Snowdrops: Further Confessions of a Galanthophile

Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’ described in Snowdrops as having “elegant elongated flowers that suggest the drop-pearl earrings of Elizabeth I,”  I can’t improve on that

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The 2014 Snowdrop Catalogue, featuring snowdrops and other winter interest plants like cyclamen and hellebores, is on the sidebar, and we are taking orders, to access the catalogue please click here.

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This article includes photographs and colorful descriptions of the 15 snowdrops I am offering for sale in my 2011 Snowdrop Catalogue.  I have emailed the catalogue to all my customers and posted it on my sidebar here.  You can view the catalogue by clicking here.


In my garden, I have many forms of Galanthus elwesii, which was named for Henry John Elwes (1846-1922), described as a “true energetic Victorian” combing the world for big game, fine trees, insects, birds, and snowdrops


In my article Snowdrops or the Confessions of a Galanthophile, I revealed that I am obsessed with snowdrops.  I described my evolution from a gardener growing a few distinct varieties to a galanthophile collecting every cultivated snowdrop I could get my hands on.  I explained that I could now see the often subtle differences between flowers that others might unknowingly (shall we say ignorantly) dismiss as ridiculous.  To understand how far I have gone down this road, know that I recently found myself describing a snowdrop as having “a bold inner marking with a basal blotch narrowly joined to an apical round-armed V.”  There is no turning back.


Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’, probably the oldest snowdrop cultivar  in existence with records as early as 1703


But I didn’t talk about one of the things I find most fascinating about snowdrops.  They are the only plant that I would purchase as much for their colorful history as for their ornamental characteristics.  And how do I find out about their captivating  lineage: I consult Snowdrops: A Monograph of Cultivated Galanthus by Matt Bishop, Aaron Davis, and John Grimshaw (Griffin Press 2006).  This book, always referred to as the snowdrop bible, has all the information anyone could want about the 500 “commonly” cultivated snowdrops.


The Greatorex Double, Galanthus ‘Ophelia’

After reading Snowdrops, who would not want Galanthus ‘Ophelia’, a beautiful double snowdrop, when it was originated by Heyrick Greatorex of Brundall, Norfolk, England, a man who lived “an unconventional lifestyle” in a wooden garden shed that might have been a railway carriage?  Or a snowdrop like Galanthus ‘Magnet’ that has reached its centenary [a word not used commonly in the US so I had to look it up] and was probably named for “the old-fashioned child’s game in which magnets are attached to miniature fishing rods for the purpose of picking up painted metal fish, the point being to win the game by catching the most?”  I played that game.


Galanthus ‘Magnet’, can you can see the miniature fishing rod?

Galanthus ‘Straffan’, Baron Clarina of Ireland’s souvenir of the Crimean War

Who can resist the indestructible Galanthus ‘Straffan’, the third oldest snowdrop cultivar still in existence, discovered in the later 1800s by the head gardener for Straffan House in County Kildare, Ireland, in a clump of G. plicatus brought back from the Crimean War by the owner, the fourth Baron Clarina?  Or October-flowering Galanthus reginae-olgae, named in 1876 in honor of Queen Olga of Greece, the grandmother of  the current Duke of Edinburgh?  [In the US, we would say grandmother of Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth's husband.]


The October-flowering Galanthus reginae-olgae, named for Prince Philip’s grandmother, photo Charles Cresson

Galanthus nivalis/Common SnowdropGalanthus nivalis, the common snowdrop, has a 500-year lineage to brag about


Even the plain old common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, an imminently garden-worthy plant, has been cultivated as an ornamental in England since the 16th century.  There are written records.  The species snowdrop, Galanthus woronowii, was collected on the eastern shores of the Black Sea and named by a Russian botanist for Russian plant collector Georg Jurii Nikolaewitch Woronow (1874-1931).

The shiny green leaves of Galanthus woronowii named for plant collector Georg Jurii Nikolaewitch Woronow, photo Charles Cresson


Galanthus ‘Blewbury Tart’ found by Alan Street in Blewbury, Oxfordshire, England

Even more modern snowdrops have name-dropping heritages.  Snowdrops tells us that when noted horticulturist Alan Street of the well known English bulb house, Avon Bulbs, and the discoverer of Galanthus ‘Blewbury Tart’, gave three bulbs instead of one to quirky English gardener, Primrose Warburg (1920-1996), she “characteristically complained” and called it ‘Blewbury Muffin’.  This is the same Primrose Warburg who we are told cautioned visitors navigating her treacherous garden slope to be careful, not because they might hurt themselves, but because the snowdrops were irreplaceable. Galanthus ‘Beth Chatto’ was, of course, discovered in the gardens of the internationally famous gardener and writer, Beth Chatto, OBE [Order of the British Empire].


