The Snowdrop Scene

It won’t last; I know it won’t; well, it probably won’t – a diary of sorts reporting on how the snowdrops are doing in the garden! A report at this time of the year is a simple and straight-forward affair as the number of snowdrops in flower is small but, as the season continues and numbers grow, there are bound to be omissions so I am framing this undertaking as an occasional recap of snowdrop flowering rather than attempting anything comprehensive – and that’s my way of letting myself off the hook, setting the bar comfortably low and excusing myself in advance as I don’t reach it.

The earliest snowdrops to flower here are variants and cultivars of the Greek species, Galanthus reginae olgae, but it is a group which doesn’t light my heart as the bulbs don’t do well in our garden and the few I grow are in pots in the glasshouse which, to my mind, is not really gardening at all and, certainly, not the way I like to see snowdrops growing. Those that suit our conditions and do well in the open garden are more to my taste.

Galanthus elwesii ‘Earliest of All’

The old reliable Galanthus elwesii ‘Barnes’ is usually the first to open in the garden here. It’s not an especially distinct snowdrop but has the advantage of opening early, a case of full marks for showing up, I suppose. The first to flower is always especially appreciated if for no other reason than being first. E. P. Barnes was a Northampton surgeon with an interest in snowdrops. He selected an early-flowering clone which he sent on to Oliver Wyatt and he named it ‘Earliest of All’ (though it flowers later than ‘Barnes’ here, at least!) Galanthus ‘Barnes’ came from OIiver Wyatt’s garden where it was simply labelled ‘Barnes’ – perhaps to remind him of where it had originated. These two are quite like each other in appearance (what’s new about that in the snowdrop world, you might comment!) but ‘Barnes’ flowers ahead of ‘Earliest of All’.

Galanthus elwesii ‘Barnes’
Galanthus elwesii ‘Barnes’

Galanthus bursanus is a very recently described species – only in 2019 (Read the article here) – but it has remarkably reached worldwide distribution in that short timescale and innumerable clones have already been named. It is very popular and has shown itself to be a very garden-worthy plant with excellent vigour and a very early flower time. I received a gift of a single bulb last summer and it has produced five flowers this season, which is quite remarkable. I feel it may fill that gap in the snowdrop-flowering calendar that Galanthus reginae olgae has left vacant in my garden.

Galanthus bursanus

Galanthus ‘Hoggets Narrow’ was found by Matt Bishop in the garden of the late Terry Jones, an enthusiastic breeder of nerines, who lived in Zeal Monocorum, a village in Devon, and will be known from his fabulous Nerine ‘Zeal Giant’. It came to me only two years ago, one of those generous gifts from a fellow enthusiast, and it is one I adore for its simple elegance.

Galanthus ‘Hoggets Narrow’

Galanthus ‘Faringdon Double’ is the first of the double snowdrops to flower here each year. It was found by those great English snowdrop enthusiasts, David and Ruby Baker, in Faringdon Churchyard, Oxfordshire and that association alone makes it one to be treasured. As with most double-flowered snowdrops, it remains in flower and in good condition in the garden for a very long time.

A particular favourite at this time of the year, especially treasured for its Irish origins and connection with the late Dr. Keith Lamb, is Galanthus ‘Castlegar’. Keith spotted this in flower in early December 1985 on the estate of Sir George and Lady Mahon at Castlegar, Co. Galway and brought some bulbs home to his garden in Clara, Co. Offaly. David and Ruby Baker were given bulbs later and spread them among enthusiasts in England.

Galanthus ‘Castlegar’

It is often commented of Galanthus ‘Mrs. Macnamara’ that it has a particularly clear and bright white colour, a brilliance to the flowers not so common in others. Though not of Irish origin, it has an Irish connection. Mrs. Macnamara was an Yvonne Majolier who married Francis Macnamara of Ennistymon House, now The Falls Hotel. Their daughter, Caitlin, married the poet Dylan Thomas. It is a fine large-flowered cultivar which makes a very beautiful contribution to the garden.

Galanthus ‘Mrs. Macnamara’

John Morley’s ever so cleverly named, Galanthus ‘Three Ships’, brings an annual flurry of cliches on social media as those who watch ever so fervently to see if this loved snowdrop will open in time for Christmas as the name was taken from the Christmas carol, “I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In”….. on Christmas Day in the morning! It is a beautifully full-bodied snowdrops with outer segments which lift in a full ballgown fashion giving the flower a very appealing appearance.

Galanthus ‘Colossus’ opened only today, a consequence of recent mild weather, though it has normally opened well ahead of the Christmas holidays on previous years. This year the snowdrop season is a little behind previous years but, as is always the case, these matters settle themselves down and normal order will pertain again very shortly. ‘Colossus’ originated at Colesborne Park, probably England’s greatest snowdrop garden. I have, at least, a connection to that greatness, to be enjoyed each year as it comes into flower.

The first instalment is the easiest, as numbers are at their lowest, but I hope it will be the first of several as the season progresses.

Other snowdrops will open in time but I do hope this rain stops soon. Here is a shot of some snouts of Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ in wet conditions.

16 thoughts on “The Snowdrop Scene

    1. The recent mild weather and rain have brought them on in great numbers so there should be lots of others opening in the coming week or so.


  1. Hello Paddy, thanks for the ongoing notes on snowdrops. G. Three Ships flowering here since December 14. Someone though is pecking the opened buds!
    Though maybe a little early, Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh trasna I bPort Láirge.

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    1. Some are as low as four inches but six to, say, ten inches would be more the average. Best wishes to you both for the remainder of the Christmas season and for the New Year.

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  2. I hope you find the time to keep this up because I for one will be thrilled to follow along as I wait for my own snowdrops to arrive. They’re thinking about it of course, since it’s a very mild start to winter, but there’s always a few weeks where the weather gets serious here and I’m desperate for snowdrop news.
    Three Ships- not yet. Colossus- not for a few weeks at least! Faringdon Double- up but not in bloom.
    For us the early drops stretch out to fill a season, but snow pauses things. Once the snow melts it’s a fast forward here and often I think we pass you by within a few days. It’s still fun though and I enjoy comparing the progress.

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    1. We have a similar experience, though without the snow, that some snowdrops come above ground and then remain static for what seems ages if the temperatures drop. I’ll try to give a regular update but as the numbers coming into flower increases one can be swamped to a degree. Best wishes for the remainder of the Christmas season and for the New Year.

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      1. Excellent! Mrs Macnamara looks great, about where mine is at (although a much less impressive grouping!), but all that water around S Arnott makes me wish a little sunshine your way.
        Normally I would worry about drainage, but my S Arnott sat in a swamp all winter one year and then bloomed better than ever the next spring.

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      2. It was my mistake to plant those ‘S. Arnott’ bulbs in that position for I should have remembered that it was prone to being waterlogged. I have plenty of other large patches of ‘S. Arnott’ so am not too bothered about them but they do need to be moved.


  3. I have just noticed – from Facebook Memories – that ‘Florence Baker’, ‘Lapwing’, ‘X-Files’ and an unnamed G. elwesii var monostictus were in flower at this time last year. So, the season is a little behind that of last year.


  4. Thanks for this post Paddy, a great review of early ones and the burnanus is a new one to me, which sounds amazingly vigorous for you so far.. Having told myself I wasn’t getting any more, maybe I should seek one out? I also like the photos of Hogget narrow. Look forward to your next instalment, and hope the sun appears for you too.
    best wishes😊

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    1. G. bursanus is amazing – certainly has me amazed at the speed it has travelled around the world though only described in 2019.


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