Queen Olga’s Snowdrop

The snowdrop season has started!

Yes, it may be hard to credit it but we are into the new snowdrop season. It begins with the watering of potted snowdrops in the glasshouse. These are snowdrops which will not grow for me in the open garden, mainly Greek species which demand a hot and dry summer.

Galanthus reginae olgae 'Tilebarn Jamie' (4)
Galanthus reginae-olgae ‘Tilebarn Jamie’ – one of those I grow in the glasshouse.

I had attempted to grow the Greek snowdrop species, Galanthus reginae-olgae, for more than ten years in the open garden but they always dwindled in number and died out within a few years. It was only when a friend on Facebook posted photographs of this snowdrop growing in the wild and I moaned about my failures that his comments put me on the right track. All comments in gardening books suggest they need good drainage in a position in full sun – which I had done for nearly ten years but still failed to grow them successfully – but my friend in Greece pointed out the glaringly obvious: that I couldn’t in Ireland provide the 40 degrees Celsius and months without a drop of rain which they would experience in Greece. The only way I could mimic these conditions was to grow the snowdrops in pots where, after the foliage died down, they could be left, without a drop of water, in the hottest spot in the glasshouse to bake for the summer. In the first week of September I water the pots thoroughly and will have snowdrops in flower in early October – the season has started again!

Galanthus reginae olgae 'Tilebarn Jamie' (2)
Galanthus reginae-olgae ‘Tilebarn Jamie’ – a favourite cultivar as it is strong growing and increases well. 

When this Greek snowdrop was first introduced it was considered an autumn-flowering form of the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, and was only later recognised as a different species and named for Queen Olga. Dr. J.P. Mahaffy, Provost of Trinity College collected bulbs on Mount Hymettus, Greece, in 1884 and put them in the care of Frederick Burbidge, the Director of the Trinity College Botanic Gardens in Ballsbridge, who named it for Dr. Mahaffy’s daughter Rachel – Galanthus rachelae. A subsequent introduction was named for another daughter, Elsa, Galanthus elsae.

Galanthus reginae olgae ex Langada + Melvyn Jope (2)
Galanthus reginae-olgae – a form collected at Langada, Greece, by snowdrop enthusiast Melvyn Jope and a kind gift to me. 

These were sensational introductions at the time and caught the attention of snowdrops lovers around the British Isles and were shared about as they increased in number. Both were planted in the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin but when Phylis Lady Moore searched them out in 1948 she could find no trace of them. Rachel’s snowdrop is, however, preserved as a painting by E.A. Bowles (an early snowdrop enthusiast) in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley Library. I received bulbs of Galanthus rachelae from a friend and snowdrop enthusiast in Normandy who had received it from Matt Bishop and he from Primrose Warburg – an excellent line of snowdrop enthusiasts. This is one I grow in the glasshouse and one I treasure especially for its connections and the generosity which brought it to me.

Galanthus reginae olgae ex Keith Lamb via Mary Waldron (2)
Galanthus reginae-olgae which came from the garden of the late Dr. Keith Lamb, Clara, Co. Offaly – a kind gift from a friend.

Such little things, so small and so apparently delicate, but what pleasure they give! Here’s to another snowdrop season and to a special snowdrop, with wonderful Irish connections, that I look forward to seeing in flower here.

2 thoughts on “Queen Olga’s Snowdrop

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