Galanthus 'Atkinsii'
Sat, 19 Mar 2005 01:29:48 PST
Mark Smyth has forced my hand into replying...

The story of Galanthus 'Atkinsii' begins in the 1860s and 1870s when James
Atkins of Painswick, Gloucestershire obtained bulbs, possibly from southern
Italy. He called them Galanthus imperati (still a contentious name) and the
name 'Atkinsii' was not proposed until 1891. He passed them on to the
nursery trade (sales started 1875) and it began to spread around. This stock
was highly praised by early Galanthophiles for its beauty and shapeliness.

In 1877 another stock made its appearance from the nursery of James
Backhouse in York. Very similar in many ways, it was apt to produce
misshapen or even greatly deformed flowers. By 1914 Bowles could call it
'Atkinsii of Backhouse' recognising it as a distinct plant from the shapely
original. Over the years this clone usurped the position and name of the
original 'Atkinsii' and as a vigorous and good garden plant became very
widely grown and enjoyed as 'Atkinsii'.

When we were investigating the origins of cultivated snowdrops for the book
this history unfolded, and it became apparent that there were two plants
bearing the name 'Atkinsii', with separate origins and distinct characters.
One name cannot fit two clones, so we took the decision that 'James
Backhouse' should be applied to the deformed clone originally distributed by
Backhouse of York. It is by far the commoner of the two, with stock of true
'Atkinsii' being apparently very scarce. Plants sold in the trade as
'Atkinsii will almost certainly be 'James Backhouse'. It is important to
realise that 'James Backhouse' is very inconsistent with its aberrations:
the point is that it can do them whereas 'Atkinsii' does not. A clump of
'James Backhouse' with twenty or thirty flowers may have one or two, or even
none, showing a deformity, and this may be only the slight enlargement of an
inner segment, but it could have several flowers showing the deformities
illustrated in the book, with petaloids arising from the ovary and twisted,
enlarge inner segments. People think to segregate these lunatics, but next
year the plant may produce perfect flowers and not repeat the freakery for
some years - but it will! I rate it an excellent garden plant: we have huge
drifts of it here at Colesbourne. The (unfortunately low-res) opening
picture on our website shows a couple of these patches. You do not notice
the deformities in the mass.

As for Jim McKenney's yellow version: Mark is quite right when he warns of
my scepticism. I am very averse to instant excitement about 'new' snowdrops
and caution patience and observation over several years. I noticed a yellow
'James Backhouse' here this week, but as it is in a patch of ground that was
turned over by digger last year it is probably very deep and pallid in its
exertions to reach the light and therefore what is sometimes called a
'Cowpat Surprise' that will revert to greenness next year when it has sorted
itself out. By all means select it out and watch it for a few years: if it
remains yellow it may be interesting. There is certainly no record of a
yellow "Atkinsii". Most of the yellow snowdrops are quite stable: only 'Lady
Elphinstone' goes back to green sometimes.

John Grimshaw

Dr John M. Grimshaw
Garden Manager, Colesbourne Gardens

Sycamore Cottage
Nr Cheltenham
Gloucestershire GL53 9NP


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