Snowdrops in my own garden (2014). Always wishing for more!
Snowdrops(galanthus) look innocent enough. They’re all variations on white and green and sometimes yellow, and in itself the small snowdrop flower isn’t much to get excited about. But given three months of gray winter and an idle gardener and the mind keeps coming back to these first little harbingers of spring. In June the little blooms would be lost amongst the explosion of color, but in February with no other outlet for that start-of-the-year gardening optimism, one’s spring fever sometimes turns to white fever, and that love of the genus galanthus can easily explode into full blown galanthomania.
I’m there. I know there’s something wrong with me, my wife tells me there’s something wrong with me, and my internet browser history proves there’s something wrong with me, but I can’t stop. Being obsessed with snowdrops is hard enough (or maybe worse) on someone surrounded by snowdrop plantings and events, but here in the United States it’s a tough and lonely addiction. International law protects these plants from overexploitation in the wild and does so with costly and complicated import hurdles. As a result if you’re outside of their native Europe and the Balkans, indulging in the full range of snowdrops can be more challenging. To help other beginners face this challenge I thought I’d keep track of some of the most helpful links I found across the internet, and hopefully add a few more as people share. Although it’s not a specifically American resource, I’m afraid it will lean that way until someone invites me over to the other side of the Atlantic to erase my bias.
Snowdrop support groups Use your own discretion in joining or browsing these sites, they will surely make any white fever burn hotter.
Snowdrops in American Gardens Facebook page. Keep up to date on the North American snowdrop scene with info sharing, sales, and sources.
Snowdrops and Galanthophiles Facebook page. A global group for all things snowdrop!
The Scottish Rock Garden Society’s Galanthus forum Probably the most dangerous English-language website for weak snowdroppers. You’ll want one of each, all the while exploring and learning from some of the most knowledgeable growers.
Online snowdrop articles
The blog for Carolyn’s Shade Garden is not only a great collection of articles, it’s also listed as a source for many of the bulbs she writes about.
Cold climate Gardening, some well written and informative snowdrop articles for Northern gardeners.
A classic NY Times article on Hitch Lyman, owner of the Temple Gardens and a snowdrop supplier.
Washington Post article on snowdrops and snowdrop lovers.
The insane prices paid for limited edition snowdrops via the Telegraph. Check out the related articles for more snowdrop news and be sure to view ones such as ‘mad mad world of snowdrop collectors’, ‘hot on the trail of the yellow snowdrop, and the slideshow for ‘The best snowdrop varieties for your garden’
The snowdrop quiz via the UK’s Telegraph. How many do you recognize?
Snowdrop stories from North Hill, the garden of Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd.
Snowdrop references and picture collections
Judy’s Snowdrops. Great closeups for a range of galanthus cultivars.
John Lonsdale is a Pennsylvania plantsman who has plenty of snowdrops growing at Edgewood Gardens.
The website for Gerard Oud’s nursery. Pictures for a wide range of snowdrop cultivars.
Just a plain old good read, Jearrard’s Herbal has a page devoted to the snowdrops he grows. It’s filled with a little history, a little growing advice, comments on the cultivar, and just about anything else that comes up. If your interests ever stray from galanthus there are plenty of other plants discussed so look around!
Dryad Nursery has some beautiful photos of a range of galanthus cultivars. Make sure you don’t miss the photos of Anne’s ‘Wendy’s Gold’ seedlings, some rival the original!
Avon Bulbs. Costly to order for out of EUers, but still a great reference for cultivar information.
Galanthus Online. Ok so it’s in German, but try google translate since it’s a wealth of photos and info. This site was the online reference of the late Gunther Waldorf (lost to us in 2012) who did much to develop and promote snowdrops across Europe and beyond. His book is listed below.
Snowdrop books. Even with the wealth of information on the internet, nothing beats sitting down with a good snowdrop book.
