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.
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 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 ‘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 ‘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.
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.
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.