A Gardener’s Guide to Snowdrops

The almost wildfire enthusiasm for snowdrop not only continues but is growing – a genuine galanthomania where amateur enthusiasm and commercial opportunism lead to a constant stream of newly named snowdrops – and it is a daunting challenge for any author to attempt a comprehensive listing of all cultivars. Indeed, it has frustrated others as any attempt to publish a book on snowdrops is almost certainly doomed to be out of date, to have not included the latest named cultivars, even on its release date. “Compiling a complete list of named snowdrops is impossible as new snowdrops are constantly being introduced so any list is immediately out of date” – writes author, Freda Cox, and she must be commended for her enthusiasm and bravery in undertaking this task and presenting a snapshot of snowdrops at the time of her writing.

The book is immediately attractive and appealing and the publishers, Crowood, are to be complimented for the superb quality of design and production and when the dustcover blurb tells that the first edition “has been updated to cover more than 2,400 named snowdrops” it is all very promising indeed.

The early chapters give an overview of snowdrops, their morphology and taxonomy, notes on how they grow around the world and a chapter on pests and diseases and how best to deal with such misfortune. A chapter on Galanthophiles, Gardens and Growers gives pen pictures of past and present-day enthusiasts – I get a little entry myself, not as I would have written it but, then, I wasn’t consulted. Twenty snowdrop species are succinctly described before we reach the core of the book, the “Snowdrop Directory”.

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A  page from the chapter on Galanthophiles showing the late Mrs. Margaret Owen who introduced many wonderful cultivars.

In the Directory snowdrops are listed alphabetically from ‘Abington Green’, ‘Ace of Spades’. ‘Acme’ all the way to ‘Zuckerpuppe’, ‘Zverdica’ and ‘Zwanenburg’ – 2,400 snowdrops and 273 pages later, a mammoth collection, beautifully presented.  Freda Cox is an established artist and most of the snowdrops are illustrated by her paintings of the individual flowers, perhaps half life size, and these are accompanied by brief notes, curtailed sentences, of 50 – 100 words per entry. The alphabetic listing makes for ease of access and one can quickly locate a particular entry. Not all entries have illustrations.

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A double page spread from The Snowdrop Directory, the core of the book

I am inclined to describe the directory as a sort of gardener’s notebook – I keep such myself for snowdrops as I receive them and note the date received, where or from whom I had received them, price – if such applies, any information which came with them, perhaps a sketch and then a careful note of where I planted them. My notes are never complete; contain only the salient information I require and might well puzzle another reader but they are mine, for me, and serve their purpose.

There are many snowdrops in this book that are completely new to me which is not a surprise given the numbers included here and that I would describe myself as an enthusiast and certainly not an expert. However, there are many with which I am familiar – I have a particular interest in snowdrops of Irish origin – and reading some of these entries cast a shadow over my enjoyment of the book. There is Galanthus ‘Mrs. White’ – found by my wife (Mary Tobin), yet described as being “found and named by Mary White”. The snowdrop is illustrated and described though the author certainly has never seen it as we haven’t distributed it.  The origins for Galanthus ‘Coolballintaggart’ are given as “Mahony, Kerry” – though the title has always been “The O’Mahony of Kerry” and Galanthus ‘Green Lantern’ continues to be known by that name and not as G. ‘Corona North’. Angela Jupe’s named snowdrop is ‘Jupe’s Belle’ and not ‘Jupe’s Bell’ and the finder of Galanthus ‘Melot’ is my friend in Germany, Thomas Seiler – not “Thomas Seller”.  A friend who had snowdrops included in the book told me that three of his had incorrect illustrations; one name was spelled incorrectly and one was described as being named for a particular person when, in fact, it had been named for someone else.  There are other such inaccuracies in the book and they are disappointing and irritating; they take from the book and undermine my confidence in it as a source of accurate information.

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From The Snowdrop Directory – an excellent layout.

The gardener’s notebook style is very appealing – indeed, I think it an excellent format – but would wish to see more consistency in the information for each entry – for example, that the origins of each snowdrop be included. The index could be improved to make the information in the book more accessible. It isn’t complete in its listing of snowdrops (for example: 14 entries under the letter “P” in the index and over 100 in the directory) but hardly needs to be when they are so conveniently listed in the directory. It struck me that some cross referencing which would allow the reader to see all the snowdrops introduced by, for example, Avon Bulbs or North Green Snowdrops would be interesting though, perhaps it might lengthen the book excessively.

First impressions were excellent but I am left with doubts. I think this is a wonderful way to arrange and display such a huge volume of information but, above all, I want to feel sure that the information is reliable.

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My wife’s snowdrop find which was included – though attributed to the incorrect name.

[A Gardener’s Guide to Snowdrops, Freda Cox, Crowood, Wiltshire, 2019, Hardback, 302 pages, £50, ISBN: 978 1 78500 449 0]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “A Gardener’s Guide to Snowdrops

    1. There are far more named daffodils. Tulips, perhaps? I grow a lot of snowdrops in the garden here – maybe 200+varieties. They are very fashionable (a craze!) at this side of the Atlantic and are becoming more and more popular in North America.

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  1. I would have described you and Mary as enthusiastic experts!!! I did enjoy reading this and quite agree that the inaccuracies take from its credibility. I think Mrs Mary Tobin should engage Senior Counsel and use every avenue to credit her for being the original finder! A pity because it does sound an ideal ‘namer’.

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    1. As you know, Mary would have probably preferred that her name, nor her snowdrop, ever appeared in print. She is happy to enjoy it just as it is. She has no need of any acknowledgement.

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  2. One of the things I value about your reviews, whether of gardens or books, is that you express a clear opinion with kindness and civility, appreciating and calling out both the finer and lesser points of a work, not hesitating to call equal attention to the inevitable mix of merits and deficiencies in any endeavor so inherently rigorous and yet also artistic and subjective as gardening and writing. It is not an easy thing to do consistently, but you accomplish it, and I thank you for it. Always instructive and a pleasure to read, Paddy.

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    1. How very kind of you, Tim. Some years back I realised it was the easiest thing in the world to cut the back off an author, to be cynical and sarcastic, to pass this off with humour and be told it was very funny and entertaining but, whether or not we like the completed work, we have to recognise that somebody has put their heart and soul into making their book – and I haven’t gotten off my fat ar.e to ever do the same so I’ll respect their efforts as best I can. This is a book on the brink of being fabulously excellent – but that is not good enough given the subject matter. People want accuracy and reliability in a book of reference.

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