Dabbling in Snowdrops

Galanthus Magnet
Galanthus Magnet

I am a naturally curious person with an enquiring mind.  Recently my curiosity has been piqued by snowdrops and the obsession some people have for them.  I have stared at photographs in magazines trying to spot the differences but if I am honest I am struggling.  The differences between the varieties are minute – or so it seems to me.  Some have outer tepals that are splayed out, some that fall down.  Some have green markings on the inner tepals, some on the outer tepals, some on both.  I also believe that some of the differences relate to the foliage and this isn’t so obvious in books and magazines where they focus on the flowers.  Some snowdrops are taller than others, some have longer leaves, some have glaucous leaves and so it goes on and its all on a tiny scale.

Galanthus Lady Beatrix Stanley
Galanthus Lady Beatrix Stanley

As I encounter more and more plants people I am finding that many have a secret, and sometimes not so secret, passion for snowdrops and a few claim to be galanthophiles – the name given to the real experts.  What makes them so passionate?  And why do some people spend an inordinate amount of money on one bulb which to someone like me looks very much the same as another variety?

I have decided that, as part of my drive to learn more about plants, that I am going to try to learn more about snowdrops and so I have joined the Hardy Plant Society Galanthus Group and I am going to a study day this weekend.  I hope to come away with more of an insight into this particular and intricate fascination in what is after all such a small and dainty plant.

Galanthus viridapice
Galanthus viridapice

I find it increasingly hard to learn things from books so I have decided to buy a few different snowdrops in order to see them in real life and learn to recognise the differences.  After all comparing one plant against another one must be better to learn from than by comparing photos or pictures in books.  My first snowdrops arrived today from Avon Bulbs – 3 plants carefully packed amongst newspaper.  They soon perked up once I had uncovered them and stood them up and they are waiting in the garage until the weekend when I will pot them up.

I am hoping to get some advice at the study day this coming weekend on the best location for the snowdrops and how feasible it is to grow them in pots.  A fellow garden club member recently told me that she grew her special snowdrops in aquatic plant pots which she submerged in the border.  This allowed the roots to spread out but also meant that she knew where they were.  I also need to find out whether badgers are partial to snowdrops because if they are I shall need to take this into account when I plant my new acquisitions.

I have to say that I could tell the difference between the three snowdrops I  bought, featured in this post.  I just need to learn, and remember, their names and then maybe next year I can add a few more!!


32 Comments Add yours

  1. djdfr says:

    I don’t know about badgers, but I have lost bulbs such as tulips to rodents while nothing seems to bother the snowdrops.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi djdfr
      Well badgers definately like tulips and have caused lots of damage this winter in my garden so I am hoping that they dont like snowdrops so much

  2. Funny you should write about this topic. I had lunch with Janet (Queen of Seaford) today and we talked (briefly) about gardeners that are overwhelmingly loyal to a single type of plant. You know, the rose people or the daylily or hosta fanatics. I love rock gardens and winter blooming plants, but I can’t imagine focusing on just one particular thing. I have to admit, though, I’m not as plant driven as others. The garden as a whole, and good design to showcase well-grown plants, is primary to me.

    All that said, snowdrops are as lovely as any plant I know. Enjoy your studies and plant trials and let us know if you discover the secret allure. Sounds like fun.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Marian
      I am far to fickle to every only like one group of plants and how boring that must be for the rest of the year. I just find it interesting to learn about what fascinates others

  3. Well on the way down the slippery slope there Helen – and so I lose yet another ally from the ranks of “I happy just to see large drifts of the normal ones”… Enjoy the group, they are beautiful plants, but from a distance? They still look so very similar to one another. Mostly. Apart from the yellow ones. And the really frilly ones, and, well, OK, so maybe they are all quite different from one another after all…

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Janet
      Oh dont worry I will always prefer large drifts of snowdrops over individual ones but I am curious so want to learn more

  4. I am also very fond of snowdrops, though I was unaware of some of the varieties you mentioned. I hope you share what you learn through your blog!

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Jason
      It really is quite amazing how many different varieties there are and yet from a distance they all look the same!!!

  5. Holleygarden says:

    I have just ordered my first snowdrops, too, after reading so much about them from other bloggers. They haven’t arrived yet. But I love your new snowdrops – especially Lady Beatrix Stanley. And the fact that you could tell the difference when you opened your package is a good sign. Sounds to me that you might just become a collector! I hope you learn a lot from your class, and that your new snowdrops do wonderfully in your garden.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi HG
      I have to confess to a weakness for plants with people’s names so Lady Beatrix Stanley was a simple choice and she is rather pretty I have to admit.

  6. pianolearner says:

    I love snowdrops, we tend to buy them in the green. We have been really lucky to get pots and pots of them from Egglestone nursery at really cheap prices. We’ve never tried mail order, so interested to see this post.

