As soon as Big Ben finishes chiming into the new year, I start seeing the little green spires appearing though the soil and my heart starts to race a little faster. What delights could do that to a fully grown man? Not the start of hops appearing, but the slow start of the snowdrops slowly appearing. These tiny bulbs, with their snowy white flowers are now the equivalent to 17th tulipmania, with some of the bulbs reaching a massive £1300 a few years ago.
I have always wondered what the magic was with them, yes I loved the massive displays of Galanthus nivalis, carpeting gardens and woodlands as far as the eyes can see, but I couldn’t see the differences between all the different forms , then one year a couple of years back, it twigged and somehow I started on the slippery slope of becoming a galanthophile!
Everything about the snow drop is charming from the Latin name derived from Ancient Greek meaning the milk flower and there are so many common names like Candlemas Bells, White Ladies and Fair maids of February, all describing the first real carpeting flower over the season. Snowdrops are seen to to portray purity, hope and rebirth by most although the Victorian’s it mean death and sorry and was considered to be a harbinger of death. That’s not surprising considering the bulbs are indeed poisonous. However it is used in modern medicine though the compound Galanthamine to treat Alzheimer’s, nervous problems and being researched for use in treating HIV.
Although they are spread all around the country they are not a native of the uk but of Greece, they have been spread around Europe and the uk possibly by monks. Some of the best collections happen to be around sites of old Abbeys and there is a old Christian belief that snowdrops represent the Virgin Mary and every candlemas day that falls on the 2nd of February, snowdrops are scattered on the altar in place of her picture. Indeed there are so many traditions surrounding the Snowdrop from all different countries, it is so easy to see how it has become such a desired plant. These tales both encompass Christianity like Eve when she left the garden of Eden, God sent snow to her, as she sat weeping, a angel appeared and took a snowflake, breathed on it and and when it touched the ground, a Snowdrop appeared or the Moldovan one where the Winter Witch didn’t want to let go on her hold of the season when the Lady Spring arrived, a fight broke out between then, the Winter Witch struck Lady Spring and from where her blood touched the ground, a Snowdrop grew and Lady Spring had won the battle. With such lovely tales, how can you not fall in love with a simple Snowdrop?
. Galanthus ‘Trym’
Now what are the signs of this addiction? Well it starts with ground watching or in my case, pot watching! Every day, just checking to see how much the shoots have grown. Every day the shoots grow and slowly a flash of white starts to appear and then gets bigger and bigger until it slowly opens and there is the most simple but pure looking flower you could ever wish for. Then you start buying them! Maybe just the odd one to start with, you know Just with the slight differences to the common forms G. Nivalis, but that obsession grows until you start spending time looking at all the other snowdrops falling in love with their broad wide take on the simple colours of mainly green and white, seeing forms that have lovely green tips and green veining like Rosemary Burnham, tall forms like Fred’s Giant, small forms like Tiny Tim and not forgetting the more yellow forms like Wendy’s Gold. Whatever form you like, there’s loads to grow. Go on try a few different ones and see how you get on but be warned, they are really addictive once you start………
Galanthus ‘Wendy’s Gold’
Galanthus ‘Pusey Green Tips’
Galanthus ‘Mighty Atom’
Galanthus ‘Gone Fishin’
Galanthus ‘Sally’s Double’
Galanthus elwesii ‘Comet’
Galanthus ‘James Backhouse’
To finish off here’s a poem
Stunning spring is my favourite season
She swirls her skirts and drapes the garden in her finest clothes
Dressing the naked winter trees and bushes with bright brilliant foliage
Spring showers us with confetti of pink cherry blossom petals in the warm breeze
Gently opening the eyes of the snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils
They crane their necks from the melting snow and smile sweetly
Creating colour and scent in our glorious gardens
Written by Jan Allison