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Cornucopia - Snowdrops - a talk by Joe Sharman

Snowdrops - a talk by Joe Sharman
Marl Lyman

There were perhaps just one or two in the audience who were rather sceptical that a whole hour or so on just snowdrops might be a little, well, samey? However, this talk was to convert all present into budding galanthophiles!

A short write up cannot possibly do justice to the content covered, so I have focussed on the narrative rather than just a list of all the cultivars Joe described.

Galanthomania

It’s hard not to have noticed the phenomena of galanthomania in recent years. Come February the gardening and even national press carry various stories on all things snowdrop. Then there’s the prices – consider, £5 for just one bulb or even £10, £20 or, heaven forbid, £25!!! Well, take a look next February at what goes on over on Ebay. Going in to the 2011 season the record price for one bulb was £265 for ‘Flocon De Neige’ – a very desirable double. This January saw a bulb of ‘E.A. Bowles’ go for £357. Then, just prior to the end of snowdrop time a bulb of ‘Green Tear’ went for £360. Some liken these developments to that of tulipomania several centuries ago over in Holland, but back then a tulip bulb could fetch the price of a substantial house – so perhaps there’s a way to go yet in this particular bull market.

Galanthus in the garden

Speaking of bull, there is much of it when it comes to growing snowdrops. A key point that Joe made is that snowdrops only grow one set of roots each season. They’re not branched and do not re-grow if broken; if lost it can take the bulb 3 years to recover – indeed, if it ever does. Snowdrop roots can actually start growing in August if the soil is damp – so be warned, it’s best not to interfere with where they’re planted in the end of summer tidy up! The roots continue to develop underground before starting to emerge as sharp points late in the year – the French call snowdrops snow piercers. The bulb then continues to develop its flowering stem. The leaves follow but do not fully develop until after flowering. If you were to dig up a bulb at flowering time you would notice that the bulb has lost all substance and is very soft. It is in the period post flowering that the bulb restores itself for the season to come.

Consider then all those bulbs bought in February in the green. Having been dug up with most likely considerable damage to its roots, it is going to be something of a struggle for it to build itself up sufficiently for the following year. The current thinking is that it is best to move bulbs during the dormant season. This was of course considered to be the best practice for years until ‘in the green’ became the preferred method, so as to avoid the problem of the bulbs drying out due to spending many weeks out of the ground.

To summarise:

  • avoid damaging the roots at all costs
  • try to buy from reputable suppliers in the summer (when they’ve been freshly lifted) and plant the bulbs as soon as they arrive

Joe also mentioned that snowdrops don’t like to be mulched whilst in growth – worth remembering if mulching early in the season

Species

Having covered cultivation Joe described the geographical dispersion of snowdrops and where the various species originate. Before moving on to the slides, we were treated to various diagrams of snowdrops showing how their leaves emerge from the bulb and how this indicates the species:

  • applanate – Galanthus nivalis
  • revolute – Galanthus reginae-olgae
  • plicate – Galanthus plicatus
  • convolute/supervolute – Galanthus elwesii

Primary hybrids between two species have a 50:50 split in leaf form. If this is of particular interest then I suggest looking up the diagrams on the internet or in one of the specialist books.

Joe described a good many cultivars during his session and here are just a few that appealed.

Sandersii Group – a nivalis with yellow ovary and inner marking. Originally there was just one Sandersii but several others have been found. Being somewhat similar, they are now grouped together.

'Viridapice' - a lovely green tipped ‘drop that bulks up well in the garden (is also reasonably cheap in terms of snowdrop bulbs)

'Modern Art' - surprisingly a nivalis given its size – a wonderfully shaped flower with strong green markings

'Bill Clarke' - a strong yellow form of plicatus – the only problem is that it is a bit on the expensive side...

'Primrose Warburg' - a strong growing plicatus/nivalis hybrid with stunning yellow markings on well shaped flowers

'Zwanenberg' - a scented form of elwesii – a good garden snowdrop as it is very vigorous

'Grumpy' – a newish bulb, quite possibly named by the first people to buy it following its introduction – my wife says it was more likely named after me... Seriously, this bulb was first found in a pot of elwesii in a garden centre. For a budget introduction to snowdrops it is possible to do far worse than scour garden centres in January and February. This year I managed to find three 'Grumpy' lookalikes and all for about a fiver.

Finally, many thanks to Joe for such an interesting evening and enlightening us on all things snowdrop.

First published in the Hampshire Group Newsletter, Spring 2012
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 30.
© Copyright for this article: Marl Lyman

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2012. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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