Snowdrops or the Confessions of a Galanthophile
I have always loved snowdrops. I loved them so much that I set my seasonal clock by them. When they bloomed, it was spring no matter what the calendar said. When we purchased our property in 1983, it came with thousands of common snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis. Many of my original snowdrops are on an open south-facing hill and often start to bloom at the beginning of February. That’s when spring began for me. When they bloomed, I would put on my warmest set of work clothes, head out to the garden, and leave the winter doldrums behind.
That was before I became a galanthophile, a British word describing gardeners obsessed with snowdrops. In my pre-galanthophile days, I thought (and I shudder to put this in writing) that once you had the double ‘Flore Pleno’, and the giant G. elwesii, and the green-tipped ‘Viridi-apice’, and the glossy green-leafed G. woronowii, you pretty much had the snowdrop field covered. The rest all looked the same, didn’t they? What were all those collectors getting so excited about?
But one day, I realized the error of my ways and was seized by the galanthophile obsession to collect every snowdrop cultivar I could get my hands on. Actually, it didn’t really happen in a day—more like years. It started with reading the snowdrop sections in the (old) Heronswood catalogues. Dan Hinkley was a master at plant descriptions, and I ordered a few new cultivars each year. However, my fate as a galanthophile was sealed when I visited the garden of famous regional plantsman Charles Cresson during snowdrop season. Charles can make you see and appreciate the finest distinctions in plants, and he is so generous with his treasures.
Now I had the wild up-facing double ‘Blewbury Tart’, and ‘Magnet’ with the fishing line stem, and the drop-pearl earring shaped ‘Atkinsii’, and the classic ‘S. Arnott’, and the rabbit-eared ‘Sharlockii’, and …. they all looked different to me. I only have 25 varieties though, hardly qualifying me to join the International Galanthophile Society if there is one. Luckily (or unluckily) unusual snowdrops are rarely offered for sale in the U.S. saving me from creating a system to keep track of hundreds of snowdrop cultivars in my garden. The British snowdrop “bible”, Snowdrops: A Monograph of Cultivated Galanthus by Matt Bishop, et al., describes 500 cultivars and is sadly out-of-date number-wise.
But why am I talking about snowdrops in fall? Because two of the unusual varieties I have been able to collect bloom in fall. This wreaked havoc with my “start of spring” clock, which I had to reset to recognize the wonderful fragrance of sweet box as the beginning of spring. But this inconvenience has been more than outweighed by allowing me to start my snowdrop season in early October with the blooming of Galanthus reginae-olgae.
Galanthus reginae-olgae, a species snowdrop which has no handy common name, starts blooming in my garden in early to mid-October and continues for about four weeks. It looks very much like the common snowdrop, G. nivalis, with a single green spot on its inner petals. Its most significant identifying feature is its bloom time as it is the first species to flower in the garden. It is not particularly robust in my garden, but I love it in October. I am offering it for the first time in my 2011 Snowdrop Catalogue.
Just as G. reginae-olgae is winding down, the first blooms of Galanthus elwesii var. monostichus ‘Potter’s Prelude’ are opening in early November. It continues to flower, sometimes into January, when the straight species, G. elwesii, takes over. ‘Potter’s Prelude’ is a free-flowering and vigorous snowdrop in my garden with wide recurving blue-green leaves. It has large blossoms equal in size to the best cultivars of the giant snowdrop, G. elwesii.
‘Potter’s Prelude’ was selected by Jack Potter, former curator of the Scott Arboretum, and named and registered by Charles Cresson. Charles has generously allowed me to include ‘Potter’s Prelude’ for sale in my February snowdrop catalogue and given me enough plants to enjoy good-sized clumps in late fall in my own garden.
For more information about the snowdrops mentioned above and to read the descriptions in my 2011 Snowdrop Catalogue, click here. I have listed the book Snowdrops permanently under Books on my website’s sidebar. For photographs of hundreds of snowdrops, go to Galanthus Gallery. To see how crazy the British are about snowdrops, check out this current article in the UK Telegraph.