Snowdropping ’23

It’s a shameful fact that for as much as I talk up the year’s snowdropping adventure, I also drag my feet in getting the post up.  It’s been a week.  A week and a little, and I need to stop going through the pictures again and again, reliving the day, and just get them out there with as little babbling as possible.  Fortunately the morning is cold so maybe for a few minutes I can be productive while the flowers here soak in the sun before standing back up… and again completely distract me.

naturalized snowdrops

Naturalized snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), winter aconite (Eranthis hiemalis) and spring snowflakes (Leucojum vernus) in a Pennsylvania park. 


I started the morning on my own, wandering through a Philly area park admiring the century old blanket of snowdrops and other spring bulbs which carpet the now neglected former estate.  There used to be a dream that I’d stumble upon some priceless new variation in white here, but over the years I’ve become satisfied with just seeing them greet the spring each year and carry on unbothered.  Between my crawling through the underbrush and bending over backwards to admire trees it’s a miracle I haven’t yet left the park on crutches after tumbling down a rocky embankment, but so far so good.

triple tulip poplar

When planting trees always remember proper spacing and mature height.

I survived, and so off to meet Paula at her garden.  It’s been a few years since I’ve had a full-sun, comfortably warm visit there, and this year we made it a priority.

naturalized snowdrops

The patches of snowdrops are becoming sheets!

I always get stupidly excited to see all the bulbs in bloom, but this year to see it all in full sun with the blooms wide open I may have let out a naughty word as I got out of the car.  That’s a lot of &*^@g snowdrops was my eloquent first impression.

naturalized snowdrops

I always love the mossy bed surrounding this ugly old ‘Kwanzan’ cherry tree.  There’s so much character in the tree and even though it’s a pain fighting the roots and keeping it in shape I hope it stays for a number of years.

It’s hard taking it all in yet finding the time to focus on all the different forms.  She has quite a few and there’s a story behind nearly every last one.  Fortunately Paula knows me well enough to not get offended when we’re talking about one clump and suddenly I turn to take a picture of something else or jump over to a new plant!

galanthus rodmarton regulus

A big clump of a big drop, ‘Rodmarton Regulus’.

My wish list always grows during these garden visits.

galanthus green mile

One of the greenest of the greens, galanthus ‘Green Mile’.

galanthus amy doncaster

A growing clump of ‘Amy Doncaster’

hamamelis princeton gold

The witch hazel Hamamelis x ‘Princeton Gold’ 

There was something other than snowdrops which really caught my eye (besides the hellebores and witch hazels), and that was the pink viburnum (Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Pink Dawn’) in full bloom.  It actually caught my nose, and I followed the scent over to where the shrub was tucked into the shrubby edge of the garden.  Of course I’ve already looked for a source 😉

Viburnum x bodnantense 'Pink Dawn'

The fragrant pink blooms of Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Pink Dawn’

With all the distractions, this visit was running into our typical behind-schedule run-mode, but because we sometimes know our limits we made sure to pencil only one more garden into the day.

naturalized snowdrops

White snowdrops, blue reticulated iris, and a bunch of other things spread around the driveway slope of Paula’s garden.

It’s almost time for the Galanthus Gala, and Paula’s got a bunch of stuff dug and potted for the day, but that doesn’t mean there’s not more planning and preparation needed.  I knew she was headed over to David Culp’s Brandywine Cottage to meet with David that afternoon and discuss, so of course I invited myself along.

david culp brandywine cottage

The fenced in vegetable garden feels like the heart of the gardens at Brandywine Cottage, and even in the middle of February there’s a jewelbox bed of floral treasures outside the gate.

The gardens were at a snowdrop peak and I don’t even know why I’m bothering to post since books have been written and photos taken which are far superior, but it was an exciting visit and David was nice enough to say ‘post what you want, I enjoy reading your blog’…. um, did you catch that?  David Culp said he knows I have a blog and says he might have read it?  Honestly I’ll probably try and work that into nearly every conversation I have from this snowdrop season beyond, and I hope it’s not too embarrassing when he finds out.

david culp brandywine cottage

Yellow on yellow with winter aconite and a nice yellow hellebore with just a faint blush of speckling.