  7. Helen, I bought some snowdrops two years ago from Avon. I got G. Arnott, G Magnet and Blewbury tart. I love them and they are thriving under a weeping birch. The soli stays moist in the summer which I think they like. Enjoy your day. Look forward to hearing about it.

  8. Reblogged this on Old School Garden and commented:
    Want to find out more about snowdrops? see my post about them under ‘Plantax’

  9. Sandra Jonas says:

    I have often wondered about the fuss over the differences since I have to get on my hands & knees to see them. Look forward to the information you will share with us.

  10. Christina says:

    You are on the slippery path; and joining a class will only make the path more slippery! I’m one who likes large masses of simple snowdrops, the more the better preferably underplanting some coloured cornus! ENJOY, but I fear you are lost. Chrisitna

  11. Yvonne Ryan says:

    So much to learn about plants – you can never finish! Cute but like it cold

  12. Anna says:

    Oh I thought you might be tempted at some stage Helen 🙂 You have chosen three great distinctive snowdrops to start with. I find that the technical terms such as spathe and pedicel go over my head but the markings, colour of leaf and width, height, texture of flower, time of flowering etc. make an impression so I do recall their names most of the time. I also think that finding out more about each individual snowdrop is fascinating. Lady Beatrix for instance grew snowdrops and various other bulbs and also has an iris with her name. Another snowdrop ‘Barbara’s Double’ was named after her daughter. Yes it’s feasible to grow them in pots but they do better in the open. Enjoy your new treasures and be sure to report back about the HPS study day!

  13. Rob says:

    Looking forward to a report on your study day!

    Do you get much out of your Hardy Plant Society membership? I had been pondering it, but the travel distances to get the events are fairly large this far north. The neck-end of four hours driving for a round trip to go to a meeting is a little daunting…

  14. Bill S says:

    Hi Helen, I do hope you enjoy your day out. I have just written an article about East Lambrook Manor in Somerset, a Margery Fish garden where they specialise in Galanthus. They have a yellow variety Galanathus “Spindlestone Surprise”, the yellow snowdrop, very nice but at £25 per bulb a little on the expensive side!

  15. Going to Painswick with you made me realise that there is some point to being able to identify the different varieties, if only to be able to choose one that is tall, or scented, or whatever. Mine are all doubles, as far as I can see.
    If you want to snaffle a couple of clumps of ‘Flore Pleno’ from my garden, Helen, come on over!

  16. Cathy says:

    You will have gathered from other comments that you are probably at the start of a slippery (snowdrop) slope now! I agree that sometimes it’s frustrating not to have the leaves in a picture, although I found the newly published book ‘Snowdrops’ by Gunter Waldorf really helpful in explaining the different types of leaf. I wonder if Avon sent out all their snowdrop orders on the same day, as I got mine on the same day as yours! Enjoy your snowdrop day 🙂

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Cathy
      I am definitely sliding on the slippery slope – came home with three more snowdrops today – opps!

  17. You are not on a slippery slope but a wonderful adventure. And what better place to pursue it than England where hundreds and hundreds of desirable snowdrops are available at reasonable prices. All three of the snowdrops you bought are favorites of mine and very distinct. I don’t think you have to be an expert to be a galanthophile, merely passionate which I am. However, I am passionate about a lot of different plants but particularly winter bloomers. In fact, I just wrote an article for our Hardy Plant Society explaining the basis of the galanthophile addiction. There is a link in this post: http://carolynsshadegardens.com/2013/01/15/new-feature-article-on-snowdrops/. If you really want to hobnob with the addicts, you should read the Scottish Rock Garden Club galanthus thread where galanthophiles from all over the world meet to obsess.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Carolyn
      Thanks for the tip I have been reading the buld log on the Scottish Rock Garden Club site for a while but I will now seek out the galanthus thread

  18. kate says:

    Hi Helen, and I hope you enjoy your study day… while I dearly love snowdrops, and have loads, mine are just simple singles and doubles and are all bulking up very nicely – beginning to get the mass planting effect, which is what I wanted. I’m not sure I understand the addiction either, so I’ll be interested to know how your day went.

    If whatever has been digging up my garden is a badger (jury still out, a bit), then it isn’t interested in snowdrops at all.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Kate

      It is definitely a badger digging up the garden, we have seen him but the snowdrops and narcissus havent been touched so the tulips will be restricted to pots and the front garden out of his way. I love snowdrops en masse but I do find the individual varieties quite interesting now

  19. Claire says:

    I don’t know enough about gardening to understand galathrophilia so I look forward to your unravelling this mystery. I too cannot see the difference despite having them all laid out for me in a recent article in the RHS magazine. If there were a plant for me, it would be tulips but I was disappointed that there is no accompanying noun eg “tulipophile” when I googled it.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Claire
      The trouble with the article in the RHS magazine is that it only shows the flowers and not the leaves and these are often key to recognition as I have learnt today.

  20. I must admit I love snowdrops too and would love to plant so many more types….

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Donna
      I have learnt lots about snowdrops today and am finding it easier to see the differences between them

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