Curating a Plant Collection: Snowdrops or Otherwise


Galanthus reginae-olgaeGalanthus reginae-olgae is the earliest snowdrop to bloom in my garden, around the third week of October.

Our current snowdrop catalogue is on line here.

My garden is not a collection of plants, especially those that require any sort of extra maintenance.  If you visit Carolyn’s Shade Gardens, you will see that most plantings are quite natural looking with a focus on natives.  However, there are a few exceptions, and most of you know by now that I am an unapologetic collector of snowdrops.  I also sell snowdrops, click here for the 2019 catalogue, and some of them are quite pricey, so I thought it would be helpful if I explained how I keep track of mine.  This system can be used for any plant collection.

Nursery News:  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.


Galanthus 'Potter's Prelude' elwesii‘Potter’s Prelude’ always flowers by mid-November and, weather permitting, continues into January.

My system involves written records on my computer and physical markings in the garden.  There may be a fancy computerized plant database available, but I use a simple table with columns in a Word document.  The first column is alphabetical and lists the complete botanical name of the snowdrop, including the species and cultivar names if applicable, e.g., Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’.  The remaining columns describe the pertinent information about the snowdrop for each location in the garden: date planted, exact location, number of plants, and source.


Galanthus 'Brenda Troyle'This is the ‘Brenda Troyle’ planting that corresponds to the first location entry below. 

For example, ‘Brenda Troyle’ is listed in column one as Galanthus ‘Brenda Troyle’ as it is a hybrid with no species name like elwesii or nivalis.  Column two describes location one: “2012, front walk next to Dbl Rose hellebore, 2 Cresson.”  Column three describes location two: “2014, carriage house 2nd bed on left, moved 1 Cresson.”  It is very important that the location description is as detailed as possible so that if all your outdoor markings disappear, you still know where your snowdrop is located.


Galanthus elwesii ex Montrose GardensAnother snowdrop blooming right now is Nancy Goodwin’s fall-blooming G. elwesii var. monostictus, which she shared with me in 2013.  At the back of the clump is the metal tag and peeking out in front is the plastic stake.

Out in the garden, each snowdrop gets two markers.  The first is a 10″ zinc plant marker produced by Bosmere, item H185, in sets of 10.  Included is a carbon pencil, but I don’t use that to write on the markers.  All labels in my garden are inscribed with an opaque paint marker made by Uchida, Decolor 200-S Black, and available at art supply stores.   All other writing materials, including pencils and “permanent markers” wear off.  I place the metal plant marker directly behind the snowdrop and record the full name, date acquired, and source.


dscn7338Bosmere zinc plant markers


dscn8464opaque paint marker



dscn7336A paint marker is used to record the name, date acquired and source.


Each snowdrop is also marked with a second tag directly in front of the plant.  For this, I use a 6″ Rapiclip plant label made by Luster Leaf in packages of 50.  These plastic stakes are long and sturdy but flexible, not brittle.  They can be pushed almost all the way into the ground and bend instead of breaking if you step on them.  I write the same information on them with a paint marker.


dscn7337Rapiclip plant labels




Galanthus 'Foxgrove Magnet'‘Foxgrove Magnet’ with its metal marker behind and plastic tag in front.
dscn8458There are variations on my marking scheme.  For example, this bed has random, unnamed, fall-blooming G. elwesii.  Each clump has a plastic tag behind it describing its special characteristics, if any.
dscn8459I am superstitious so if I plant dormant snowdrops in the fall, they get a reused plastic tag and part of a bamboo garden stake until they come up in the spring.
dscn8460I also use bamboo poles, hammered solidly into the ground, if the snowdrops are planted in an area where a lot of leaves fall and obscure the metal and plastic stakes.  The photo below shows what I found under the leaves.
dscn8452I may not have remembered that this snowdrop grouping was there if it hadn’t been marked with the bamboo stake.


I realize that not everyone is obsessed with snowdrops, but this system can be used for any plant collection that has grown to the point where its size exceeds the mental capacity of the collector  :-).  I grow about 30 varieties of epimediums and keep a chronological handwritten record plus metal and plastic markers outside.  European wood anemones get metal tags and a handwritten list.  Mini hostas are marked with plastic tags and recorded haphazardly.  The rest of the plants have to rely on invoices and various notations in garden journals.  Every winter I consider making a complete database of all the plants at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens but the prospect is daunting.



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7 Responses to “Curating a Plant Collection: Snowdrops or Otherwise”

  1. Hello Carolyn,
    This is a really useful piece, well written and thought out, and for me extremely timely! I don’t really like labels in the garden, but without them how do you keep tabs on something like snowdrops? I’ve decided that this year, having kept written in a diary notes of where most of the cultivars are, i do need , as indeed you have so clearly worked out, a double recording system in the ground. With my ongoing historic Welsh snowdrop hunt likely to yield at least another 15 or 20 forms this winter to add to the over 200 variants of snowdrops which we now grow, my only regret is that you didn’t write this brilliant piece a couple of years ago!
    Anyway thanks again.
    I shall now see if I can source the labels and pen you mention over here!
    Best wishes
    and Happy Christmas,

    • Julian, I am so glad you liked the post. Not a lot of pretty photos, but hopefully a lot of useful information. I am not a fan of labels in the garden either, but if you are going to have a collection, then there’s not much point unless you keep track of it as you say. If you want the marking system to be more hidden, I would suggest very detailed written records of placement plus a short bamboo pole section driven deep into the ground so it can’t come out, in the back of the snowdrop, with one of the rapiclip stakes in the front also almost completely submerged. Merry Christmas to you and Fiona, Carolyn

  2. You are so organized. I like how you posted on labeling the plants. I always thought about labeling some, but never found markers that would last or retain the wording. Good to know you have a solution.

  3. Each of my plants has a hand-written index card with info on the front that also includes price as well as the things you mentioned. On the back it has location. Then I also try to put a plastic marker in the ground but I like the look of yours better than what I am using. These index cards are filed in alphabetical order in one drawer of an old library card catalog. Either you are a serious record keeper or not. I hate not knowing exactly what each plant is and all of its specs when it comes up. Thanks for a good post and I am so looking forward to my snowdrop additions.

  4. […] task. The lovely yellow tinged Sutton Courtenay … Well worth reading Carolyn’s piece. Click here. Nothing will appear on line yet concerning our snowdrops – simply photographing nearly 250 […]

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