Oh and also these pictures.  David’s last two books, ‘The Layered Garden’ and ‘A Year at Brandywine Cottage’ were photographed by Rob Cardillo, so I hope I don’t embarrass myself on that level as well since all my photos rely on luck rather than skill.

david culp brandywine cottage

Plantings along the driveway.  There was actually an apology that we missed the lavender sheet of crocus which had mostly ended.   

david culp brandywine cottage

Not the fanciest view of the cottage, but this view shows how every bed of the garden is layered with snowdrops, snowflakes, winter aconite and other goodies which shine before the perennials and shrubs take center stage.

David and Micheal know how to live, and ‘A Year at Brandywine Cottage’ sounds real fancy with decorating suggestions, planting ideas, and delicious recipes and all the things you like to see in a book, but the crazy thing is that’s just Tuesday to them.  You pull up on a Wednesday and there’s a bowl filled with floating hellebore blooms, celeriac soup with a crème fraîche, a toasty living room with fire burning, cutflowers, winter arrangements inside and out, friends pulling into the driveway…  It’s pretty cool.

david culp brandywine cottage

Paths through the garden, snowdrops are settling in everywhere.

There was a bunch of snowdrop talk.  There was also snowdrop work which was in progress, but you’ll have to wait until the gala to hear more of that since the heart of it was going on in the growing beds.  Clumps were being selected for dividing and potting up in order to fill the sales table, and for the sake of honesty I had to steer clear of any place where shovels and fancy snowdrops were close to one another.  We headed round to the meadow and up through the hillside instead.

david culp brandywine cottage

Paths meander throughout the sloped areas of the garden.  If you’re familiar with ‘The Layered Garden’ you’ll know this all began with a noxious, weed-filled slope and a run-down shell of a cottage.

galanthus primrose warburg

Treasures are tucked throughout the hillside.

Of course we stayed too long.  The light was already dimming as we meandered back off the hillside.

hellebore brandywine hybrids

Hellebores and a million other things cover every inch of the slope, and there’s much more slope than you can see here.  In another week or two the scene will completely change as all the narcissus come in and the hellebores really get blooming.

The hillside is filled with hellebores, and for many people ‘Brandywine’ is more a strain of hybrid hellebores rather than a cottage.  There’s a reason for that.  Early on in the development of modern hellebores David asked friends overseas for the best and brought back a bunch of these to the US to start ‘dabbling’ with his own hybrid strain.  He wanted a few “nice ones” for the slope and needed more than just divisions could supply, so over the years the ‘Brandywine Hybrids’ came into being.  They were my first experience with a more upscale hellebore and the strain made plants with clearer colors and more outward facing blooms available to even the more average gardener.

hellebore brandywine hybrids

A red section of the slope just getting started.  Notice they’ve all been trimmed back of their old foliage.  Thousands of plants all trimmed neatly and the debris removed…

hellebore brandywine hybrids

A perfect combination of structured shrubs, background evergreens, and spring enthusiasm. 

So hellebores are awesome, but for a little while longer all my focus is on snowdrops and snowdrop galas.  David Culp’s snowdrop gala is set for this upcoming weekend (March 3rd and 4th) and will again make Downingtown Pa the epicenter of American galanthophiles, either in person or in spirit.  There will be online events, in-person and virtual talks, auctions, and Q&As, plus my favorite part the specialty vendors.  I’ve been good and only contacted one seller for a super-special plant, but that doesn’t mean my budget ends with that.  There’s a reason I’ve been holding back with online sales 😉

So maybe I’ll see you there, maybe I’ll see you online, maybe I’m glad this weekend worked out well and didn’t disrupt my plans on attending, but however it works out I hope you’re having a great end of February!

17 comments on “Snowdropping ’23

  1. Eliza Waters says:

    Wow to Brandywine Cottage… please tell me they have staff to help? I can’t imagine singlehandedly managing all that foliage trimming, plus everything else! Kudos on the recognition from David, he knows your blog! You must be psyched for next weekend. Can’t wait to read about it (hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long 😉 ).

