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Snowdrops - by Mark Smythe

Snowdrops - What's all the fuss?

So why is there an interest in these dainty white flowers? We need to start with some basics. Galanthus come in three leaf types. G. elwesii, below left, has one leaf wrapped around the other - Convolute. G. plicatus, below right, has the leaf margins turned in - Plicate.

Galanthus elwesii           Galanthus plicatus

How many snowdrops are there?

Galanthus, Greek meaning Milk (Gala) Flower (-anthos), grow across Europe into Russia and comprise of 19 species of which only a few are well known in cultivation. Snowdrop fans, Galanthophiles, have managed to find and name over 500 cultivars with many more grown but not officially named. They can be named after where they are found, G. nivalis 'Blewbury Tart' (below left), in memory of someone, Galanthus plicatus 'Sophie North' (below middle) or just word association Galanthus 'Ding Dong' (below right) named by Alan Street of Avon Bulbs. Ding Dong, Avon Calling!!

Galanthus nivalis 'Blewbury Tart'        Galanthus plicatus 'Sophie North'        Galanthus 'Ding Dong'   

Are they really the harbingers of spring?

To the ordinary gardener yes they are but a collector of Galanthus will tell you different. They actually begin to flower in the autumn usually in late October. The best known of these 'early' Snowdrops is G. reginae-olgae (below left) which is named after Queen Olga from Greece. G. peshmenii flowers at this time also. Both of these bulbs flower without or just a hint of their leaves. Flowering later in November, depending on where you live, is G. elwesii 'Remember Remember' which is often open during the first week. Not so for us living in the Midlands and North. G. plicatus 'Three Ships', sings - I saw three ships come sailing by, is usually open for Christmas or earlier depending in the weather. There is then a trickle of snowdrops flowering from early January, again depending on location, beginning with G. elwesii 'Hayden' (below right). By mid January I usually have 15+ cultivars flowering. Have you ever picked a posy of snowdrops and brought them inside in an egg cup 'vase'? They smell sweet just like honey. Galanthus x allenii has a scent just like bitter Almonds. Galanthus nivalis 'April Fool' is the last to flower but not in all gardens.

Galanthus reginae-olgae       Galanthus elwesii 'Hayden'

"They are just white flowers with green bits!" I hear you say

There are 'yellow' snowdrops available out there if you don't mind forking out a bit more for them. More on prices later. 'Yellow' snowdrops have regular white petals but the green marks including the ovary, and sometimes the leaves, are yellow or at least a very pale green. There are 3 well known in this group. Galanthus nivalis Sandersii Group, Galanthus nivalis 'Lady Elphinstone', a double which huffs when moved and reverts back to green for a year or two, and Galanthus plicatus 'Wendy's Gold' (below left). The most stunning 'yellow' is Galanthus plicatus 'Bill Clarke' (below right). Galanthus nivalis Sandersii Group is the most readily available but can be a bit difficult to keep going. Other 'yellows' include G. nivalis 'Blonde Inge', plicatus 'Primrose Warburg', nivalis 'Ray Cobb' and 'Spindlestone Surprise'. The other extreme is an almost all green flower e.g. G. nivalis 'Virescens' (below middle) or G. nivalis 'Sandhill Gate' which is pure white and lacking the green inner markings.

Galanthus plicatus 'Wendy's Gold'   Galanthus nivalis 'Virescens'   Galanthus plicatus 'Bill Clarke'

How much will I expect to pay?

This depends on how much you are willing to pay or how deep your pockets are. Expect to pay around 3.50/$6 for a readily available common snowdrop e.g 'S. Arnott' and up to 30/$50 for one that is in high demand e.g 'South Hayes'. The average bulb is about 10/$17.

What about mail order?

By far the biggest suppliers of named snowdrops are the mail order companies North Green and The Snowdrop Company. On the internet bulbs can be obtained from many individuals and gardens. On the internet I would recommend the following who I have bought from in the past Paul Christian, Broadleigh, Avon Bulbs, Colesbourne Park, Judy's Snowdrops and Pottertons.

For more photos of snowdrops have a look at

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