Just in case you hadn’t noticed its Snowdrop season!
And every year I go on the trail hunting Snowdrops, its my way of reminding myself winter doesn’t last forever.
Much like Tulips did in the 1700’s, Snowdrops seem to be increasing in popularity. Some of the rarer ones, like ‘Midas’ are selling for incredible prices per bulb but for the true Galanthophile it’s not about the money. The obsession is akin to being a railway enthusiast in some ways. You might travel miles to stand in the freezing cold just to catch a glimpse of a particular Snowdrop… but unlike trains there’s a chance you could end up carrying one home with you!
I will always remember my very first unusual Snowdrop, it was around 15 years ago. I’d been aware of them don’t get me wrong but they were on my peripheral vision. Small, white flower, unassuming, harbinger of spring, blah, blah, blah. They just hadn’t caught my imagination. Sadly for some, they never will… but when you get it, it’s like someone turned on a lightbulb in a darkened room. All except it’s a Snowdrop and that room is spring!
My first Snowdrop was ‘Flora pleno’ my amazement as I stared at this flower was unmeasured! In my ignorance I genuinely thought I might have uncovered something unheard of! I look back on this moment and smile at my overexcited self now. Yes it is a special Snowdrop but nowhere near as ‘rare’ as id envisioned it being.
The next time I got a real education on Snowdrops was whilst I worked at Hole Park, Quentin tried to teach me everything he knew. Given he seems to have an eidetic memory that’s quite a lot. I still count myself very much as a novice despite his best efforts but listening to someone who has a real love and enthusiasm for Snowdrops is utterly transforming. Suddenly they’re not just little white flowers, suddenly there’s a million different variations to look out for. Some subtle, easy for a novice to overlook. I would be hard pressed, in the field, to spot the differences between the flowers of Galanthus plicatus ‘Amy Doncaster’ & Galanthus elwesii ‘Selbourne green tips’ but I could spot the difference between the leaves and growth habit. I would definitely be able to tell that both are different to Galanthus nivalis, which is the one most of us think of when we think of snowdrops.
So it was with great excitement I received an invite to go and see the Snowdrops at Hodsock Priory from George & Katharine Buchanan & their team. Hodsock priory has a long and illustrious heritage which the Buchanan family very generously share, their gardens are open starting from the 10th of Feb to the 4th March 2018 for Snowdrops with the added bonus of outdoor theatre (16th to 18th Feb) included in the price of your ticket on the Sat & Sun.
If you wish to soak up the history of Hodsock priory, learn about the kings that have stayed there (Edward I & Henry VIII are just two of the list!) the architecture and its involvement with the ‘Land girls’ during the second world war, George and his enthusiastic team give a daily talk on its history and tours of the garden. Check the blackboard by the Woodland Café when you visit for details of times.
The gardens were laid out in the 1820s, Hodsock priory itself received a facelift by the architect George Devey in 1873, and developed by the then Head Gardener Arthur Ford and his team of 5. Arthur was a well respected gardener of his time often writing for various garden journals. It was during his time that the Italianate terraces were laid out and flower beds introduced to the fan garden. He also introduced many fruit trees. Arthurs team continued there till 1930 when the womens Land Army turned the estate into food production to help with the war effort. It wasn’t till 1967 though that the Lady Buchanan decided to fill the gardens with snowdrops a benefit that we 40 years later can really appreciate.
The garden has many winter beauties to appreciate, not just snowdrops, You can find Hellebores in abundance, carpets of Cyclamens and Aconites. The scent of Sarcoccoca, Chimonanthus & winter flowering Honeysuckle fill the air and delight the senses and the beautiful vibrant colours of Cornus and Willow stems can be appreciated in all their glory…. But! Back to Snowdrops!
Hodsock boasts quite a collection, listed below are some that can be seen growing there…
- Galanthus Atkinsii
- Galanthus Sam Arnott
- Galanthus Worwonowii
- Galanthus Lady Beatrix Stanley- Sir Andrew’s Grandmother
- Galanthus Elwesii
- Galanthus Magnet
- Galanthus Plicatus
- Galanthus Viridipicis
- Galanthus Allenii
- Galanthus Barbara’s Double -Sir Andrew’s mother
- Galanthus Augustus
- Galanthus Bill Bishop
- Galanthus Brenda Troyle
- Galanthus Hill Poe
- Galanthus Robin Hood
- Galanthus Nivalis double
- Galanthus Nivalis single
A fantastic little thing, 2 snowdrops in their collection are named for George’s ancestors, I need to find out the story behind this!
