Are you bemused by people who collect snowdrops? Want an insight into why they have become collectable? My six pictures this Saturday are stunning snowdrops that you might not be familiar with but which will give you an insight into why some people are obsessed with them.
They are not all little white flowers – well they are – but up close they have subtle differences and undeniable beauty.
Snowdrops have single and double forms and vary in height, leaf shape, leaf colour, leaf arrangements, outer sepal numbers, inner sepal numbers, inner markings, outer markings, pedicle length, flowering time, and colour. Phew, that’s allot of ways for a tiny white flower to vary and there are estimated to be 2000 different types.
The most common in British gardens are two species varieties – Galanthus nivalis which are usually small with narrow green leaves and Galanthis elwesii which tend to be taller with strappier glaucus (greeny blue) leaves.
There are entire books to assist with identification and taxonomy – too much detail to even attempt to summarise here but I’ve chosen six photos to show some of the variation. All the photos were taken at my new friend Mr Snowdrop’s garden, or at last week’s snowdrop day organised by the Alpine Garden Society I am a diarist for the Alpine Garden Society and if you want to know more click here to read my write-up of the snowdrop day.
Lady Fairhaven – also known as Ailwyn
This one is now a favourite of mine. The shape and width of the flower instantly brought to mind a Spanish Infanta’s skirts. If you don’t know what I mean by this take a look at this painting by Diego Velazquez from the Museo del Prado in Madrid. Those are big skirts!
I can only imagine the number of petticoats under those skirts. Tip up Lady Fairhaven and what do you find? The snowdrop equivalent.
Snowdrops with yellow markings and yellow ovaries (the swollen egg-shaped waxy part at the top of the flower), are the biggest breakthrough in recent years and are highly sought after. The highest price paid for a single snowdrop bulb on ebay was £1,350 for a yellow variety called ‘Golden Fleece’ back in 2015. It had taken Monksilver Nursery 10 years to develop and was most likely bought by a collector or nursery to propagate further bulbs from. 4 years later and there are more of these in circulation so the price has come down but they are still very expensive.
Another rare yellow variety is called ‘Treasure Island’. I spotted an old sale on ebay from last year with one bulb selling for £259. This plant was bred from a snowdrop called ‘Mighty Atom’ which is popular and has largish pure white flowers. Likewise, Treasure Island’s flowers are large but stately.
I like the yellow varieties up close I’m not yet convinced I love them. Whilst the leaves are green, Mr Snowdrop has noticed these tend to lack the vigour and take a while to establish and form clumps, possibly due to reduced levels of chlorophyll. I’m wondering if there’s been research on this? One thing is sure though – the yellows are popular with collectors and the jeopardy caused by risk of losing an expensive plant is probably part of the thrill.
Another important trend in recent years is for snowdrops with green markings on the outer petals. These can be strongly marked or slightly blushed, cover much of the petal or just the tip. The patterns are known as ‘virescent’ markings.
Looking through a bulb catalogue I realised I was drawn to the types with a green blush and a good example of this is ‘Rosemary Burnham’. I think that from a distance the green rather compromises the impact of the white in a winter garden, and I doubt they’d stand out en masse. Up close though I think they’re stunning so would suit a prominent position near a path or maybe even in a pot.
Pot cultivation is fairly common with snowdrop collectors, as many take them round to exhibitions and shows. Clay pots or black plastic aquatic baskets can be used and are usually kept outside but sunk into sand benches or garden borders to keep the temperature of the roots constant. Once in flower they could be brought out to admire.
Another virescent variety but with less subtle markings than Rosemary Burnham. I wasn’t sure about this one at first as the green marking is very pronounced and a bit like the paintings my children used to do as toddlers. You’d get the all paints out and they’d do one splodge on a piece of paper and ask for another piece. One splodge on that piece then they’d want another…
Trumps is now growing on me though as the shape is rather lovely – like the top of a circus tent. Plus this variety is a very good doer in the garden and clumps up very well, making a cheery group.
This one may really surprise you – it certainly did me. G. ‘Seraph’ really stood out on an exhibition bench at the AGS’s snowdrop day. Firstly the colour is the purest of whites, almost LED bright. From a distance the white was startling even when surrounded by other rather white snowdrops.
Secondly, the form of this snowdrop makes it look rather un-snowdrop like. Most snowdops have three longer outer petals (or sepals) surrounded by three shorter inner sepals which form the trumpet-like feature in the centre. Some snowdrops – like G. ‘Seraph’ – are known as poculiform which means all six sepals, inner and outer, are the same length. This gives the whole flower the shape of a crocus, but hanging down rather than pointing skywards. Intriguing and beautiful.
This little beauty is well worth checking out up close. It has simple white outer sepals surrounding inners with moss green striped markings. Inside the stamens are egg-yolk orange, and it has a faint but lovely scent.
What’s the name of this snowdrop? Well it’s just a Galanthus nivalis. If you have snowdrops in your garden, they’re highly likely to be these. Beautiful aren’t they? If you have a large clump consider bringing a few indoors, where they’ll open out fully in the warmth, gently scent the air and give you something to stare at if you want a few minutes of down time. If expensive snowdrops aren’t your thing then these will more than do. I’ve written an article about planting them in grass which you can read here.
Six on Saturday is a weekly meme – take a look at the comments at the base of host The Propagator to see more ‘sixes’ from other keen gardeners from all over the world.