A Gala Comes and Goes

Last weekend Downingtown Pennsylvania played host to a ‘Galanthus Gala’, an American version of the late-winter gatherings which have tended to form amongst growers and admirers of the brave little snowdrop.  As a grower and admirer I felt it was my duty to attend, and true to form I arrived late and stayed too long.  Also true to form I forgot to take pictures, which really cuts into the the basis for any of my posts, but content and quality have never stood in my way before so here goes!

galanthus gala downingtown pa

My only photo of the vendor area.  Thank you Timothy for this one, when he stopped talking for a second to take a photo, I was inspired to do the same.  The crowds have thinned and there’s bare table.  This is several hours after the frenzy of the doors opening.

I was glad to be there talking to friends, going on and on about plants and snowdrops, listening to talks, getting expert advice, soaking in the atmosphere, enjoying the auction… it was the return of the gala I had missed during the two year pause from Covid.

galanthus gala downingtown pa

A little bit of celebrity at the Gala with the famed author David Culp alongside a friend who came to join him.  Many thanks to my friend Bridget Wosczyna for this photo, she has enough sense to photograph people as well as all the plant treasures.

So to stick with the important highlights let me just mention that David Culp has read my blog but I don’t think his friend Martha has.  But… David’s partner Michael Alderfer admitted he had read the last post about our visit to his garden and that’s one of the highlights of my day for sure.  I hope I wasn’t too awkward when he said it though, because for a few seconds I thought he was joking with me and so I of course tried to change the subject pretty fast.  Fortunately the Galanthus Gala’s artist-in-residence, Gerald Simcoe, was also there and we started talking about his amazing gala centerpiece.  I don’t know if Gerald reads my blog, but I do know that if you click the link for his name you’ll not only access images of some of his artwork, but you’ll also be able to find your way to his online snowdrop listings.  All the galanthus in his display are out of his own woodland, and to add to the fun he’s listed some for sale on his site.

galanthus gala downingtown pa

A corner of this year’s centerpiece featuring ‘Walrus’ and ‘Blewbury Tart’ behind.  ‘Walrus’ struggles here, and to hear Gerald say he divides it and spreads it around just in case a clump decides to pick up and die made me feel a bit better about my own clump’s failure to thrive.

At times during the Gala events there was an air of sadness, as the recent death of Alan Street was still fresh on the minds of many.  Alan was Head Nurseryman of Avon bulbs and is one of the great names of the snowdrop world.  He was one of the featured speakers at the last in-person gala, and to hear him talk of special drops and the stories behind them, peppered with references to art, literature, and mythology, was a treat to everyone in the audience.  I didn’t know him personally, but he struck me as a fun person with a spark of mischief, but also a plain nice soul.  At the last gala I stumbled upon him and his friends eating lunch, and tried to be unobtrusive on a bench in the corner, but he spotted me and insisted there was still plenty of room at the table for another chair or two.  And that’s how I ended up eating lunch next to Alan Street.  I don’t think he ever read my blog, but he was so polite that day asking about my little backwater garden and what I was growing, that I felt like a brilliant grower, on par with one of the greats, and it was my highlight of the day.

galanthus gala downingtown pa

A growing legacy in the Downingtown Friends Meeting House cemetery.  Each gala, attendees are encouraged to bring and plant a few snowdrops in memory of loved ones.  It has been heartwarming to see the plantings of past years begin to grow and flourish.

Of course these things end too quickly and before I knew it I was back in the mountains spending the evening taking kids for ice cream and dropping them off at basketball games.  Just for the record these kids do not read my blog.

galanthus gala downingtown pa

The Gala haul, a mix of trades and purchases but all purely excellent.  For some reason I bought one more pot of gravel which claims to be an expensive peony seedling, and it’s things like that which you never see coming.

