of air that carries the promise of an early spring. So, jumping on the scooter, we set off for Kent to visit the — as yet unknown to us — Great Comp Garden.

Shrouded in exclusivity, as the garden is generally closed to the public over winter, it promised that today, and today only, it would be open for a whole two hours. The occasion? To marvel at the sensational beauty of snowdrops. 

Snowdrops everywhere!

And marvel we did.

I’ve never seen so many different snowdrops in my life. Walking past long tables of cultivars with funny names like “Fatty Puff“ and “Toby Jug” really opened my eyes to the diversity and intricate details of this little plant. The delicate white flower heads, with propeller-like wings, puffed up and shivered in the air.

Some of the petals were extraordinarily large and others understated. Some had light green markings on them and others were pale yellow. 

Soon, however, a particular hellebore caught my eye. It stood lonesomely on the gravel path tucked into a small black crate. I turned up its gently bowed flower head to admire it fully, and immediately, I was smitten. 

The flower head not only had extraordinary pink speckles (or maybe “freckles”) all over, but also these really sharp concentric petals, that reminded me slightly of shark teeth (or perhaps a spooky lamprey). I had to have it. 

Now, I’m the proud owner of Helleborus orientalis ‘Cinderella’. 

What lies beyond?

While the snowdrop fair bustled along and significant sums of cash were exchanged for spectacular snowdrop plants, we had to make the most of our two hours’ admittance to this historic house and gardens. And soon, we wandered deep into the woodlands surrounding us. 

Among the meandering paths, we discovered crumbling ruins, intriguing masks, aged statues, and even a bambuserie (that’s right, a bamboo garden).

I spotted some delightful Leucojums — more descriptively known as snowflakes — growing in clumps under trees. Winter aconites popped up through the bark chips. And of course, drifts of hellebores swayed gently in the breeze. 

The people who adore snowdrops

We rounded off the day with an entertaining talk in the Stables Theatre by garden writer Val Bourne. She brought the history of snowdrops (Galanthus) to life through her personal encounters with the passionate Galanthophiles who bred them. Ruby Baker, Primrose Warburg, and Margaret Owen were just a few of the colourful personalities in the snowdrop saga. 

Val recounted one anecdote when someone asked one of the feisty Galanthus women if it was the right time to take a cutting that she had extended to him. “The right time to take a cutting, young man,” she said, “Is when it’s offered.” 

We also learned that the most expensive snowdrops tend to be the ones that have difficulty establishing. For economic reasons, those that multiply and spread vigorously tend to be cheaper.

And apparently, the proper way to inspect a bowed flower head is not by touching it. Oops! It’s by placing a compact mirror under the flower and inspecting it through the reflection.

I certainly discovered more about this diminutive plant than I ever knew. But I think it is simply the bravery of those little white heads wriggling their way out of the frosty ground — like tiny pioneers leading the way into spring no matter their variety — that is most wondrous of all. 

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