The interest in these tiny flowers seems to be gaining in popularity in the last 15 or so years, some of them reaching phenomenal prices! I myself have succumbed to their lure and can be found lurking around tables at snowdrop fairs looking wistfully at the ones far out of my budget, scanning for my must haves at a price I can justify to myself. It is not a hobby without heartbreak though, for myself it has been a disastrous spring. My small collection despite all my efforts took a severe beating, maybe due to the prolonged heatwave in the summer, maybe I had the dreaded fungal/viral infection which eats snowdrops alive? Whatever the cause I awaited patiently for them to emerge and when 3 varieties had I finally lost patience waiting on the others and tipped the pots out to investigate only to find either no evidence of them or sad soggy brown husks where once had flourished what I humorously termed my “pension fund”…. not so funny now eh!
‘Wendys gold’ my first expensive snowdrop which I had built up from just one bulb to 7 last spring was gone! entirely gone! As was viridiprice, john gray, wasp and about 5 others. I was left with a rather limp looking ‘Magnet’, some unconfirmed Greatorex doubles and singular ‘Gerald Parker’. I can’t tell you how much of a failure I felt!
Thankfully the collection at work did not suffer the same ignominious fate, in fact we lost only 2 varieties there, this given they received the same treatment and the fact that what had survived of my collection leads me to believe that I have in fact suffered the dreaded virus or fungus. The reason I say Fungus/virus is im not actually sure of the cause of their death. ‘Wendys gold’ did have in hindsight some of the symptoms of yellowing leaves but given it is a yellow snowdrop and its ovary was yellow anyway I didn’t think about it too much, it had flowered. I fed it, the leaves were dying back. It all seemed pretty regular. The others I can’t say whether I noticed any problems, as most were new acquisitions there was only one or two bulbs per pot anyway.
It does make me feel slightly better though when I realise im not the only person to have lost their precious beauties in such a way…
I have set myself a rule of not paying more than £15-20 per bulb, that’s still a LOT of money for just one tiny bulb as far as im concerned but it’s not even a drop in the ocean to what has been paid in the past, and on checking currently, for a rare snowdrop!
In 2012, 2 record prices were set for a single bulb at auction. The first ‘Green tear’ went for £360.00, swiftly followed by ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ at a massive £725.10!
‘Green tear’ is still very difficult to get hold of and will set you back, if you can find it, somewhere in the region of £180-200.
The record breaking ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ was sent for micropropping by the buyer Thompson & Morgan, this is usually a pretty reliable way of bulking a plant up quickly using cell culture but not infallible! They lost their record breaking bulb in the process, what a horrifying situation! Although she is more widely available now through more conventional methods of propagation at a slightly more reasonable price of around £60-90 depending on the seller.
The story of ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ though is quite a sweet one, the record breaking sale price went back to the elderly couple who’s garden it was discovered in to help them maintain it, or so the legend tells. The seller and the person who recognised its value was a nurseryman called Ian Christie of Kirriemuir nursery in Perthshire Scotland. Apparently he spotted it at a local HPS snowdrop event and buying it, naming it after the lady who’s garden it was found in went on to successfully propagate it for sale.
But this was only the start of the snowdrop madness, prices for new and rare bulbs have been steadily increasing, in 2015 it reached the ears of nationwide newspapers and tv that a single bulb bred by snowdrop expert Joe Sharman had sold for…. £1390!!
The hilariously named ‘Golden fleece’ was put up for auction, the buyer is rumoured to be another large company looking to propagate it commercially, although I cant find any confirmation this is true. Apparently it took Joe 10 years to get this plant to the stage where he was able to sell any, 5 years from seed to flower and the further 5 years to check the stability of the form and bulk up enough of the stock to be able to sell on. When you consider it that way just over a £100 a year doesn’t sound like a great deal to be paid for your work. The bulbs are still regularly selling for well over £200, when you can find them!
Joe is very well known in the snowdrop world having been responsible for either finding, breeding or propagating some of the hottest varieties in today’s market. Names such as ‘Wendys gold’, ‘EA Bowles’,’Trym’ and one of my favourites ‘Grumpy’ are all down to the skills of this man.
Only yesterday a bulb sold on Ebay for £1166, this time it was ‘Dryads gold ingot’ from Anne Wright’s nursery Dryad, in North Yorkshire. She has brought out a series of golden gems calling them various names such as gold bullion and gold nugget.
So where will snowdrop mania end? Will it ever get as silly as the Tulip mania that crashed so spectacularly? I think not but in this crazy topsy turvey world you never know!
In the meantime I have been given some excellent advice on how to ‘inoculate’ any future purchases against losses, the advice came from the Alpine garden societies magazine. The article was written on the late, great David Way’s research, who sadly died in October last year, his collection had suffered massive losses on moving from Kent to Hertfordshire. This struck a chord with me given as my losses had occurred when I moved mine.
He spent a lot of time, with fellow snowdrop enthusiasts looking into the relationship between fungi present in the soil and the benefits to snowdrops. Between them they came up with a recipe we could all use to help our little guys out.
- 5lt John Innes seed & cutting compost
- 2 tblsp Rootgrow
- 2 tblsp afterplant
using this mix pot up your snowdrops in the green then sow on the top seeds of Eragrostis tef, this is an annual tender grass that will die off before your snowdrops emerge but will act as a host plant for the mycorrhizal fungi whilst they lie dormant.
I hope you have found this info useful and hopefully in future I wont suffer so many loses! If you need me I’ll be at a snowdrop fair buying bulbs!
If you’re interested in where your nearest event is Pumpkin Beth has gone to a lot of trouble to put together one of the most comprehensive calenders ive ever seen! pop over and give it a look, be sure to say I sent you 😉