Gardener Portrait: Jonathan Shaw

Jon and Eugenie Shaw

I’ve always been curious about a plant’s namesake.

About half dozen years ago I had acquired a handsome dwarf Rhododendron with brilliant purple flowers named ‘Jonathan Shaw’. As coincidence would have it, not long after I was at a Horticultural Club meeting and heard this name mentioned in a discussion at the next table, and I was all ears. Mr. Jonathan Shaw, a fellow member, was not at that table, but the folks who were had been discussing his fabulous collection of Galanthus (Snowdrops).   Not hundreds of one or two cultivars, but hundreds, thousands of many, many cultivars.  I knew right then that I wanted to meet Jonathan or Jon as he prefers to be called, and perhaps get invited to see this magical collection.

Jon is a soft spoken gentleman with a lifetime of accomplishments in both horticulture and education. His first career was as a teacher and school administrator. His second career, (yes, I tell my sons, you can have more than one) was as an administrator of two Botanic Gardens, first the New England Wildflower Society in Framingham MA, and next, in a totally different locale, the Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida. If you read between the lines you can deduce that horticulture and gardening activities were part of Jon?s life long before his second career began.

Much of Jon’s childhood was spent in Sandwich MA, at the splendid Victorian home that belonged to his great grandmother, and in which Jon and his wife Eugenie now live. There were horticulture genes in his family tree: a great great uncle had a nursery in Boston and acquired some of the first Ginkgo trees in the US (one of which stands 70′ tall in the Shaw Garden in Sandwich), another uncle who was a science editor for Time Magazine  and who presented a young Jonathan with a sapling Metasequoia  (Dawn Redwood) , which up until that time had been considered extinct. And of course there was Jon’s mother, who, like many others, planted a Victory garden during WWII and encouraged Jon to make a plot of his own.

It’s rare that a gardener is interested in only one genus, but often a particular group of plants seduces him or her, and he/she wants to seek out as many examples of this group as possible. Jon admits to be a recovering ‘Rhodoholic’. He has grown and hybridized many Rhododendron cultivars, (although ‘Jonathan Shaw’ was not his selection but one a friend made at his suggestion and named in his and his son’s honor).  When he realized that some of his specimens had reached proportions of 30′ in height and width, he had to accept that space was becoming limited. Jon then moved on to a group of plants with smaller proportions, the genus Galanthus.

Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’, Jon’s Favorite Snowdrop

Jon and his wife Eugenie share gardening duties. Eugenie, who is from Norway, is an enthusiastic vegetable gardener, and is devoted to cultivating her berry crops. Jon tends the vast collection of ornamental plants. A visit to the the Shaw garden in late winter is enchanting: tens of thousands of snowdrops, many quite rare. They carpet the garden under ancient trees, and invite the up and coming Crocus, Iris reticulata and Eranthis to compete for attention. If Jon must pick a favorite, it would have to be Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’, a particularly robust selection.

Galanthus guarding the entrance to the Fairy Door

The Snowdrops in the Shaw garden are a testimony to the promise of a glorious New England Spring. I asked Jon if he had any encouraging words for the novice gardener and this was his reply: “Have fun! Do not make your garden a hospital for sick plants which require constant care and chemical treatments. Dispose of them.  And last but not least, develop a special garden interest and discover all you can about it!”

Galanthus 'Cordelia'

Galanthus ‘Cordelia’

10 thoughts on “Gardener Portrait: Jonathan Shaw”

  1. I would so love to see his collection. Are the Shaw’s receptive to visitors? Most of my snowdrops are still under snow but there are a few by the door which are up although not out yet. I love the fragrance and have taken to making small nosegays when they are in bloom.

  2. I bet the fairies absolutely love his lawn. The fairy door is a very fun, imaginative touch.

    It’s not often that you get to meet the namesake of a flower. Thank you for such a delightful post.

  3. Layanee and Sally and all others. Jon and Eugenie will open their Snowdrop Garden for 2 days. See note at the end of the blog piece.

  4. What a delightful garden (complete with fairy homestead!). I so wish I could attend … checking my datebook to move things around.
    I will make a note to check this site frequently.

  5. I hear the event happened despite the wintry mix of precipitation, and the hardy group of visitors marveled at the brave little snowdrops, and then came in where it was warm to enjoy pastries and tea.

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