Jane Moore is charmed by the swathes of snowdrops popping up in the darkest of winter days
I have yet to meet someone that doesn’t love snowdrops. These charming little flowers are so universally recognisable that even a child knows what they are and so adored that even the most miserable old curmudgeon likes them. And what’s not to like? There they go this month, flowering their snowy little socks off in the very depths of winter, making us feel that even on the darkest and dreariest of days there is the promise of spring to come.
Tried and trusted
But I’m a bit of an old stick-in-the-mud when it comes to snowdrops. I stick to the same varieties, even though there’s a whole snowdrop movement going on in the horticultural world – a veritable avalanche of interesting species and varieties carefully nurtured by galanthophiles galore.
“A wide variety of snowdrops were hugely popular in Victorian times but they faded away after the Second World War until recently,” says Naomi Slade, galanthophile and author of The Plant Lovers Guide to Snowdrops. “I think they’re becoming popular again because you can have quite a collection even in a small garden as they don’t take up much room.”
My go-to snowdrops are the simple Galanthus nivalis, the common snowdrop of our fields and woods, which flowers so spectacularly this month, and its double cousin which seems to crop up of its own accord. These I love for their very simplicity, their happiness to naturalise and their low cost – important when you want to buy hundreds for drifting under shrubs and trees.
“I’m a big fan of creating a snowdrop walk, a double border under planted with snowdrops each side. You can drift different varieties through it and it all looks coherent as they’re all white,” says Naomi.
There are hundreds of snowdrop varieties available nowadays, often with subtle variations in the green markings or the petal shapes. It all gets a little academic for me, truth be told, but Naomi is determined to sow the seed of the galanthophile within me.
“I love the elegant simplicity of snowdrops and the little variations and quirks of different varieties just adds to their charm,” she says. “One of my favourites is Galanthus ‘Bertram Anderson’ – such a beauty, really juicy and substantial, especially when it bulks up into a group.”
I’m a huge fan of Galanthus ‘atkinsii’, an incredibly sturdy large snowdrop with blue-green leaves and a great ability to multiply in no time at all. I also love its habit of flowering very early in the year – it often starts blooming at New Year in the sheltered gardens at The Bath Priory.
“For an absolute winter planting extravaganza, check out Galanthus plicatus ‘Three Ships’ and G. elwesii ‘Mrs MacNamara’, also known as G. ‘Milkwood’, as early-flowering snowdrops,” advises Naomi. “Judging by your aspect, they’ll arrive well before the G. ‘Atkinsii’ – so it should be quite a show!”
Wealth of varieties
Naomi goes on to extol the virtues of one of her personal favourites – G. ‘Faringdon Double’ – whose pretty double flowers appear well before Christmas. Of course, another early bloomer we can’t neglect to mention is G. reginae-olgae ‘Naomi Slade’, an early achiever regularly flowering in late September.
Other favourites include G. ‘Viridipes’, with distinctive green markings on the outer petals, as well as the striking G. nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Lady Elphinstone’ – another double with warm apricot colouration.
On the whole most of these are quite affordable to collect and should cost less than £10 for a pot. But some delectable varieties are more collectors’ items, costing a pretty penny for a single pretty little bloom.
There’s the local lovely G. plicatus ‘Trym’, much admired and desired since it first appeared in a garden at Westbury on Trym. Rare and exceptionally pretty with its heart shaped green marking on the outer petals – it’s a plant that will set you back about £30.
But the most expensive snowdrops far, far outstrip this. For example G. woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ cost a whopping £725 in 2012. Topping that in 2015, G. plicatus ‘Golden Fleece’, a bit like a yellow ‘Trym’, fetched an eye-watering £1,390. It’s reminiscent of the famous tulipmania in Holland, if you ask me.
“What sparks these huge prices is the new colour breaks or forms in species that have not done something like produce a yellow before,” says Naomi. “There are new introductions all the time which makes snowdrops really rather exciting.”
Readers can order The Plant Lover’s Guide to Snowdrops by Naomi Slade for £15.99 (rrp £17.99) including free p&p in the UK mainland. To order, contact EFC, tel: 01972 562327; efcbookshop.com
Jane Moore is an award-winning gardening columnist and head gardener at The Bath Priory Hotel. Twitter: @janethegardener