Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to Cliff Curtis, its old Aristocrat among Galanthophiles

A galanthophile is an enthusiastic collector of snowdrops or 'galanthus' and in Britain there have been keen collectors since at least the mid 19th century. Some are commemorated in the names of snowdrop species or cultivars and thus join the aristocracy of the snowdrop world. The nurseryman, James Atkins of Northampton was one of the earliest and his tall, early-flowering, robust Galanthus 'Atkinsii' is still widely grown.

Cliff, who recently died, will also be immortalised by his tall 'Cliff Curtis', with its clean markings, pristine rounded flowers with long clawed outer segments like small white spoons.

When Cliff and his wife Joan moved into their 18th cottage, in Chapel Street in the village of Hacconby in Lincolnshire in the 1960s it stood on an old farmyard half acre plot, filled with rubbish and old sheds which provided a comfortable home to the Curtis's pigs. Then, when small-scale pig farming became uneconomic, the garden expanded and then took over and eventually became the home of 500 varieties of snowdrops. Cliff meanwhile was employed as a groundsman working for the Lincolnshire Local Education Authority.

When interviewed six years ago Cliff said : "Alpines were my first love. We used to have an alpine house, but now we concentrate on the troughs." He was referring to their ranks of aged stone feeding troughs salvaged from farm sales. It wasn't until the late 1990s that his serious snowdrop collecting began and he entered the lower ranks of the galanthophiles when he got down on the ground on his knees to appreciate the subtle differences between varieties. As he said : "Snowdrop people always have muddy knees and their bums in the air."

In 1948, when he was 83 years old, the galanthophile, Edward Augustus Bowles or "Gussie," discovered the cultivar, which he named 'Ketton,' at Ketton Cottage, which stood near Peterborough and introduced it to the public in the 1950s before he died in 1954.

Gussie had been forty years gone when Cliff's love affair with galanthus began, and in pursuit of that passion he tracked down the Ketton Garden where he discovered and announced 'Peardop.' Then, from elsewhere, came 'Little Joan,' named for his wife and of course, 'Cliff Curtis.'

The fact that rare snowdrop bulbs exchange hands for hundreds of pounds led him to declare in 2012 : "This is not a nursery. It is a hobby gone mad, although we do sell off the surplus bulbs at our open days. Sometimes, however, I wish I had realised earlier in my life that snowdrops can be much more profitable than pigs!"

Not surprisingly Cliff was often invited to inspect colonies of snowdrops in old gardens and
where sought a longed-for “yallery’un” or “green-tipped’un” that might be hiding just behind the next tree.
'Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,
Chaste snowdrop, venturous harbinger of spring,
And pensive monitor of fleeting years.'

From Wordsworth's 'To a Snowdrop.' 1819.

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