All the hardier purchases were planted out the next day, which is unusually prompt for me, because it was such a nice day (in spite of being just 24 hours after the latest slush and ice storm).

galanthus modern art

It took me a number of years, but I can finally appreciate ‘Modern Art’.  This is after several years of a ‘just meh’ opinion.

galanthus armine

‘Armine’ is particularly large this year.  Here it usually colors more yellowish than deep green, and as it gets paler, takes on the airs of a much more expensive ‘color changing’ irrlicht drop.

galanthus lapwing erway

Galanthus ‘Lapwing’ in front with his distinctive inners, and ‘Erway’ behind with his odd ovary and overall paler foliage and stems.  I don’t know if ‘Erway’ looks the same everywhere, but here he’s pretty consistent in his pale coloring.

As you’ve probably guessed, the rest of this post is just random snowdrops around the garden.  It’s been a long, drawn out season with few destructive cold spells, and no loads of heavy snow, so the drops have never looked better.

galanthus s arnott

‘S. Arnott’ clumping up from his original single bulb.  This is one to divide and spread around, I can’t imagine ever having too many.

galanthus good blue leaf

‘Good Blue Leaf’ is one of my favorite forms.  Everything about it is perfect and I’ll divide this one as well, more so you can enjoy the uncrowded blooms and foliage.

If all goes well I’ll be investing some time this spring into dividing and moving crowded clumps, and addressing wayward seedlings.  I can’t possibly complain about volunteer plants, but I don’t want them confusing the names of my purchased bulbs.

snowdrop yellow seedlings

Yellow snowdrop seedlings are marching away from the original mother clump of ‘Primrose Warburg’.  I’m surprised by how consistent the seedlings are, nearly all of them could pass themselves off as the original… which they are not.

Perhaps I shall start a ‘good’ seedlings and an ‘average’ seedlings bed, in addition to my North Pole bloodbath bed and my white trash bed.  Last weekend a friend traded me a ‘Beluga’ to swim with ‘Narwhal’, and threw in a ‘Polar Bear’ to see what happens.  Hope it doesn’t get too ugly adding such a predator to the mix.

american snowdrop garden

Lest you become too impressed by this year’s snowdrop photos, this view shows something a little closer to reality.  Closeups and careful cropping make things look far lusher than an in-person visit would show. 

Speaking of visits, the dog has become a regular even though he’s always a regular, and a total of two children have toured the garden.  Although they haven’t mentioned being impressed by the snowdrops, I’m sure they are and that brings this year’s tour total to three.  Perhaps this is the reason I enjoy the Galanthus Gala as much as I do.  It’s always nice to escape the eye rolls for a day!

20 comments on “A Gala Comes and Goes

  1. Eliza Waters says:

    Looks like a banner year in terms of snowfall not messing with your snowdrops, Frank. I think you showed great restraint in your haul… I’m sure there were many temptations. I had no idea your event was so highbrow…celebs attending and all. Whaddya know? 😉

    • bittster says:

      I was careful to pay everything in cash although credit was also accepted. It’s a lot harder to let go of $20s than it is to hand off a plastic card, especially when the plastic card comes back all innocent looking and goes back into the wallet.
      Celebrities were a nice diversion. I wanted to ask for a garden visit, but thought we should become better friends first.

  2. Deborah Banks says:

    It was great to see you there, Frank. I returned home to a good 6 or so inches of icy snow still on the ground, so my treasures are still safely in their pots. But spring will get here eventually.

    • bittster says:

      Just so you know, some of your snow is down here this week.
      Thanks for keeping most of it with you though! Funny how it was probably warm all February, but as soon as you get home…
      Hope to see you again in Ithaca this spring, I heard the fair is a no-go again, but I’m planning to get to the swap again.

  3. Harold Cross says:

    Nice to have a chance again to chat at the gala and to be able to bring home a few treasures. The return of in person was very welcome along with a host of many new faces..

    • bittster says:

      Always a pleasure Harold. I saw your son with a few pots and maybe his conversion is starting. He won’t be able to resist the daylilies but maybe you’ll get him onto snowdrops as well. Good work!

  4. March Picker says:

    Your collection never ceases to amaze me!

