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Snowdrops “Galanthus”

Notes on Galanthus – Snowdrops.
Firstly, I am absolutely not an “expert” on this vast subject. There are many who are and consequently several books have been written by ‘galanthophiles’ and those with a serious interest in snowdrops. (Copies of most, I confess, are on my bookshelves).
Although I am always keen to see snowdrops en masse in woodlands and large gardens, such as at Colesbourne and Painswick Rococco Gardens, it is far more alluring for me to see them in small gardens and in the wild.
My interest has always been growing snowdrops in the garden in which other plants take second place. I first planted some dry bulbs about 45 or so years ago from a well-known retailer in town, and was disappointed when they didn't grow. I tried again but still no little white bells appeared.  However, I eventually found some ‘in the green’ on a market stall in Portsmouth, later in Southsea (where I also first noticed Leucojum Aestivum Gravetye Giant), and Winchester markets. Very chilly places in February. I purchased my first potful of ordinary nivalis, and a little later, Flore pleno the double snowdrop. These quickly bulked up, were lifted and divided every few years until at present where they are interwoven along the backs of borders   
Markets are a good place to buy from as stallholders usually pot on from their own plants.  Visiting Winchester some years later, on a freezing cold day, I purchased two pots full with short green tips barely through the compost and one white bud developing. The obviously cold, but cheery lady on the market stall said they were from a large estate garden and wasn't sure what type they were. Arriving home that night, on closer inspection I noted different leaves.  I separated them into 4 different types: a gracilis with twisted leaves, a short single, small double and a tall double, all now grown into good size clumps.  
I was quite happy until I saw newspaper and magazine articles in the same year highlighting the beauty of other varieties and started scouring plant catalogues and gardening magazines for garden-worthy varieties that were not too expensive. I soon developed the beginning of a collection, slowly added to ever since.
Many snowdrops are named but have very similar markings and some over years have changed name. If you have a real interest in starting a collection, I suggest some research first. This is much easier now with the internet and good books.  
I now buy from specialist suppliers knowing they have been grown from divisions, or twin scaling. Over the years I have lost a few purchased ‘specials’, but others thrived.  Large clumps of nivalis are dug up after flowering and as neighbours will testify, appear in pots outside my gate, vanishing just as quickly, taken by passing neighbours who choose to plant them in their gardens. (Something I have done for many years with excess plants and bulbs, usually labelled). However, this year excess bulbs are being donated and planted elsewhere in the locality.
There are few species, some still being discovered, but so many named hybrids now that it would be almost impossible to collect them all, and unless you have many acres, would be equally difficult to fit into a garden. Snowdrops, when planted too closely, can be quite promiscuous and develop new hybrids or even bulk into one type. Real enthusiasts will be seen bent double or knelt down to get a closer view of their prize snowdrops, should they miss something ‘special’ and indeed this is how most of the named varieties are found.  
I would urge you when out walking, to unobtrusely peep over hedges, fences and garden walls for sight of these little treasures. The Clothiers Arms on Bath Road has a fine display of snowdrops and primroses on its banks. A walk along the Painswick Road, for instance, just after the entrance to the Salmon Springs trading estate, you can see lovely carpets of snowdrops in private gardens. and a little further in a privately owned field. Keep your eyes peeled along road verges and hedgerows, there are still beautiful wild flowers to be seen. Groups of walkers on a ‘snowdrop finding’ mission could be quite interesting.  
Snowdrops are naturally woodland plants and like sheltered light shade in summer with an open aspect in spring. Best planted quite deeply in spring after flowering, known as planting ‘in the green’, a good time too to lift, divide and replant. Always plant above the yellow stem line that shows where it was in the ground.
If you wish to extend the season of white drops into snowflakes, I recommend Leucojum Vernum, a larger plant flowering in spring in moist soil and light shade: Leucojum Aestivum Gravetye Giant is a summer snowflake flowering April/May to about 15-18" tall, and the little known but lovely September Snowflakes requiring full sun and drier conditions now called Acis.

Article by Barbara Wood


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