Green and white

Galanthus 'Fly Fishing'
Galanthus ‘Fly Fishing’

“The world isn’t all green and white” said Bob Wallis, our first speaker at the AGS Snowdrop Conference this weekend.  He, and his wife Rannveig, then went on to show us snowdrops in the wild particularly Turkey and Iran, where they grow and what with.  It is quite amazing how many species of snowdrop there actually are and the environment they grow in.  For many, including me until recently, snowdrop (Galanthus) grew in English churchyards – how wrong could I be.  There is Galanthus peshmenii which comes from Greece (I think) and grows on rocks and cliffs not the conditions we would expect for our spring favourites.  Then you have Galanthus fosterii with its shiny green leaves and long outer  petals, Galanthus woronowii which has broad  leaves and a small flower, and Galanthus krasnovii with claw like outer petals.  These were just my favourites of a long list and also my favourite talk of the four we had. The biggest lesson is that the differences aren’t just in the flower markings but in the leaves and size of the plant; something the magazines never really cover.


I am a novice to the world of snowdrops and am as far away from calling myself a Galanthophile as I am from claiming to be a Professor because I read an academic tome but I find the subject fascinating.  For me, an amateur gardener who didn’t have the chance to study Botany and probably never will but has a deep-seated interest in learning as much as possible about plants this sort of event is wonderful.

Galanthus Kencot Ripple
Galanthus Kencot Ripple

Around 150 people, some of them very respected Galanthophiles assembled in Stratford.  Of  course no snowdrop event would be complete without the opportunity to  buy some treasure. On Bob’s advice I stuck to cheap but even that meant £12 a plant – that’s one bulb – so two snowdrops were purchased which to me were distinctly different.  Another snowdrop keen friend at my HPS group’s advice was that she only bought snowdrops that were obviously different to her, whilst some I think like to tick them off a list a bit like twitchers who collect birds they have seen.  At the other end of the spectrum there was one snowdrop – ‘Kencot Ripple’ for sale at £500! I don’t think anyone bought it.


The rest of the day was taken up with four talks.  The first I have mentioned  above and was my favourite.  Then we were treated to some very artistic photos of new snowdrops  many of which weren’t yet available but all that had very distinctive  green or yellow markings.   This talk was by  leading galanthophile Matt Bishop, who despite his modest claims at not being very good at lectures, delivered a very well received talk.

Poor Jim Almond had to contend with an audience who had just finished a substantial lunch and were somewhat dozey but he did a sterling job talking to us about snowdrops that have a Shropshire connection.  I hadn’t realised that there was such a strong focus on snowdrops in this part of the country.  Margaret  Owens, a much revered galanthophile is based there, and she and some of her like-minded friends have discovered and breed a number of popular cultivars including of course ‘Godfrey Owen’.  There was also a display table which featured snowdrops from this area.

Galanthus 'Big Bertha'
Galanthus ‘Big Bertha’

Our final talk of the day was by Alan Street of Avon Bulbs who is at his wit’s end with the weather and trying to have enough snowdrops to show at the RHS London Show at the end of February.  The mild weather has meant  his snowdrops are all flowering early, and along with the rain which is making life very difficult in his part of the world, are causing him a lot of angst.  However, his talk was lively and amusing and focussed on his time with Avon Bulbs and the snowdrops he has introduced.

Between the talks there were opportunities to buy more snowdrops  and snowdrop related books and a whole range of other things you didn’t know you needed as well as the chance to talk snowdrops to like-minded people and in my case gain advice on how to grow them and the best ones for me to try.

I had a lovely and fascinating day.  I don’t think I will ever be a galanthophile or feel the lure of those snowy white delicate flowers like some I know but I really enjoyed the opportunity to spend a day learning about a plant and seeing it from several different aspects; which is lucky as I am booked to attend the HPS Snowdrop Day in two weeks time!


26 Comments Add yours

  1. Pauline says:

    Super post Helen,wish I could have been there! You have started on the slippery slope to becoming a Galanthophile by buying two special ones! I have to disagree though about G woronowii needing a greenhouse, it is very happy in the garden here and is the only one that is seeding around, I assume it is seeding as the new ones come up over 6 inches away from my original one bulb, it is increasing very well. They came through the bad winter of 2010/11when temperatures dipped to -10c without any problems, mine will be in flower soon so they should feature in my next post about snowdrops.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Pauline
      That is good to know about woronowii, I shall add it to the list!!!!

    2. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Pauline
      I have now removed the reference to the greenhouse as have been told by a number of people this is wrong – no idea why I wrote that in my notebook!!!!!!!

