Article and images courtesy of Áine-Máire Ní Mhurchú

The Annual Snowdrop Gala at Ballykealey House and Altamont Gardens, County Carlow occurred a week earlier than previous years on the 27th of January. With the mild weather it tied in perfectly with the early blossoming of many Snowdrops and other winter flowering shrubs and bulbs.

On the Friday night before Gala day, early arrivals were treated to a wonderful talk by Tom Coward, Head Gardener at Gravetye Manor, East Sussex. The historic gardens here were created by the ‘wild gardening’ enthusiast William Robinson during the 19th Century. Tom gave a practical and passionate talk about the wild garden and the pursuit of naturalising bulbs and creating a more natural feel including native, naturalised and some fun bulbs, bringing beauty, a touch of adventure, colour and excitement as the garden transitions from winter to spring.

There was a surprise presentation to Brian and Betty Duncan to celebrate his upcoming special birthday. A pot of beautifully scented snowdrops that Robert Miller and Assumpta Broomfield had been watching for some years in Altamont Gardens and noted as a particularly outstanding plant. The snowdrop was fondly referred to as Galanthus elwesii “B & B Duncan”. 

Hester Forde, Brian Duncan and Betty Duncan in good cheer!


Saturday began with a very entertaining talk by Michael Dreisvogt, ‘Plants and People / Snowdrops in A German Garden’. Michael is the Director of Park Härle Arboretum, Bonn-Oberkassel, Germany and has had a fascinating career, including a great deal of time involved in botanical plant trials.

He found and named Galanthus ‘Franz Josef’ which is one of the most attractive double snowdrops, with well-defined green spots on the pointed outer petals. He talked about his working life and connections with snowdrops,  Joe Sharman, (Monksilver), Wol and Sue Stains (Glen Chantry) and Avon Bulbs in England. He has a particular love for Galanthus ‘Castlegar’ and shared some wonderful anecdotes of visiting special gardens and being gifted special plants and bulbs. Polypodium cambricum ‘Richard Kayse’  was mentioned as one of the most special ferns that had been shared with him , a rare Welsh wonder that is sterile so can only be propagated by division with a lovely story leading to the old and wise gardeners saying that if you want to keep a plant, share it, give a piece away.

The second talk of the day was Steve Edney on ‘Sticks, Stems and The Stars of Spring’, Steve was the former Head Gardner at The Salutation & Canterbury Cathedral, and is now the owner of No Name Nursery & Garden Consultant with his partner Lou Dowle. A very different talk celebrating the beauty of seed heads and the structure certain plants hold in the winter garden. The value of the architectural silhouettes and homes for overwintering wildlife and insects and the barren charms which seed heads and other unlikely perennials offer at a time when gardeners traditionally cleared spaces during wintertime. The practice of not watering the newly planted areas in the No Name Nursery and garden and how the area develops without being watered was of particular interest as we all adjust our previous garden practices to work with the changes in our climate.

Lunch was followed by the annual dash to the plant sale at Altamont gardens and informative guided walks around the snowdrops and other plants of interest. If you haven’t been to the Snowdrop Gala make sure you go along in 2025!