Seeing White

Perhaps it is just me, but it seems that every gardening publication I open this month is packed with features on snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) and lists of where to view them. Country Life magazine reports that there are more woods and gardens open for snowdrop events this year than ever before, some even offering night viewings. When, I wonder, did we become such a nation of snowdrop lovers?

Snowdrop carpet, Jan 2013

Although not quite the phenomenon that is cherry blossom appreciation in Japan, snowdrop viewing is rapidly becoming the British version of Hanami, the Japanese custom of enjoying the fleeting beauty of flowers. Snowdrops’ appearance can be just as unpredictable as cherry blossom, the flowering of which is forecast daily by the weather bureau in Japan. In 2013 we were enjoying them in their prime in mid March, this year we might expect flowers a good month or so earlier, thanks to the mild weather.

Galanthus nivalis, Bibury, Jan 2013

For regular gardeners the appeal of snowdrops is their early appearance, simple beauty and sheer impact when seen en-masse. Snowdrops are reliably the first ‘spring’ bulb to emerge from the ground, trembling and nodding in the chill winter air. They embody the arrival of the New Year and the hopes of the season to come. To a Galanthophile (the name used to describe a collector of snowdrops) these bulbous plants are anything but simple. Snowdrops are promiscuous creatures. They hybridise freely, resulting in a huge range of varieties, each displaying subtle variations in flower colour and form. A rare and desirable snowdrop bulb can change hands for hundreds of pounds. Even common forms are far from cheap and are best purchased ‘in the green’, dug from the ground and replanted immediately after flowering. The highest price ever paid for a snowdrop was £725.10 for a single bulb of Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’, which arose naturally in a Perthshire garden. A lucky find for the garden’s unsuspecting owner.

Yellow Snowdrop,Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’

Worth every penny? Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’

Mercifully, most of us are quite content with a carpet of common-or-garden Galanthus nivalis, which naturalises freely in woodlands and gardens. In some parts of the country the wild displays of these diminutive flowers extend to many acres. At Wheddon Cross on Exmoor, Snowdrop Valley is such a spectacle that a park-and-ride service is laid on by the local council. As the number of snowdrops in my own gardens can be counted on my fingers, I will have to wait until I can get out and about for my annual fix of the white stuff. Anyone with a more flexible diary might enjoy one or more of these snowdrop viewing events in 2014:

Jan 27th to Mar 9th, Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire – commencing earlier than planned due to the mild weather.

Jan 30th to Mar 2nd, Welford Park, Newbury, Berkshire.

Feb 8th to Mar 2nd, Burton Agnes Hall, Driffield, East Yorkshire.

Feb 8th to Feb 16th, Chelsea Physic Garden, London.

Feb 23rd, our favourite, Goodnestone Park in Kent (11am to 4pm).

and for Snowdrops by Starlight, Feb 12th to Feb 16th, Cambo House, Fife

Click here for more on our snow-white friends

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14 thoughts on “Seeing White

  1. I so love Snowdrops! They mean spring is coming at last. I have the last of the Paperwhites blooming, we won’t see Snowdrops until March.

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  2. There is something whimsical about them. Everyone knows that the British are crazy galantophiliacs 🙂 if you asked. Almost no one care about them here; myself being of European descent I try to have a few in the garden, although one year I had to dug in about 30 cm of snow to enjoy one flowering (I knew its the precise location)…

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    1. I think there’s a tendency for gardeners to obsess about a lot of plants that hybridise readily – day lilies, hostas, hellebores and roses to name but a few. What’s for sure is that only a handful of new varieties are worth having – the rest won’t stand the test of time.

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      1. Totally agree with you, and I could add a few more on the list. Personally I’m very happy with the very common snowdrop.

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  3. I am still trying to figure out the crazy fascination some people have with Galanthus! While the ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ is pretty as well as any other form, they just are not different enough from each other to grab my attention. Every year I dig a few clumps from the ever expanding masses at the nursery and strew them about at home along with Crocus, hoping someday for a bulb covered lawn.

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  4. Snowdrops are definitely appearing at Sissinghurst. Two of my favourites are Clare Blakeway Phillips and Lady Beatrix Stanley but to be honest anything in flower at this time of year feels like a treat. Also, thanks for reminding me about the Chelsea Physic Garden, I’ve never visited and am determined to make it there this year. Helen

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