  2. alison says:

    A very interesting post Helen and has certainly whetted my appetite to seek out at least some of the many different snowdrops. Love your photo of the pure white ‘Fly Fishing’. I had a little group of snowdrops in the garden last year but no sign of them yet!

  3. Anna says:

    Sounds like the very best sort of day Helen and thanks for sharing your impressions with us. Excellent advice from your HPS friend about only buying snowdrops that are obviously different to her. I go by that and also try to also go for ones that are described as making a good sized clump fairly quickly 🙂 Margaret Owen opens her garden later this month – would love to visit.

  4. djdfr says:

    If you are learning about pants, then on some level you are studying botany. 🙂
    I appreciate the snowdrops I have in the garden but I don’t know what variety they are. They have multiplied quite well. I would be afraid to buy an expensive bulb as something might eat it.

    1. Yvonne Ryan says:

      Tho’ more comfortable than a G’String? More coverage at any rate! Sorry I have a weird sense of humour!

    2. djdfr says:

      It would be nice to be able to edit one’s comments. 🙂

    3. Helen Johnstone says:

      Oh did but it did make me laugh 🙂

  5. We are just on the cusp of snowdrop viability here but I saw several types in the garden of horticulturist John Elsley this past Monday. My favorite was Magnet which is a very old selection and probably one of the most common, which is fine with me. I like plants that are easy and will try to grow this one if I remember to place the order in autumn.

  6. Chloris says:

    An interesting post, I have a couple of friends who were there and enjoyed it as much as you did. It sounds like a good day. Once you start looking at them and seeing their differences and how beautiful they all are in their own way it is difficult not to get drawn in. Then next year you want a few more and so it goes on.Before you know it you are hooked.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Chloris
      I think it would be easy to develop an expensive habit!

  7. Good read Helen and thanks for sharing what you’ve learned from your day out. It must be difficult (for me it would) to keep not only practical notes but all those little extras that put together such a well informed blog. Someone like me really appreciates it 🙂
    I’m off to the SRGC early bulb show next weekend – I’m hoping that I’ll be able to buy a couple of named varieties (I only have G. nivalis) to start a little collection. The tip of buy ones that are clearly different is one I’ll be keeping in mind, so thank your friend for sharing with us.

  8. Fascinating – I would have loved this event. I love meeting people who are really enthusiastic about a small range of plants. I think I’d baulk at £12 a plant though. Dave

  9. Yvonne Ryan says:

    So pretty but not so many here in Auckland as they like the cold. Apparently ‘snow flakes’ grow here better? We do have plenty in the South Island though. Hope the storms didn’t affect you too much. Made awful viewing on our TV.

  10. Thanks for a great post about an interesting conference. I believe Galanthus are not well known where I live–perhaps it is slightly too warm for them to be a popular choice. I have found it difficult to locate a variety of species or cultivars–G. nivalis is about the beginning and end of it. Will keep trying via specialist societies. You’ve provided some good inspiration but like you, I think I’ll stick to the less expensive end of things.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi MHM
      You could try and find species that come from an appropriate climate, some come from the mountains of Greece and Turkey so quite warm

    2. Good advice; thanks. I will see what I can come up with.

  11. Cathy says:

    What a lovely day you must have had, Helen – is this event open to anyone? The timing of snowdrop events are perhaps more affected by the vagaries of the weather than other shows, although I suppose open gardens may be more flexible. I noticed when I lifted one of mine recently that almost within minutes of bringing it inside the buds were opening!

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Cathy
      The conference was open to AGS members although non members might have been able to buy tickets. Am going to an HPS Galanthus day which will be similar next weekend. I think that is open to non members but again you need to book in advance.

  12. Leslie says:

    Those are so pretty…I wish they liked it here!

  13. Beautiful photos Helen, most seductive, though i think I will stick to the native snowdrop for the forseeable future, as I am more keen to get coverage than devote a large proportion of my budget on a couple of plants, however lovely! Wonderful to hear such experts speak though, I would more and more like to learn about how plants grow in the wild, I think it would improve my gardening greatly, as well as being fascinating. I hope your new snowdrops thrive for you.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Janet
      I have everyday snowdrops which I am slowly dividing and spreading but it is hard to resist buying a few specials

  14. Helen I love dipping my toes into this world of green and white, but I mostly just glimpse it through posts like yours and my garden of the plain variety. Always fascinating and I could easily be drawn deep into the world of snowdrops coveting so many.

  15. bittster says:

    What a great post. Love the photos even more so since I know how much trouble I have getting decent ones of white flowers in general! The sales table pictures are interesting too, I don’t think I’ll ever see anything like that here in the US…. and the prices look like bargains compared to what you’ll pay here!
    At this time of year it’s hard not to love snowdrops 🙂

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