    • bittster says:

      I’m pretty sure the two of them manage all the work themselves, and it’s a large area under cultivation with a high standard of care! In summer quite a few tropicals come back outside or are added to the beds, and the vegetable garden on its own is a good deal of work. Maybe there are elves which swoop in every now and then, or at least I hope so!
      Next weekend will be fun but you’ll likely not read much about it here. I’m only on top of plant photos, and never remember that people photos are also important 😉

  2. Lisa Rest says:

    This is all absolutely amazing to me. So much color happening in February. Thank you for going to all the effort to put this post together, the photos are beautiful. You remind me that I will be obsessing again over my native garden, such as it is, but thankfully my event isn’t until July.

    • bittster says:

      It doesn’t matter when the event is, you’ll have plenty to obsess over right before the date! There’s always something that fades the day before or juuuuuuusssttt doesn’t manage to open on time, but people will find things that make them happy regardless. -and if they don’t, well they’re probably not the type of people you need in your life 😉

      • Lisa Rest says:

        Yep, I already succumbed to a plant sale and I will have a puzzle to put together at the end of April. I’m not worried about what people think, I just hope I can articulate what everything is when asked. 🙂

  3. Oh what a great joy that was – a tour of US snowdrop gardens (including yours) beckons, but I doubt I’ll ever make it. Was SO impressed by the fact that they cut back all that hellebore foliage. By contrast I have a TINY bank (although am trying to do the same thing) and I baulk at crawling under berberis etc. I only do the ones next to the path.
    Two joyful, beautiful gardens – thanks for sharing and hope the gala weekends will be wonderful!

    • bittster says:

      That’s funny. In one of your more recent photos I thought I recognized the thorny stems of berberis and thought to myself ‘no thanks’. I have one left and rarely prune it because I know there will be blood at some point, and I know a month or two later my bare foot will find a dropped twig.
      I think by the end of winter hellebore foliage here is much rattier than yours becomes. Until recently our winters were making them into deciduous perennials, with a crunchy brown mess which made anything else in the bed look terrible.
      Your garden is amazing, I imagine in a few more years the growing snowdrop show will add one more fun entry into the parade of flowers.

  4. Annette says:

    Thanks for taking us along, I also get stupidly excited when I see these flower carpets. Nature helps me to stay sane. 😉 Have a great week, Frank!

  5. Cathy says:

    That was such a great day out and thanks for sharing it with us! Brandywine Cottage must be a wonderful place to visit. Those slopes full of hellebores etc are amazing! Enjoy the gala!

  6. Tistou says:

    Beautiful photos! I’m surprised, that there are ‘Green Mile’ snowdrops in U.S.! These are very rare even on European continent.
    I wait mine to appear for the first time this spring… which is still far away! Snow is everywhere!

    • bittster says:

      Thanks for the comment, and your English is excellent! I have enjoyed your blog a few times, but the language has scared me away from leaving a comment.
      ‘Green Mile’ are also very rare here, there is a lot of trouble to go through to get one. I hope your Green Mile does well for you!

  7. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    There is no doubt that seeing some of these marvelous plants blooming up a storm would bring out some verbal expletives. I would be giddy. I have David Culps book about a Year in the Cottage. He and his partner are workers. That is what it takes to have such a garden. It is amazing what two people can do when they have the same goals. I so enjoy your views and comments about other gardens. I would be broke if I was exposed to such treasures and had the gumption to get out there and tend them. Have a great weekend.

    • bittster says:

      Haha, you’re talking to someone who keeps looking out the window and ‘wondering’ why the work isn’t getting done. The snow might have something to do with it, but I think there’s a little laziness in the air as well. It happens, and I’ll try and cope with the guilt when Sunday night rolls around 😉

  8. hb says:

    Now there’s a genus we can’t grow in Southern California. Exquisite little plants forming magical gatherings.

    Enjoyed your obsession with them.

    • bittster says:

      Yay! Finally one plant which does better here! I don’t think it competes with an agave peeking into your second story window, but I’ll take it 🙂

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