Galanthus ‘Beth Chatto’ from the internationally famous Beth Chatto Gardens


Snowdrops describes Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ as the “classic snowdrop….a first-class garden plant with an unquestionable constitution, admired by everyone,” photo Charles Cresson

Other cultivars have discussions of their origins so complicated as to rival the US Tax Code, something I am familiar with from my former career. Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ is in danger of losing its name to ‘Arnott’s Seedling’, the name under which it was given the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit, but a name deemed unsuitable because E.A. Bowles, “one of the most revered plantsman of all times,” later called it ‘S. Arnott’.  The  International Cultivar Registration Society in the Netherlands has been so advised. Galanthus nivalis ‘Viridapice’ has evidently had many imitators since it was discovered prior to 1922 near an old farmhouse in northern Holland, and confusion is rampant.


Galanthus nivalis ‘Viridapice’, hopefully not an impostor

Please do not think I am in any way making fun of this book.  I love it, and I wish all plant genera had books this information-packed and well written dedicated to them.  I list Snowdrops on my Blotanical profile as the garden book I am currently reading because I am always reading it.  Rumor has it that a new edition is in the works (for an update from John Grimshaw, click here), and I will buy it.  If you like snowdrops, you should own it too.

Well, based on the tales found in the snowdrop bible, what cultivars are in my future?  I am intrigued by ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’, a vigorous double, whose namesake (1877-1944) struggled to create an English garden in India when her husband was Governor of Madras.  I have my eye on ‘Merlin’ with its solid green blotch, whose stock was maintained by Amy Doncaster (1894-1995), “a greatly admired, no-nonsense plantswoman” who collected my favorite plants, snowdrops, hellebores and epimediums, in her woodland garden.  Finally, I would like to grow ‘Primrose Warburg’, a rare yellow snowdrop, because I think I might be just like her when I grow up.

Galanthus ‘Merlin’ whose stock was maintained by no-nonsense plantswoman Amy Doncaster


Carolyn

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.), click here.  For my 2011 Snowdrop Catalogue, click here.

The view from my office this morning:

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64 Responses to “Snowdrops: Further Confessions of a Galanthophile”

  1. 1. I want to change my name to Primrose.

    2. I had forgotten about the beautiful snowdrops in my garden in NY until right now,

    3. I wonder if they’ll grow in zone 7a?

  2. Sharon Halpin Says:

    I’m in Washington, DC, zone 7a. Snowdrops bloom beautifully here.

    Love your detailed descriptions and superb photos, Carolyn! I am reading the description of G. ‘Ophelia’ — ” … the flowers on the second stem often need help to open.” Could you kindly clarify the “help” that’s needed? Many thanks!

    • Sharon, Thanks for being the first to respond with zone information. You have to understand that the first flowers have already bloomed beautifully so this is just a bonus. All you do is tear or slit the outer casing on the buds on the second stem if they appear to be bulging but not opening. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify. Carolyn

    • Sharon,

      I am with my wife in Bethesda for a month. She is very sick at NIH and I need to lift her spirits at least for a while. We are originally from Romania where there is a custom of offering snowdrops to the loved feminin ones on March 1st. Do you know where I can find/buy snowdrops in Washington area?

      Thank you very much

  3. Which Snowdrops, if any, do you recommend for central Texas (Zone 8b). Does it get too hot & dry during the summer, or even not cold enough in the winter for Snowdrops?

    • The only place I have grown snowdrops is zone 6, and every one I plant thrives. The best way to answer your question is to consult local Austin gardeners, your local extension service or arboretum, or a regional gardening book (in that order). I consulted my Longwood Gardens course book on Hardy Bulbs, and it lists G. nivalis as zones 3-8, G. reginae-olgae as zones 6-8, G. plicatus subsp. byzantinus as zones 6-8, and G. elwesii as “zones 4-8?”. This guidance can’t replace local knowledge—could some other Austin bloggers chime in if they have snowdrops? Carolyn

  4. Carolyn, I am truly fond of the common snowdrop and very glad to know of its impressive lineage! Great post as always! The book looks very interesting – me thinks I will have to find a copy.