  5. Pauline says:

    What a treat your post was, so many beautiful photos of lovely snowdrops. Your clumps are increasing nicely, you must be very pleased. And then, lunch with Alan Street, nice bit of name dropping! All my snowdrops have come from him, it was so sad to hear of his passing.

    • bittster says:

      He seemed to be doing so well, it was such a disappointment when things turned.
      I have been very happy by how well some of the varieties are multiplying. Maybe the spring garden here could use some more diversity but right now I just love all the white!

  6. Paddy Tobin says:

    A great event by all accounts with some beautiful additions for your garden which is looking splendid. Snowdrops seems to be doing especially well with you and you certainly could split and spread some clumps. ‘S. Arnott’ has proven the very best here for that and will repay the room you give each bulb with a generous increase in numbers.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Paddy. I shall divide up ‘S. Arnott’ this spring as well as a few other choice varieties… but not everyone. There’s not enough room here for those Irish swathes of cultivars, I can only find space for a few of the best so will have to give it plenty of thought.

  7. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    It is always fun to read about the Gala. This year it seemed to be filled with Celebrity. What is the plant you bought with the white pinked edges?
    It sounds like you have a ocean theme going with Walrus, Beluga and Narwal growing.
    Primrose is multiplying into a nice clump in my garden, thank you very much. 🙂
    I like blue foliage in my garden too. The wide leaf on ‘Good Blue Leaf’ is attractive.
    I think most people that tour gardens after reading a blog and seeing photos, realize that close ups and cropping photos is a way of gardening life if you photograph your own garden. Even Magazine depictions of gardens are created that way. You do a fine job. I do like to see your garden overall time to time.
    Have a great weekend.

    • bittster says:

      I think it’s the hellebore with the white and pink edges? Brandywine cottage had a few pots of the Brandywine hybrids and I thought it would be rude to not buy one 😉
      That’s so good to hear you have a yellow snowdrop doing well! They’re not always the easiest ones to grow so glad you found a good spot for it.
      I also like seeing the ‘wider view’ of gardens. It gives a much better feel of things I think, and when I can’t actually visit my friend’s gardens it’s the next best thing… except for video. Video is fun as well but much harder (for me at least) to pull off!
      Hmmm. Maybe that’s something worth playing around with this summer.

  8. Cathy says:

    You are too modest and have a lovely collection – that corner in your garden is quite impressive. Are they all in the one area? Your haul looks relatively small, but I suspect the purchases were not cheap. I have heard how much some of the rare ones go for! In addition, plants in general have gone up in price here this year due to heating costs and inflation, and I suspect the same is true for you too. So nice that the weather has been kind to your garden this season so you can enjoy your treasures. 😃

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Cathy. I have snowdrops in several areas (who would have guessed!?) but only a few spots look anything close to being filled in. Hopefully they all will someday, but then I will be complaining about finding spots for the new ones!
      Oh I had fun looking at the prices on some, but only actually purchase one of the cheapest cultivars. The rest were all trades or surprises, I did bring a box down with me, so I did have a plan in mind for the day. Showing up empty handed is always a mistake 😉
      We will see how the prices are this spring! Fortunately snowdrops are ‘heating cost free’ but I’m sure the spring annuals will be up. Fingers crossed the mild winter was helpful.

  9. TimC says:

    It’s interesting how differently memories present themselves, since as I recall thinking, I must take a brief pause from listening, fascinating as my friend is, to document the moment — and it certainly was a day filled with moments, and good conversations with chatty friends, as well as wonderful plants. Good to have spoken with you again, and to have traded a few plants. Your garden is looking great.

    • bittster says:

      Haha, I’m sure you’re right. There is a strong chance I went on way too much about new goodies and things I was considering, but the story about me owing my one and only people-photo to your lead is a much more accurate statement!

  10. The snowdrops in your garden look great. Plus you have such a nice assortment. Mine were just starting to emerge when we got 5″ of snow dumped on us Thursday night and a couple more last night. I had been going to sign up for a couple of the Gala lectures on Zoom and then realized I would be at the gallery that weekend. I’m sure they were all terrific. Can’t wait for this snow to melt and for spring to get started here.

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