I can’t help it. I have tried to resist: but I am being bewitched by little white flowers.
I think it’s something to do with the fact that I’ve never been able to grow snowdrops before: in the dry acid sand of my previous Surrey garden they just turned up their toes and died.
But in my current damp, shady, chalky garden they’re coming up all over the place, and I really had never realised how utterly captivating they are. They may be tiny: you may have to get down on your hands and knees and do complicated things with the petals before you can see inside (you end up blowing air at them and all sorts) but ah: they are so charming.
It wasn’t helped this year by a visit I made to a snowdrop-lover’s garden for work in late January (which is where all the photos in this post were taken, explaining why only the very earliest are in flower yet).
It was early in the year, on a rather uninviting and cloudy day; many of the 34 different varieties were still well underground. But I hadn’t realised, before I went there, that snowdrops did flower at different times of the year; in fact you can pretty much have a snowdrop somewhere in the garden from about October till March.
On the differences between the varieties: well I can see the point of doubles versus singles, and I also was very taken by the yellow ones (they’re that particular shade of buttery yellow that just looks delicious). But like Victoria, mostly to me a snowdrop is a snowdrop is a snowdrop.
I can also just about see the attraction of some of the rarer ‘novelty’ snowdrops like G. elwesii ‘Grumpy’, whose markings make it look as if it’s got a face on it, though not £60 worth of attraction – the going rate for a ‘Grumpy’ bulb these days. And I don’t think I shall ever feel that £357 on a single bulb of G. plicatus ‘E.A. Bowles’ was money well spent.
However: the idea of having snowdrops of a host of different leaf colours, widths and sizes followed by flowers fat, slim, green- or yellow-tipped, over several months at the bleakest time of the year: now that I can understand.
I came away from my visit to Dr Lloyd’s garden with a shopping list, of varieties which were coming out then (late January) and which would be out over the next month or so. They are, in order (more or less) of appearance:
Galanthus ‘John Gray’: reliable, vigorous and emerging when few others were: and the flowers are large to the point of being top-heavy
G. ‘Dionysus’: another double: and a rather finer one than the overstuffed-cushion of many double snowdrop flowers. These have fewer inner petals and a more elegant flower shape all round.
G. ‘Ophelia’: one of the best doubles, richly-coloured green splashes and huge heads: this was emerging on my visit, no doubt open by early February
G. ‘Atkinsii’: Another larger-flowered snowdrop: highly thought-of for its vigorous habit and its long, elegant petals
G. nivalis ‘Sandersii’: oh I fell in love with this one. Butter-yellow ovaries, for want of a more romantic name, are such a surprise and delight emerging from the ground in January: for this snowdrop I would get down on my knees every morning.
G. nivalis ‘Scharlockii’: a later variety, probably early to mid February: this one has green tips to the outer petals too and is a slender, elegant flower
G. ‘Warham’: Slightly later than most, but you forgive it everything for its foliage: I never realised snowdrops had such varying foliage. This one is broad, a glaucous silvery grey with a pale silver stripe. Fabulous from January even though the flowers don’t turn up for a month after.
G. ‘Straffan’: another vigorous one, emerging early to mid February so one of the later varieties
And just as a postscript, the varieties I rejected:
G. reginae-olgae: this flowers in autumn. I’m sorry but there is something in me that rebels viscerally against a snowdrop in autumn. I could not bear to have it in my garden: it would offend my very soul.
G. ikariae latifolius: purely and simply on the recommendation (or anti-recommendation?) of Dr. Lloyd, who has been pulling out the stuff for years as it’s vigorous to the point of being invasive. I’ve got enough weeds: don’t need any more.
And a post-postscript: any mis-identifications of photos in this article are purely the result of my somewhat hit-and-miss hearing while scuttling around behind Dr Lloyd on a chilly day in Exeter, and no reflection on her own expertise.