OK, here we go again. I try to resist it each year, but by the end of January I succumb to white fever. But as much as I love plants and at the moment snowdrops, readers of my blog will know that I also love a story. The story of H.A.Greatorex, creator of so many lovely double snowdrops with Shakespearean names, is an intriguing one. He was a very private person and not much is known about him. Even his first name was a bit of a mystery. Mind you, if I was named Heyrick, I would try to keep it a secret. If you google his name, you will be told that he was an eccentric. I suspect that non- snowdrop lovers would think it eccentric to devote many years to snowdrop breeding. I don’t think it eccentric at all, I think it is a wonderful way to spend your time.
This is what I have found about about Greatorex, or should we be familiar and call him Heyrick? He was born in 1884 in Brixton, but in 1901 the family moved to Rowneybury House in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire. This Georgian mansion house gained fame when the Beckhams bought it and did it up; I am sure in the best possible taste with a recording studio, snooker room and gym. It was known as Beckingham Place. I should think that Greatorex must be turning in his grave. The Beckhams sold it for 11.5 million.
Much information about his life is inaccurate. In his lovely book, ‘Snowdrops‘ Gunter Waldorf said that he was a vicar who retired to Snowdrop Acre. I don’ t know where he got that from. Greatorex was educated at Repton School in Derbyshire. He married a woman from Norfolk, Janette Tillet in 1905 in Blofield Church, Norfolk. He doesn’t seem to have had a job, he was described as a gentleman, although when he died he was described as a poultry farmer. The couple set up home in a house with land attached belonging to his in-laws in Witton near Brundall, Norfolk.
He reached the rank of Corporal in the First World War and fought in France and Flanders. He was wounded in the battle of Lagnicourt and decorated for bravery. In the Second World War he joined the Dad’s Army type, Home Guard. I love the story about how his job was to guard the Acle Bridge. Rather than spend chilly nights guarding a bridge in the middle of Norfolk, against invaders who never came, he very sensibly spent his evenings in the nearby Bridge Inn.
You may read that he was a recluse and lived in a railway carriage in his grounds. In fact the railway carriage was a guest room. The actual house wasn’t exactly comfortable. It was a single storey house made of brick, timber and corrugated iron. The plumbing and drainage were primitive. Greatorex lived there until his death in 1954, he and was in constant furious correspondence with the council about planning permission and drains. Although there was clearly no planning permission for the house, Greatorex’s widow was allowed to live on there until her death in 1971. After that, a purchase order meant that the land was taken over by the District Council and the house was demolished. Today a small part of the large garden is looked after by the council and is now called Snowdrop Acre. Prior permission is needed to visit it. It is full of the most wonderful snowdrops and new ones are still being found there. The very expensive ‘Greenfinch’, a lovely green tipped viridapice is a recent one.
The snowdrops that Greatorex called after Shakespearean heroines were created by transferring pollen from Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’ on to flowers of Galanthus plicatus. This must have been quite a challenge as these double flowers don’t produce much pollen. The resulting snowdrops are all very pretty, but difficult to tell apart. One of the problems is that they are variable. I have Ophelia, Titania, Desdemona, Jaquenetta and Hippolyta, but they all look very similar. Lavinia, probably named after his mother is very similar too. I have found that Hippolyta is later than the others and is still in tight bud at the moment. Anyway, have a look at these and tell me if you can tell them apart.
One of the earlier ones, that is not a Shakesperean heroine is Dionysius. This was a great favourite of Greatorex. He also had one called Poseidon; maybe he was trying to create a series of gods as well as tragic heroines. Having said how alike they are, I do have a favourite. It is a Washfield Titania which came from Graham Gough who used to work at the wonderful Washfield Nursery. This is tall, elegant and the flowers are beautifully neat.
All these beauties were produced at a time when the only double available was ‘Flore Pleno’. Greatorex did not leave records of his work and today, even experts find the snowdrops difficult to identify. In those days, there were no specialist snowdrops nurseries catering to the tastes of hordes of galanthophiles. Greatorex must have spread his snowdrops around through fellow snowdrop collectors. I don’t suppose he made any money out of it. More recently found doubles at Snowdrop Acre have simply been given numbers. I have G71.
I don’t know why I am compelled to collect Greatorex doubles when they are all so alike. It is the nerdy stamp collector coming out in me. I had to slap my hand and put my purse away when I came across Lavinia and White Swan, (another Greatorex) recently.
Actually I think the very best double is Ailwyn which is perfectly formed and completely symmetrical. She also costs also at least £30 so she hasn’t appeared in my garden yet. This one was found growing at Anglesey Abbey by Richard Nutt.
Other snowdrops looking good in the garden at the moment:
Bill Bishop has lovely long outer petals.
Greenish is, well, Greenish.
Diggory is now planted in the garden and his flowers have expanded into the typical balloon shape.
OK, your eyes are glazing over, maybe I will show you some more snowdrops another day. If you can bear it.
Nothing to do with snowdrops, but I have to show you the latest addition to the family. My daughter and her husband have just acquired this little darling. He is an Italian Spinone called Hector. He is absolutely adorable and I expect he will be cropping up in this blog from time to time when he comes to help me in the garden.