“The Snowdrop Bible” (aptly titled ‘Snowdrops’) is THE galanthus book. An in-depth reference by Matt Bishop, Aaron Davis, and John Grimshaw it covers most everything you would want from a book dedicated to these little white flowers. Published in 2006, the price can still run you into the hundreds of dollars but if you have some patience and keep checking prices, $85 is a possibility for the obsessed snowdrop lover.
Other more budget-friendly books geared to the less obsessed gardener (with similar titles of course!) include books by Naomi Slade, Günter Waldorf, and Freda Cox. Get them all is what I say, so keep an eye on Amazon and check out Timber Press (for their 30% off sales) and you’ll have them soon enough.
A final book I’m aware of is “Galanthomania” by Hanneke Van Dijk. It’s a book containing both Dutch text and an English translation and although it covers the usual galanthus advice it stands out for devoting a significant portion of the book to bios on some of the ‘names’ of the European snowdrop world. It’s nice to put a face and background to people such as Ruby Baker and Martin Baxendale.
Snowdrop sources – These are the US mailorder sources I’m aware of which offer less common snowdrop varieties. There are other sources which will ship to the US but check the import fees before you get too excited. When ordering snowdrops you’ll be buying either dormant dry bulbs, actively growing potted bulbs, or bareroot “in the green” bulbs either in bloom or just past. I’ve done all of them and have had excellent results regardless, my only failures have been with dry bulbs from Holland. The dry elwesii were no problem, but dry species nivalis and some of the more common nivalis types did not grow well or died the next year, even when the bulbs looked like they were in excellent shape when planting. I guess my point is that you of course should start slow and see what works best for you before diving in whole hog.
Maybe someday we’ll have enough interest in the US to stock tables at an open garden or find potted snowdrops in the grocery, but for now (outside of 2 or 3 special snowdrop events) the safest bet is via mailorder. I take no responsibility for offering this source list, and whatever trouble you get in will be your own mess. Just keep me in mind if you want to trade 😉
The Temple Nursery. No web address, just send three or four dollars (I’m never sure if it’s a requirement or just common courtesy) to Temple Nursery (H Lyman) Box 591 Trumansburg, NY 14886 for a copy of his offerings. An artfully crafted catalog goes out in January and doesn’t take long to sell out, so request yours well in advance! Snowdrops are sent “in the green”.
Carolyn’s Shade Garden. Visit this site! Check out the snowdrop listings and read the snowdrop postings on her blog. Even if you don’t order it’s always a great experience. Snowdrops are sent “in the green”.
Linden Hills Garden. Another source for “in the green” galanthus varieties.
Far Reaches Farm. Potted snowdrops either in growth or dormant. A good source for an ‘off season’ fix of snowdrops.
Brent and Becky. Dry bulbs from Holland. A nice selection of some of the more reasonably priced common types.
So that’s where I’m at with snowdrops. If you noticed my blog subtitle it’s “more than you ever wanted to know about my garden” so it makes absolute sense to me that I would go on and on now about my own snowdrop experiences. And trust me I will 🙂
Snowdrops are likely my favorite flower. There’s not much to them, they’re small and white and to see them usually involves being cold , but they’re still a favorite. Even growing up I knew where some of the best snowdrop patches were, and would find reasons to go to that park or down that street to make sure I got a dose of early spring. But it wasn’t much. A couple patches here and there were all I ever found, and the snowdrops I planted at home never did well. The dried up bulbs rarely grew, and the surviving bulbs never multiplied. Each spring we would excitedly count the same dozen or so flowers on scattered plants and still be excited.
Things are a’changing though! In 2004, at the ripe old age of 35, after years of moving around the country and renting, I bought my first house. It was a complete dump (really not kidding, the realtor’s dog lifted his little leg on a doorframe inside the house and no one was offended…), but even alongside the massive renovation project I found time to plant a few snowdrops someone gave me, and later added a clump saved from the edge of a bulldozer rut. Surprisingly enough they grew, and surprisingly enough they grew well. Not only did I finally have my own garden, but I also had one which snowdrops loved!
