Catching ‘White Fever’

Galanthus plicatus 'Sarah Dumont'
Galanthus plicatus ‘Sarah Dumont’

In response to those readers who, like me until recently, can’t see the obsession and fascination with snowdrops – after all aren’t they all the same I would point to the photograph above. This is of Galanthus plicatus ‘Sarah Dumont’ and I think is quite distinct from the everyday Galanthus nivalis

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that over the last month I have been exploring the world of galanthophiles in a bid to try to understand the fascination.  This isn’t the first time I have put my toe in the water so to speak, back in 2011 I visited John Sales garden to see his collection of snowdrops but I found myself still struggling.  I have also looked at various magazine articles etc and it isn’t easy.

Anyway, on Sunday, my eyes were finally opened and it started to make sense.  I attended the Galanthus Group study day in Leominster.  As soon as I arrived I went to look at the plant sale tables and here it quickly became apparent what a variety there is.  I believe that if you are a newbie to galanthus you really need to see a collection of them set beside each other so you start to notice the different heights, size of flowers, foliage, markings etc.  I find myself particularly drawn to the snowdrops with long outer petals.

The first talk of the morning, ‘Snowdrops in the Green’, focussed on the green markings of snowdrops – or virescence.  The speaker, Jim Almond, went through the different groups of snowdrops (nivalis, elwesii, plicatus, woronowii and ikariae) and showed us ones which were particularly well-marked.  He also touched on caring for your snowdrops stressing the importance of dividing them every 3 years or so to maintain the clump’s vigour; passing some to friends so if you lose yours there might be a ready supply elsewhere; growing some in pots as a back-up; and feeding every Autumn with bonemeal.  He identified some that were good doers and would bulk up quickly: Galanthus plicatus ‘Trymlet’ and Galanthus ‘Modern Art’. These are now on my wish-list.  Any would be galanthophile has to have a wish-list apparently – mine is quite humble.

The second talk of the morning was by Joe Sharman, a very respected galanthophile and breeder.  He talked about rare, curious and new snowdrops.  I have to admit to struggling to concentrate at this point as lunch was beckoning and I think I was reaching information saturation overload by this point.  Interestingly though it become increasingly clear from both talks that snowdrops can be rather troublesome and pernickety about where they want to grow.  There was a lot of talk about varieties disappearing, going out of circulation, being hard to establish and multiply and I suppose this adds to the rarity, desirability and cost of some of them.  There was also much criticism of the prices being paid on ebay and charged by one well-known retailer when the same plants can be bought from specialist nurseries for much less.

Note: I am 90% certain I have the right names against each snowdrop

Lunch over and we made our way to Ivy Croft to see the snowdrops growing.  I nearly missed this part of the day due to other commitments but one of the ladies I met persuaded me that I really needed to see clumps of the different varieties to appreciate them better and she was right.  Luckily I had met up with some friends from another garden group I attend and they were far more knowledgeable than me and could identify many of the different varieties.  Whilst I still love the vast sweeps of snowdrops as shown in previous posts, and many at the study day did too, I found it fascination to see all the variations.  I found myself drawn to the taller and beefier snowdrops rather than the tiny and short ones, though there was speculation this was due to my eye sight getting worse!  It appears that due to the vastness of varieties available people often collect specific groups – one lady was collecting all the ones named after insects, such as Wasp (which is a lovely snowdrop and on my list).

So to conclude the ‘white fever’ hasn’t grabbed me as it has one lady I spoke to who admitted to having “around 200 varieties” but I have decided to start collecting snowdrops with the plan to add a few each year.  If I am honest it isn’t just the differences in the varieties but also the people who drew me in as they were a friendly and interesting group.  But above all, I think that part of the attraction must be the beauty of snowdrops at a time of year when there is very little else in flower.

I would like to thank my blogging friend Anna for her encouragement and advice in recent weeks – she is a real snowdrop addict.

22 Comments Add yours

  1. b-a-g says:

    I’m sure that there are hellebore-philes and crocus-philes too, but maybe they’re not so open about it. I’m grateful for any flower which come out at this time of year.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi b-a-g
      I am sure you are right and in the summer there are the Day lily fans as well who can be very open about their addiction.

