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Plant writings, gardening thoughts & observations of Paul Hervey - Brookes, Award Winning Garden Designer & Plantsman.
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Friday, 15 January 2010

Galanthus (A New Kind of Mania)

With January reaching the midway point and the mornings begin to lighten, I thought I should make mention of a particular plant which like the tulips a couple of centuries prior, drives people almost insane.  I have to add that after merrily labeling 1400 pots of them I am feeling a touch insane, for all the wrong reasons.

Galanthus is a relatively small genus of about 20 species, predominantly flowering in Spring although Galanthus cilicicus, native to Turkey, flowers in the Autumn.

(Photo:Galanthus ciliicus)
Although many think of Galanthus nivalis, the common snowdrop, as our native snowdrop it is actually only native to mainland Europe having been introduced to the United Kingdom in the early 16th Century.  G. nivalis has given rise to a number of really good double varieties including G. nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’ with is large almost fluffy doubled flowers with green edges to the inner petals.

There are over 500 available snowdrop cultivars which must be the inspiration for many a collecting galanthophile, further inspiration must be the lists of snowdrop cultivars which are lost, waiting in a long neglected garden to be re-discovered in the same way as Rosa ‘Souvenir Du Docteur Jamain’.

Some of the most notable species I like, and grow are:

(Photo: Galanthus plicatus)
Galanthus plicatus, the Crimean snowdrop is a tall early flowering form with long green leaves and big flowers.  An exceptionally good form which is hard to come by is Galanthus plicatus ‘byzantinus’, its absolutely spectacular with huge ovoid petals which bear two markings and broad grey-green leaves. 

Snowdrops seem to have a history with the Cotswolds, take Galanthus elwesii, the famous Collesbourne snowdrop and Galanthus atkinsii  collected by John Atkin's in the late victorian period in Southern Italy and named G. imperator.  Atkins may well have planted many at the Rococo Garden, it must have one of the largest naturalistic plantings of them but it was not until the early 1930's that the name atkinsii was applied.  Many refer to this as one of the most striking snowdrops.   The Royal Horticultural Society have award G. elwesii, & G. nivalis with their Award of Garden Merit.

(Photo: Galanthus elwesii)
The Giant snowdrop, Galanthus woronowii, has been grown in the United Kingdom for roughly 100 years and is native to N. E. Turkey through to Southern Russia.  Naturally occurring in woodlands, ditches and grassy meadows it forms a basal rosette of chunky rich green leaves which are waxy to the touch and single stems of delicate white flowers which are fairly large and bear small green markings on the inner petals.

In the nursery we grow and sell in limited numbers Galanthus ‘Magnet‘  a dramatic hybrid  with long slender pedicels hanging on heavy flowers.  

(Photo: Galanthus Lynn Sales)
Being very large like a parachute they tend to catch in the slightest breeze, which when planted through a skeletal woodland looks enchanting.  In fewer numbers we also propagate the rare Galanthus ‘Lynn Sales’ named after it’s discoverer who lived locally to the Rococo Garden in Cirencester.  Lynn Sales is a tall growing variety with pure white large flowers which appear earlier and are much fatter than Galanthus atkinsii

(Photo: Galanthus woronowii)
Other varieties I particularly like and hanker after include Galanthus ‘Wendy’s Gold’ this might be the snowdrop which might at first put you off but most growers can’t keep up with demand.  A rare yellow form of Galanthus plicatus it is fairly vigorous and makes handsome clumps.  I think its best grown on its own where its colour can be enjoyed for its own merits and the white snowdrops are not smudged by the yellow colourings.  

Galanthus hippolyta is an almost perfectly formed double snowdrop with very large flowers held high on tall sturdy stems.  The inner petal segments are so neatly arranged they appear to have been sliced with a surgical blade.  This really is a very special snowdrop and its rarity seems odd compared with its merits.

Another lovely and slightly rare double form is Galanthus ‘Lady Elphinstone’, its a form of Galanthus nivalis, but with yellow markings.  The markings have a habit of turning green in the same season but seem to revert back.  (Photo: Galanthus 'Lady Elphinstone)

(Photo: Galanthus Magnet)
Everyone knows the best time to lift bulbs is when they are in the green, however snowdrops multiply by producing bulb-lets which can be removed when the clump is lifted.  Species Galanthus will also come true from seed and the more rare and unusual varieties are generally propagated by means of ‘twin-scaling’.  

Snowdrops have a substance called galantamine in them, as do narcissus, which is a useful substance in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.  Some scholar’s also say that the magical herb moly in Homer’s Odyssey is actually a snowdrop.

(Galanthus n. Flore Pleno)
I will leave the last word with the home of Galanthus n. ‘Atkinsii’ & ‘elwesii’, the Rococo Garden Painswick, they have a new blog and have asked me to make a guest blog there in the future.   


Deborah at Kilbourne Grove said...

I have galanthus envy(better than that other envy that Freud says all women have).
For some insane reason, Canada is not big on snowdrops. It is very ard to get any unusual varities here. I have g. nivilas, Flore Plena, elwesii and woronowii. They seem to be the only ones available, and they are certainly not sold "in the green" like they are in England. When I lived in London, I went to one of the Royal Hort Society's shows that features snowdrops. I was amazed and covetous at how many varities there are. If only I could get some of them here!

Bay Area Tendrils Garden Travel said...

I'll have a bouquet of G. 'Flore Pleno' ....thank you very much!
Moving West from Chicago, I was amazed to find various snowdrops and narcissus have naturalized here in my Northern California town.
In my garden it is Freesias that thrive and have multiplied to my great satisfaction after a decade.
Your web site has dominated Blotanical for the past week or so and today I'm finally finding time to drop by and say hello.
Lots of British designers on twitter these days, but don't believe I've seen you there.
Congrats, your site is gorgeous, Cheers,
aka Bay Area Tendrils Garden Travel - do drop by!

Anonymous said...


This is really intertesting, I have seen a number of blogs, some are interesting but............ I really enjoy yours, you seem to be at home with plnats and its infectious.
All the best, James.

commonweeder said...

I love snowdrops and you have given us a wonderful bouquet. It will be a while before mine bloom, though.

James Missier said...

Hi, Just drop by from Blotanical.

I only seen snowdrops in pictures but never knew there were so many beautiful cultivars.

Wished I could grow them but they can't survive in the tropical region.

You have a beautiful blog.

Paul Hervey-Brookes said...

Thank you for your kind comments. I am glad it has been an interesting read. I must say Galanthus seem to be infectious, just on the weekend I had the pleasure of speaking with a gentleman who had made a list of all the varieties he had seen and ones he cultivated, his knowledge was inspiring and just demonstrates how we always learn something new either from experience or an exchange of ideas.
All the best.

Anonymous said...

As a Canadian I can say that snowdrops are lovely but anything with the word "snow" in it sends us running. After 6 months of the real substance I look forward to another colour. I would love it to punctuate a summer garden but not be one of the first flowers of spring. I would love to see it at Painswick someday.

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