Archive for Galanthus nivalis

Snowdrops: Further Confessions of a Galanthophile

Posted in bulbs for shade, New Plants, snowdrops with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2011 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

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


Our current snowdrop catalogue is on line here.


This article includes photographs and colorful descriptions of the 15 snowdrops I am offering for sale in my 2011 Snowdrop Catalogue.


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



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.

The view from my office this morning:

Snowdrops or the Confessions of a Galanthophile

Posted in bulbs for shade, Fall Color, Shade Gardening, snowdrops with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2010 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

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.


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