  2. Holleygarden says:

    Interesting. I had no idea they were so particular! Good luck with yours. I also didn’t realize that there were several named after insects! Sounds like a fun collection!

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi HG
      Neither did I – all sounded a risky business, paying a lot for one bulb and not being sure it would reappear the next year. I think I will stick to the cheaper varieties to start with

  3. Pauline says:

    Sounds as though you had a fascinating day, wish I could have been there! I started , just like you, with just 2 or 3 new ones each year, that was over 20 yrs ago, and now have them through our little woodland which is looking very white at this time of year. My wish list never seems to get any shorter, they keep discovering new varieties, but new ones need to be quite different these days before I buy, have to be quite strict with myself!

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Pauline
      I have a ‘woodland’ area which isnt really working and I have decided to put a path through it along which I will plant the snowdrops and other early spring flowers.

  4. Cathy says:

    Your comment at the end of the post is so true – ‘part of the attraction must be the beauty of snowdrops at a time of year when there is very little else in flower’. Like Pauline I think I am going to be strict with myself (although I have a long way to go before I catch up on her 20 years!), but it doesn’t quite work out like that, as you are already beginning to find 🙂 Thanks for sharing your day out.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Cathy
      My comment of buying 2 -3 each year was a little tongue in cheek as I seem to have gone from 0 to 8 in as many days, thanks to some kind donations!!

    2. Cathy says:

      Ooh, donations – lucky you!

    3. Helen Johnstone says:

      I know, as they say its not what you know, its who you know!!

  5. If you haven’t already read David Culp’s The Layered Garden, you would enjoy the section on snowdrops. He notes that he is a snowdrop fanatic and joined the Galanthus society for his area. No one would take him seriously until after he had 50 varieties. He now has 100.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Jason
      I read David Culp’s book last year and loved it. I remember the snowdrop section and I suspect that it has been lurking in my sub-consciousness along with other ideas from that book which are beginning to come to the fore.

  6. jgp says:

    Sounds like a really interesting day, thanks for the write up. Not sure I’m a galanthophile, but I love seeing the different varieties and their detail, and would like to grow more in my garden. Snowdrops just lift the heart at the moment when you are wondering if winter will ever end. That and their beauty, is their attraction for me.

  7. I have an addiction from afar as I cannot afford to spend for these little beauties that might not grow in my garden or may be eaten by the pesky voles.

  8. I am jealous of your adventures in the snowdrop world over there. So glad you have joined the ranks of the galanthophiles and are starting your collection. I am always hearing comments from UK gardeners about their tremendous losses. I have not experienced that here but our climate in the mid-Atlantic US might be more suitable, colder winters and hotter drier summers. I would stay away from pots though because that seems to be where the losses occur. As a nursery owner, I am always a little put off when people criticize the prices as you mentioned happened at the lecture. No one that I know has gotten rich from selling plants, and no one knows the situation at a particular nursery that determines the pricing. Now eBay is a different story, but if there’s a willing buyer and the snowdrop is as advertised (a big if on eBay), then I don’t see the problem. Even the most seasoned galanthophiles were bidding on ‘Green Tear’ when it came up for sale on UK eBay recently.

  9. easygardener says:

    I agree with you that it is best to see lots of varieties grouped together to appreciate their differences. Much as I love them I have never had the desire to collect them. They look beautiful en masse yet this causes them to lose their individuality – only in pots can I really appreciate their markings.

  10. Anna says:

    Thanks for your kind words Helen. Sounds if you had a most informative day in good company 🙂 I’m away from home rather unexpectedly at the moment but email on its way to you when I get back.
    PS ‘Modern Art’ found its way into my hands at the RHS show yesterday – lost it a couple of years ago so could not resist could I?

  11. Reblogged this on The Cynical Gardener and commented:
    An excellent Blog.!

  12. wifemothergardener says:

    Thanks for sharing about your day out, Helen. They do mostly blend together for me, though I also enjoy them all at this time of year especially. I have only a dozen at present, but hope that whenever we move that I can set about making up a large planting. I look forward to seeing which G. you prefer in your garden!

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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