In that early part of February hope springs eternal, a new season beckons, the first Daphne’s are out and snowdrop season is in full swing. For snowdrop fans or Galanthophiles as they are known, it’s prime season. New snowdrop cultivars are sought, gardens visited, catalogues perused and snowdrop sales attended with an intense focus on getting the newest and most desired varieties to add to collections.
The past twenty years have seen an explosion of interest in snowdrops, powered by the vast collections at places like Colesbourne Park in the UK and by influential gardeners who left a legacy of great snowdrops. Because of this interest there’s a virtual snowdrop frenzy for the four weeks of February with online auctions, snowdrop lunches and guided tours of private collections adding to the mystique of the snowdrop. Certainly the growth in the popularity of snowdrops, the rise in the number of cultivars and subsequent collectors willing to pay steep prices contributes to a heady mix not unlike the days of tulip mania in Holland from 1633 – 37. Happily nobody has, as yet, swapped their house for a snowdrop but the popularity and collectibility of snowdrops only looks set to increase.
In snowdrop collecting it is the combination of inner marks, colour of the inner mark (yellow, pale green, sap green, emerald green) leaves, petal numbers and sizes plus the flowering period and the originating species group that leads snowdrop fanciers up the path to excess – there are so many varieties, slight changes, flowering habits that most collectors are never satisfied.
For those mere mortals who don’t want to spend lots of money on snowdrops there are several to try that are superb garden plants and are well worth searching for. One of the best is an Irish snowdrop; Galanthus ‘Cicely Hall’. This snowdrop came from the garden of Cicely Hall and her son Robin at Primrose Hill, Lucan just outside Dublin. Unlike many of the more left of centre snowdrops this is a standout plant. It is late flowering – Usually mid February for me. It is instantly recognisable due to its size and stature. Tall, glaucous green leaves provide the perfect foil to the strong central buds which produce perfectly white flowers with a very desirable, solid, emerald coloured inner mark. I first collected this plant almost ten years ago and it has multiplied nicely since then. I likes an open position, good soil (to beef up those flowers every spring) and a little shade in summer if possible. For me this is one of the highlights of my spring garden, swathes of this in flower mark the first days of spring for me.
All snowdrops like good soil, if yours is loamy and slightly acidic then its the perfect habitat for them. if you have thin or sandy soil you should improve it with some humus to greate that nice open textured soil snowdrops love. Finding this snowdrop can be a nit of a chase – but like all good collectors, when you know your prize nothing should thwart you. Try if you can to buy a few, a small clump will build slowly into something very beautiful. Division of large clumps should take place in April once foliage has died down. Always mark the planting spot – a spade cutting through these in summer when they are below ground is an unspeakable tragedy. Once you have this snowdrop, treasure it, it’s a gem and a reminder of a great garden and gardener who gave it to us to enjoy. Who knows, it might spark an interest that has you bidding online in early February!