  5. Without wishing to gloat (too much), I have gardened in England where of course snowdrops flourish, and there are many nurseries that propagate and sell rare examples. Primrose Warberg (I had thought it was Warburg) is stunning – a true yellow.
    Do you know which cultivar it is on the cover of the book? The flowers are delightful, like plump little ball gowns.

    • Jill, You are gloating shamelessly, and we deprived galanthophiles over here in the US don’t appreciate it. I hope my article made you contemplate your good fortune in addition to gloating. That was a typo, it is Warburg, thanks for pointing it out so I could correct it. I have also added a link with information from John Grimshaw on the progress of the new book. The cover photo is of G. elwesii, the giant or Turkish snowdrop. “Plump little ball gowns” is a wonderful description worthy of the snowdrop bible itself. Carolyn

  6. chris spolsky Says:

    Great article! I’d like to add some biological/grammatical naming information: the plural of genus is genera (it’s Latin).

  7. Ah Carolyn, I’m already addicted to Hellebores and now you are making me covet Galanthuses (is that a word?) too. I have an order already planned from your catalog. Please stop! You know what a plant geek I am.

  8. Snowdrops may well flourish in the UK, but I have never seen so many wonderful varieties which you have. Sam Arnotts the one in our garden.

  9. just love all the different kinds here..they are so dainty and beautiful in spring…

  10. I had no idea there were so many snowdrops available. You have convinced me to take another look at the snowdrop as I have always considered them so ‘common’. That said I do grow snowdrops in my garden although which kind it is is for someone else to determine.

  11. @landscapelover: the cover of ‘Snowdrops’ shows a nice clump of an unnamed, ordinary form of Galanthus elwesii. It was photographed on 25 January 1999 in Jeanette Axton’s garden, Etna, California. We do not have a monopoly of snowdrops on this side of the Atlantic!

    • John, Nothing like having the author of Snowdrops defend American snowdrops. As you know, our problem here is more one of supply than of demand or interest. A wide variety of snowdrops are just not available in the US. I hope to change that, but it will be a slow process. Thanks for letting us know that the cover of your book was photographed in the US. Carolyn

  12. I must add some to my garden. I love your post and put it on FB.
    Donna

  13. Ann Inman Says:

    I had several different snowdrops in my old garden. moved this past September so will miss them this year. they are my favorite bulb.
    time to replant!!!!

  14. Carolyn, hi,
    I am sorry if my jokey comment “gloating” about UK snowdrops has upset or annoyed any of your readers… As someone who loves this blog, and has lived and gardened in the northern US, I do appreciate that the UK does not have a monopoly on lovely garden plants. My comment was not meant to be smug, but rather sympathetic for the more extreme climatic conditions that US gardeners frequently face.
    Perhaps my gloating is being punished by the fact that I now have to live in a city apartment with no garden at all?

    • Jill, I loved your original comment and felt after reading it that you really understood what my post was all about. I took your comment exactly as it was intended and felt it was in the spirit of my post which was, in addition to highlighting snowdrops and the snowdrop bible, poking fun at myself and the whole galanthophile world, which take snowdrops so seriously and which I so enjoy being part of. I found absolutely nothing smug about it. My allusions to it in response to other comments were meant to continue the fun. I don’t think any of my readers were actually annoyed or upset–it is so hard to convey in words what accompanying visual cues would convey in a second. I think they were just joining in the fun. Carolyn

  15. islandthreads Says:

    I never realized there was a yellow snowdrop Carolyn, lovely post, Frances

  16. landscapelover, we appreciated your comment for just what it was and it made us smile. Not to worry.

  17. I really enjoyed your informative post Carolyn and your exquisite photographs. I have a small collection of named snowdrops which have given me great joy over a good few years. I took a gamble and grew them in pots to thwart the squirrels and so that I could enjoy their markings and appreciate their scent at close quarters. Unfortunately a very wet late summer and then the UK’s coldest December for a hundred years has resulted in several losses :( What a shame your nursery is not nearer. If you have not already come across it you might enjoy this website :http://www.judyssnowdrops.co.uk/

    • Anna, I am sorry about your snowdrops. I hope there is still a chance that they will come up. I have never had any problem with squirrels bothering my snowdrops. They are semi-poisonous so they don’t eat them, and they have never dug any up. Thanks for the website recommendation. A quick look now will be followed by more in depth reading. Carolyn

  18. Dear Carolyn, What a beautifully written and presented posting on this most beguiling of flowers. The fragile innocence of Snowdrops has always captivated me although I should not refer to myself as a Galanthophile. I agree that the great Snowdrop collectors and those who have Snowdrops named after them have such fascinating histories that it makes the study of this species so fascinating.