Snowdrops are not fussy flowers. Different types prefer different conditions, but for the most part full sun in spring, shade and not too much moisture in the summer, and a good soil will be enough. There’s more to it, but as a beginner I’m not about to make all kinds of suggestions which you could probably figure out yourself, plus there are much better references out there already.
So now that I finally have a good spot to grow snowdrops, the next logical step is to go off the deep end and indulge in a little bit of a midlife crisis. The lover of snowdrops (a galanthophile) and a crazy obsession with snowdrops (galanthomania) naturally lead to wanting to collect a few ‘special’ ones of your own. You shouldn’t though. From the sensible side of a winter window the patches of white out in the cold, wet, late winter garden all look the same and to even consider crawling about in the icy mud to look up under the skirts at the markings of tiny white flowers is ridiculous. But ridiculous things happen and on the chance you do decide to collect a few snowdrops here’s some advice from another beginner.
You don’t need one of everything. Just because someone named it doesn’t mean it needs to be in your garden, and I’m sure you realize this but try your hardest to stick to just one or two of each group. That means one older “doer” such as ‘Sam Arnott’, one double other than ‘Flore Pleno’ (which you should also have), one yellow, one of the large flowered ‘Mighty Atom’ types, one with green markings, one poculiform (all white with no green marked inner but extra outer petals instead), one……… Ok so this isn’t helpful, but only obsess about the ones which look distinctive when compared to what you already grow. I think some people who dip their toes into the named snowdrops world are a little disappointed by how they all look the same, and that’s because they do. Don’t get those. The catalog description may wax poetic on the nuances of the markings but unless they’re pink you may want to move on to the next one even if finding the next one involves waiting another year. It’s the same advice someone gave me a few years ago, good advice it was, better advice if I had listened to it.
To finish things off here’s my beginner’s (non-botanical) view on the different snowdrop species. The distinctions tend to get a little fuzzy for me and figuring out the exact differences is beyond me, but each type can (or did) in some way contribute to the variations in white which are garden snowdrops. 20 or so species are recognized today, but these are the most common and I’ve found that knowing the characteristics between them helps me as a beginner make sense of snowdrop talk. For all the fuss made over flowers and markings and color you would think that’s what you look at, but for most of these it’s the leaves which contribute most to the ID, and here’s what I have so far:
galanthus nivalis: The common snowdrop. This is the one you’re most likely to see spread throughout parks and woodlands and growing in large garden patches. Two leaves emerge side by side (usually compared to two hands praying) with the bloom in between. Leaves are on the thinner side, often lay flatter instead of upright, and the blooms often only have one green marking inside. In my experience these do well on heavier, fertile soils which don’t dry out much year round, and dry bulbs bought and planted in the fall often do not establish well.
galanthus elwesii: The giant snowdrop. A variable group, but all have leaves that emerge one wrapped around the other. Different varieties may bloom in the fall, winter warm spells, or with the main snowdrop season, and the flowers usually show two green markings, one at the bottom of the inner petals, one on top. This is a good variety to buy in bulk since you’re likely to get a nice range and the bulbs handle dry storage better than other types. They seem to like a dryer, better draining soil, and don’t mind a little summer heat.
galanthus plicatus: The Crimean snowdrop. Believed to have been first grown by soldiers returning to England after the Crimean war, this snowdrop has folded or ridged (plicate) leaf edges. Some of my favorite snowdrops come from this strong growing group with large flowers, often two per bulb. They don’t seem to be very picky about growing conditions.
Other snowdrop species are less common in gardens, but even as a beginner I’ve run across g. gracilis (thinner gray leaves which have a distinct ‘corkscrew’ twist to them), g. woronowii (wider grass green leaves, a yellow version of which has the distinction of highest price paid -over $1,000- for a single bulb), and g. reginae-olgae (blooms in fall before the leaves show).
And that’s all I have. Good luck in your snowdrop growing and I hope this was of some interest. If it’s not too much trouble I’d appreciate any and all comments and suggestions as I add to this page and update information. We’ll see where this obsession ends!