Common name: Straffan snowdrop gets its common name from the estate near Straffan village, Co Kildare, now a world-famous golf course.
Botanical name: Galanthus ‘Straffan’.
Botanical family: Amaryllidaceae, the Amaryllis family, part of the greater Lily family.
The Straffan snowdrop is one of about a score of Irish-associated varieties of snowdrop. It bids fair to be the most beautiful of all snowdrops with this large flowers of exquisite shape. It is not a native variety of snowdrop. It is reputed to have been discovered in the grounds of Straffan House about 1856, having been collected in the Crimea and brought home by a military scion of the family. And it is still growing in the grounds. It is available to buy from many specialist nurseries, usually the price ranges up to €10 per bulb.
The flowers of Straffan are very beautifully shaped and larger than most. Its leaves are longer and broader with a slight glaucous or bluish tinge. The flowers have a wonderful sparkle, whiter than white, possibly due to some ribbing of the petals. The inner petals are marked with the distinctive Chinese-bridge shape in green. A reputedly unique feature of this variety is its capacity to produce two flowers per bulb, which is a factor in its long flowering, usually from late January to early March, depending on the season.
This superb variety of snowdrop is a must-have for collectors and if one variety only is to be grown, this must be it. It is robust, growing from relatively large bulbs that pull themselves deep into the soil, 15cm or more. It grows very well in borders, but perhaps looks more at home when naturalised under very light cover of deciduous shrubs or tall trees. It looks very well planted with miniature daffodils that follow the last of the snowdrops.
‘Straffan’ is derived from a species that likes good light and it tends to struggle if shade is too heavy. Shelter helps to keep the flowers from early damage by cold spring winds. But it is fully hardy.
This variety of snowdrop likes well-drained soil but not inclined to be dry. It prefers silty soil more than clay-based soil, which is slow to drain.
It might seem strange to be mentioning rhubarb in the context of greenhouse growing, but forcing crops early is very much part of greenhouse growing because is an example of using altered conditions, which is what a greenhouse does. There are signs of early growth on rhubarb stools and now is the time to force them for early use, forcing them either in situ or by lifting and taking them into warm conditions.
The best variety for the purpose, and in general use, as the early-yielding variety ‘Timperley Early’. This one has been very popular since its introduction more than 40 years ago, so it is likely to be the variety offered in most garden centres.
Rhubarb can be forced by covering with any material that excludes light. This, traditionally, was done by covering with upturned pots, including specially made rhubarb forcing pots, about 50cm tall. But recycled covers, old buckets and dustbins, for instance, can be used.
When rhubarb is forced in the open ground, it is not brought on as quickly as when it is lifted and brought into warmer conditions. The entire rhubarb stool is likely to be too awkward and heavy to lift complete, but sections can be cut from the side of large stools and used for forcing. Depending on size, each section produces several leaves.
Placed in a black plastic bag, stools can be packed close together and the top folded over to allow some air access. In a few weeks, in a warm place either indoors or in a greenhouse, the elongated red and yellow leaf stems can be harvested for use. By the time, these stools have finished, outdoor supplies will be available. The exhausted stools can be reused, but generally are discarded.
Trees, shrubs and roses
Although the weather was quite mild in autumn, a lot of rain fell, which continued in winter. When this happens the roots of trees can be killed by waterlogging. Check that existing land drains are functioning and make some temporary surface drains if possible.
If the soil is not too wet and sticky, perennial flowers can be lifted and divided, if necessary, but not if they have proven to be aggressive spreaders. Many of these are beginning to show signs of growth. Bedding flowers can be started off in a heated propagator.
Fruit, vegetables and herbs
Prune apple and pear trees and blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes. Fruit trees can be planted. For early crops, sow the seeds of early varieties of cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, lettuce and onions indoors, or in a propagator, and early potatoes can be put to sprout.
If the soil is firm enough a first mowing can be carried out at any opportunity. If the lawn area has drainage, make sure that the drainage outlets are clear to allow surplus water to escape. Do not walk on squelching ground. The lawnmower should be serviced.
Greenhouse and house plants
Tidy up all greenhouse debris and throw out dead plants, making space in the greenhouse for sowing of early vegetables and flowers. Begin watering as plants show signs of sprouting, and this varies with different kinds. Check for signs of pests and hungry snails.