Now at this point it might be worth looking a bit closer at the Galanthus genus
Disclaimer: I do NOT claim to be an expert but I’ll do my best to point out relevant features.
The one we all know is Nivalis but it is not as you’d be forgiven for thinking a British native. It’s thought it was introduced possibly by the Romans… they introduced a lot of things we should be thankful for, they also introduced Rabbits which I haven’t forgiven them for.. yet! There is a school of thought though that says it wasn’t introduced until the 16th century. Irregardless of this G.nivalis is the most widespread and easily available of all the species, there are others though!
Approximately 20 in the Galanthus genus, I know 20, bit of a shocker right!
What’s even more surprising is more are still being identified as new species, even as recently as 2001 G. trojanus was identified & in 2012 G. panjutinii, followed closely by G. samothracicus in 2014!
Galanthus species are split into 7 main ‘Clades’ or groups
- Platyphyllus clade (Caucasus, W. Transcaucasus, NE Turkey)
- Trojanus clade (NW Turkey)
- Ikariae clade (Aegean Islands)
- Elwesii clade (Turkey, Aegean Islands, SE Europe)
- Nivalis clade (Europe, NW Turkey)
- Woronowii clade (Caucasus, E. and NE Turkey, N. Iran)
- Alpinus clade (Caucasus, NE Turkey, N.Iran)
Even if you’re keen on Snowdrops it’s a challenge to keep all this in your head but some of the names will be familiar. There are some that are worth noting specifically other than nivalis.
Galanthus plicatus, the specific epithet referring to the fact its leaves have a slight pleat to them, is sometimes called the Crimean Snowdrop. It was given this name because soldiers returning from the Crimean war supposedly brought them back with them.
Galanthus elwesii is exported in huge numbers, 7 million bulbs a year, from Turkey. Of all the snowdrop species it sports the largest flower. It also has more distinctive green markings than other species.
worononowii is an even bigger export at 15 million bulbs per year, its leaves are wider than most of the other species and a shiny light to medium green.
Then we come to the cultivars!
Generations of horticulturists have spent decades creating ‘new’ snowdrops. Heyrick Greatorex is just one example, an eccentric character to say the least. He named his snowdrops after Shakespearian characters. Sadly he was an awful record keeper! He would take the pollen from the only double flowered variety available at the time nivalis ‘flore pleno’ and crossed it with G. plicatus. The resulting hybrids became the basis for many modern doubles. One in particular which captures my fancy is ‘Hippolyta’
Yellow snowdrops often cause a stir, oddly most of these variations seem to stem from a small wild group of nivalis in Northumberland. These are now classified under the umbrella title of Sandersii Group. There are other species that lack the pigmentation that gives rise to the distinctive yellow hue in place of green. One of the best known is G. plicatus ‘Wendys Gold’ native of Cambridge it was almost lost to cultivation in the 1980’s. It’s still not easy to get hold of but when it is it’s always cheaper than ‘Midas’ thought to be a naturally occurring cross between ‘Blonde Inge’ & ‘Trym’ obtaining it yellow colouration from the former.
elwesii has given rise to one of my absolute favourite cultivars though! Imagine a flower that has the cutest little face staring back at you! This would be ‘Grumpy’. Only discovered in 1990 in Cambridge it’s still selling at a price I’m not sure I could justify to myself even if I saw it for sale but I do so love that scowling little face!
I succumbed and bought myself Magnet & Atkinsii recently on a trip to see Waterperrys Snowdrops, I would be seriously hard pressed not to buy Hippolyta if I saw it. My list of ‘wants’ is becoming longer each year for what is essentially a plant that flowers for just a couple of weeks & I will never have enough to create the full effect of the magnificence that a large swathe of these tiny nodding miracles, promises of warmer days coming.
That’s why I need places like Hodsock, they’ve got that in spades! … you see what I did there right?
Spades… Snowdrops… spades?
Ok, I’ll shut up, here’s the Snowdrops!