    For my own part, I cannot think of Snowdrops without remembering a great friend of mine who held an annual Snowdrop party in February each year. After a super lunch and a brief talk we would all tour her garden admiring her marvellous Snowdrop collection. A perfect introduction to Spring and the new gardening year!!

    Thank you so much for your very kind comment on my recent posting to which I have made reply.

    • Edith, Thank you for your kind words. I think, to be a galanthophile, obsession and snowdrops have to go hand-in-hand. This is not necessarily a good thing as I just read on John Grimshaw’s blog that a new record was set for the price of a single snowdrop: 357 pounds or $563. That sale benefited a charity, but the same snowdrop at a UK nursery was 150 pounds or $237. Thank you for bringing up another aspect of snowdrops that makes them so fun. Snowdrop obsessing is a group activity in the UK with lunches, walks, weekends, and great snowdrop estates. I can’t wait for the US to catch up on this aspect. Maybe I will do a further article on snowdrop activities. Carolyn

  19. Carolyn, I can understand your obsession with Snowdrops. They are simple but beautiful flowers. I especially love the green and white combinations such as the ‘Blewbury Tart’ and ‘Ophelia.’

  20. I am blown away. I had no idea that there were so many different varieties of snowdrops. I would love to add some to my garden.

    • Jennifer, It really is amazing when a country or culture really gets into a plant. In Japan, there are over 500 named cultivars of Japanese woodland primrose, Primula sieboldii. You should definitively try some snowdrops, but start with G. nivalis or G. elwesii—easy, inexpensive, and beautiful. Carolyn

  21. Interesting and lovely images, Carolyn. You have left my heart thumping with thoughts of spring :)

  22. Beautiful flowers! I finally saw some at the garden center. I think I should get some for next year

    • Fer, You could easily plant them in a pot on your balcony that already has other plants that come up later. They don’t take up any room and provide great early interest. You may be able to find them at the garden center now and plant them. Let me know what happens. Are snowdrops popular in Japan? Carolyn

  23. Thanks for your comment about the mouse traps etc. I really appreciated what you said and I am so glad that people care enough to say something about this serious problem.

    I love the snowdrops! Very beautiful!

  24. Oh dear, you are really pushing my collector buttons with this post. I love your description of them as fishing rods — I definitely see it! I suspect that next fall I’ll be buying these bulbs willy nilly for the front lawn.

  25. Whenever I see a post like this, I am promptly consumed with galanthus-envy, as around here, we can only usually find 2-3 types: single, double, and large single. No fancies like you show here. I’m almost drooling on my computer’s keyboard…

    • Jodi, There really aren’t that many snowdrop cultivars available in the US, that’s why I started my mail order business. The best way for you to get unusual cultivars is to start looking for some local galanthophiles and trade with them. I am sure you have other plants they want. Many snowdrop collectors will be members of other specialized plant groups so you may be able to find them there. Carolyn

  26. Love your site – and as a native of England who lived not far from Brundall, please note that a correction should be made to your reference of Heyrick Greatorex’s location as Brundall, NORWALK, England.

    It should be NORFOLK.

  27. Carolyn I have just read all your snowdrop articles and thoroughly enjoyed them. Can’t wait for your next snowdrop catalog. Between yours and Hitch Lyman’s catalog I will be broke come early spring. I better start budgeting now for snowdrop orders. You are so lucky to know so many plantsmen and gardens with such special treasures. Do you happen to also know John Lonsdale?

  28. Vivian mcdevitt Says:

    Would love your catalog. Is it possible to mail a copy yo me? My name is Vivian McDevitt 1 Norwich lane Southampton, new jersey 08088 thanks. I love your website

  29. I spent my childhood in Romania loving the snowdrops(ghiocei)..I lIve in Texas…and miss them terrible!

    • Oana, i have been getting a lot of emails from readers who are originally from Hungary or Romania and pine for snowdrops. Evidently, it was a tradition for gypsies to sell them on street corners. Snowdrops will grow in some parts of Texas. you should check into it. Carolyn

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