Snowdrops or the Confessions of a Galanthophile

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops to the US only.  For catalogues and announcements of local events, please send your full name, mailing address, and cell number to and indicate whether you are mail order only.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

Common Snowdrop at Carolyn's Shade GardensCommon Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis

Our current snowdrop catalogue is on line here, and we are currently taking orders.

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.

'Viridi-apice' snowdrops at Carolyn's Shade GardensGreen-tipped Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis ‘Viridi-apice’

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.

Galanthus nivalis 'Blewbury Tart' at Carolyn's Shade GardensGalanthus ‘Blewbury Tart’

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.

snowdrop 'Magnet' at Carolyn's Shade GardensGalanthus ‘Magnet’

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.

October blooming Galanthus reginae-olgae, photo Charles Cresson

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.

fall-blooming snowdrop 'Potter's Prelude' at Carolyn's Shade GardensNovember blooming Galanthus ‘Potter’s Prelude’

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.

fall-blooming snowdrop 'Potter's Prelude' at Carolyn's Shade GardensNovember blooming Galanthus ‘Potter’s Prelude’

‘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.


45 Responses to “Snowdrops or the Confessions of a Galanthophile”

  1. This post is the best written on snowdrops that I have read. It really is incredible how many varieties that there are and how they are so well documented. Your images of this delicate flower are really captivating.

  2. These photos are wonderful. The detail is amazing. Thank you Carolyn.

  3. Hi Carolyn,

    I have not seen any snow drops since I originally planted them. I think this spring will be the second year they will have been in the ground. Is it normal for them to take awhile to become established? Otherwise I’m afraid. I “forgot” where I planted them – oops! When should I start looking for them this season?
    Thanks. Betsy

    • Hi Betsy. Start looking in February forblooms. I am afraid if you didn’t see them last year, they might have gotten lost in all your plant moving and construction. It is almost impossible to kill a snowdrop. Carolyn

  4. Nelly Lincoln Says:

    I’m absolutely blown away! I ,too, herald Spring when my wild snowdrops appear in the snow. I have no idea where they came form –I just welcome them, and thanks to your amazing Gallery, a whole new world is open!

    • Thanks Nelly. Your wild snowdrops were planted by someone a long time ago. Our property is very old in American time, our house was the gardener’s cottage, and I like to think of some long forgotten gardener planting them. Carolyn

  5. I purchased several varieties from you this past Spring, and look forward to seeing them pop in the spring.
    Do I need to worry about the deer enjoying them also?

  6. I had never seen a snow drop until we moved in our home in 2003 and found a small clump growing under the dogwood tree. Even then I didn’t know what they were, just that I loved them. Like crocuses, they herald Spring in my garden. Beautiful photos!

  7. I would also recommend “The Genus Galanthus” by Aaron P. Davis as good resource material if you have more than a passing interest in snowdrops. I think varietal availability is all that stands in the way of increasing the number of galanthophiles in the States; a perfect opening for you, Carolyn.

    • Hi Martha. I am trying to build up my collections and the cultivars that I can make available. I will read your suggested book. You are right–it is hard to be a true galanthophile here because of availability issues. Carolyn

  8. Hi Carolyn – lovely to find a shade garden specialist! Your feature on snowdrops is beautiful- I don’t know why I don’t have more of them. That Telegraph link gives great ideas for making a snowdrop theatre – as we do with like auriculas.
    Here in the UK we are almost as mad about Snowdrops as Bluebells – signposts of winter’s coming end and Spring’s heyday respectively. Thought this article might also show our Galanthrophilia:


    • Hi Laura, I don’t know why you don’t have more of them either since you live in Mecca. I have to live in the US to save myself from going bankrupt buying snowdrops. And it was torture to read that article with all the snowdrop open days. I always buy an English gardening magazine around then to look at the ads for snowdrop openings and weekends. Keep in touch. Carolyn

  9. I am always looking for ways to “make it” through the long winter season where I live. I am definintely going to look for some of these snowdrop varieties to plant in my garden. Will they grow in Utah zone 5? Also, wonderful photography! I love to photograph as well so I can appreciate someone who loves to capture the beauty of plants!

    • Hi Ramona. The common snowdrop, G. nivalis, is hardy to zone 3. If you don’t have that I would try it first. Then you could safely move to the cultivars of G. nivalis. As to the hardiness of other species and cultivars outside of my zone 6 area, I don’t know. I have so much to learn about photography. I am pretty good close up, but have far to go in landscape shots. Glad you enjoyed the blog. Carolyn

  10. This is the first time I see snowdrops…they are so lovely and with so many varieties. No wonder you are so obsessed with them! I would! Great post and photos!

  11. I had no idea that there were different varieties of snowdrops but now I will be on the lookout for them in our local nurseries. You blog addresses a special weakness of mine which is the shade garden.

    I will enjoy future readings.

    • Thanks. It’s so funny. I just read your latest post and forwarded it to my husband and two older sons. Then I gave it 5 hearts which will probably throw me out of the rankings but what the heck. I am glad you like snowdrops. I have never seen them available in a nursery. You need to mail order bulbs in the fall or growing plants in the spring. Carolyn

      • Thanks Carolyn, and I do read comments. Also I tend to drop my “r’s” when typing so I can come across as a little “touched”. Thanks for the tips on the bulbs. I get a lot of catalogs in the winter, I will start looking for snowdrop specifically because now I want some.

      • I have a snowdrop catalogue for my local customers–2010 is a page on my sidebar. Last March, I filled 6 mail order requests, and I will probably do more this year. If you are interested, the 2011 catalogue will be posted on the blog at the beginning of February. Carolyn

  12. Dear Carolyn,
    I was at Winterthur for Yultide. They have a tree dedicated to their March bank garden. The tree included snowdrops! The garden tram is still running and the fall garden is wonderful to see.
    Most of the leaves are down but this permits the visitor see different aspects of the landscape. Try to get down there if you can. I was so pleased to see and recognize snowdrops on one of their
    trees! Pinetum is beautiful and some of the older Japanese maples are spectacular without their leaves.

  13. They are very beautiful in your garden. The fall bloomers are intriguing. I planted my very first bunch just last year in 09 and they did not do well this spring. I have hopes now that I’ve seen yours that they will do better. Instead of them this year I tried snowflakes and hope they do well. I’d like to see some snowdrops though!

    • Hi Tina, I am wondering when you planted your snowdrops that are not thriving: in fall 2009 as bulbs or in spring 2009 as growing plants (in the galanthophile world that’s known as “in the green”). If they were planted in the green, then I don’t know why they didn’t do well this spring. If they were planted as bulbs, then there is a good chance that they were dried out in storage by the bulb company before you got them. Snowdrops do not take well to the typical way that bulbs are handled. If they are left too long out of the ground they suffer and do not perform. Carolyn

  14. What an amazing post! I only have one or maybe two varieties of snowdrops. I confess to being so lazy about bulbs anymore since too many have been lost to voles. I do find that they seem to pass on the snowdrops so now maybe I will plant more. Your writing and photos are most inspiring Carolyn. I use to get out into the gardens too, when the snowdrops would appear. They are a good clock to follow. Thank you for your thoughtful comment on my last post. ;>)

    • Hi Carol, Snowdrops are poisonous so the voles stay away below ground and the deer stay away above ground. I loved your Thanksgiving post and would advise all my readers to click on Carol’s blog. Thanks, Carolyn

  15. They were planted as bulbs not in the green. I had ordered them and planted them right away. I so hope they recuperate and come back but it is possible they were too dried. Such a shame as I love them! Hopefully the snowflakes are not so finicky. Thanks for the info. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

  16. Incredible how many varieties you have!
    I can see how you become a galanthophile They all look great!
    must chose the magnet as my favorite

    • Thanks. I am glad you liked ‘Magnet’—it is difficult to get a photo that does justice to its dainty stem. I thought you might like to read my full catalogue description for ‘Magnet’: “The descriptions of this snowdrop are a joy to read, and I can see why after having it in my garden. The stems (or pedicels) of the large, sweetly scented flowers are long and thin causing them to sway in the slightest breeze and setting ‘Magnet’ apart from all other snowdrops (no magnifying glass needed). Selected in the 1880s, it may have been named ‘Magnet’ after the child’s fishing game with magnets and sticks, we can’t be sure. I do know that Matt Bishop says it defines garden-worthiness and is a mainstay of snowdrop collections throughout the world.” It really is a fun snowdrop. Carolyn

  17. hi i am new here just picked you at blotanical, but the snowdrops are my favorite flower the first time i saw it. And it hasn’t happened again, as it only grows in temperate climes after winter, and i dont go to these countries often. How i wish i will see them again for the 2nd time in person. It is really awesome. I posted also my first encounter with it in Turkey (last year) . very beautiful photos that i envy.

    • Hi Andrea, I will try to find your post about snowdrops in Turkey. I am glad you like them. I will probably have a lot of posts about them so if you can’t see them in person, you can see them on my blog. Carolyn

  18. Sharon Halpin Says:

    Love both the informative text and those awesome photos, Carolyn. I was delighted with my mail order purchase from you last March. The “in the green” snowdrops were lush, vigorous plants and very well packed. I am looking forward both to seeing them bloom this winter and to placing an order from your 2011 snowdrop catalogue!

  19. Mary Stamper Says:

    Carolyn, stop this! Now I have a bunch more things to find room in the garden for! I love these things too, but had no idea there were so many of them. Blewbury Tart is to die for! “Green Lantern” is a cool one too! “Natalie Garten” is lovely also. I always think is a shame that the flowers face downward….some of them are really fascinating if you pick the blossom up and look at it from the bottom.

    • Hi Mary, that’s the whole idea and besides snowdrops don’t take up any room. They bloom when everything else is dormant and then disappear. I have a different response to flowers facing downward—I think the extra effort it takes to see them makes them more special. ‘Blewberry Tart’ faces upward. Carolyn

  20. It was with some trepidation that I read about your snowdrop obsession for I fear that I am about to walk down that path. By happenstance I planted a few snowdrop bulbs years ago…I just planted 75 of one single variety in a new bed … now I am wishing that I had mixed up the varieties. Well, there’s always space to tuck more in!

    • Penelope, Snowdrops, other than the common one, which is quite nice, can get quite expensive. Galanthus nivalis is the best for massing, and I am assuming that’s what you are starting with. I am wondering what zone you are in San Diego and whether snowdrops grow there. Carolyn

  21. […] become obsessed with differences in pedicels, spathes, and inner and outer petals. We call them galanthophiles. Hitch Lyman, owner of the Temple Nursery, is one of the foremost galanthophiles in the United […]

  22. […] I’m quite excited at becoming an aspiring galanthophile. My favorite place to read up on Snowdrops is Carolyn’s Shade Gardens. With the Christmas tree headed for the compost, the dining room feels much roomier. I had changed […]

  23. […] successful try and the variations are simply fascinating. I have come to learn from Carolyn of Carolyn’s Shade Gardens that Galanthus Elwesii are often collected from the wild legally. This explains the variations in […]

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