The Early Season

It was rather a weak start to the snowdrop season here, a little disappointing but not entirely unexpected. The earliest flowering snowdrops here are of the Greek species, Galanthus reginae olgae and its cultivars and these don’t enjoy the conditions in my garden. I suppose that should come as no surprise when their native range is one of persistent high summer temperatures with prolonged dry periods and these Greek snowdrops grow in naturally dry spots with open free-draining gritty soil while the soil here is heavy and generally, if not wet throughout the summer, at least almost always damp. This does not suit them and they have never thrived in the open garden here, not even in raised beds where there would be improved drainage and not even in alpine troughs in the sunniest spots and filled with a compost as free-draining as a colander. They have consistently “died on me” and my only success has come by growing them in suitable compost in pots in the glasshouse – and, even there with this care, they don’t really thrive. One year may bring a reasonable flowering and another year will disappoint. I have persisted with them because they have always been the first snowdrops to flower each year and because one of them, Galanthus ‘Rachel Mahaffy’ (from the original Galanthus rachelae), has an interesting Irish background and connections. In coming years I feel it may be the only one of these early Greek snowdrops I will keep and I will seek out more snowdrops which will flower early in the year in the open garden, good garden plants rather than prima donnas which require an unreasonable, for me, level of attention.

As we are in the last day of November and the number of snowdrops coming into flower in the open garden will increase quickly in the coming weeks I am going to stop for a moment and look back at the snowdrops which have flowered to date:

As it does every year here, Galanthus reginae olgae ‘Rachel Mahaffy’ was the first snowdrop to flower this year, though not in as large a number as in previous years…the vagaries of snowdrops!
Galanthus reginae olgae ‘Cambridge’ is another of the early-flowering Greek snowdrops
Galanthus reginae olgae ‘Cambridge’
Galanthus reginae olgae – the straight species, grown from seed collected in Greece (by a kind friend)

There were several other of these Galanthus reginae olgae which flowered earlier this year but they didn’t excite me sufficiently to have me photograph them – it seems I am losing interest in these snowdrops which are a bother to grow and which are regularly disappointing. Open-garden snowdrops are more to my liking and I hope to add more of the early-season garden varieties over the coming years.

Galanthus elwesii ‘Barnes’ is the first of the open-garden snowdrops to flower here with me. It belongs to the “monostictus” group (one mark on the inner segment rather then the usual two with Galanthus elwesii)
Galanthus elwesii ‘Barnes’
On cold and wet days this may well be the best way to enjoy the flowers of these early-winter flowering snowdrops, Galanthus elwesii ‘Barnes’
Another early-flowering cultivar of Galanthus elwesii – ‘Earliest of All’ – though it doesn’t live up to its name as it is not the first to flower at all. However, it grows well in the open garden, a reliable and easy snowdrop and that is enough to commend it to me.
Another from the same group of snowdrops is ‘Smaragdsplitter’ which has the distnguishing green markings to the outer segments and seems to be a good grower. I have only a small pinch of bulbs at the moment but it seems promising and should bulk up in coming years. You will notice the damage to the ovary – from bird or slug!
A variety from a different species – this is Galanthus plicatus ‘Mary Hely-Hutchinson’, one of Irish origin distributed initially by Robin Hall of Primrose Hill, Lucan, Co. Dublin. It is a very early flowering variety of Galanthus plicatus – while early flowering forms of Galanthus elwesii are relatively common those from G. plicatus are very uncommon.
Little disappointments are commonplace when growing any garden plant and snowdrops are no exception. This is Galanthus elwesii ‘Hoggets Narrow’ and the first flowers should have opened by now but they were pecked off by our local pheasants and never got the chance to be enjoyed. There are some flowers still to come and it may yet perform this year.
Galanthus elwesii ‘Faringdon Double’ is on the brink of opening so I wll squeeze in into the November snowdrops. It is the first double snowdrop to flower each year.
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8 thoughts on “The Early Season

  1. What a joy to see your snowdrops back Paddy! I need to be reading your blog much more carefully – there’s always so much here that’s fascinating. ‘Barnes’ looks lovely … I’ve had the good fortune to ‘virtually’ encounter someone here in France who is snowdrop-keen. Unfortunately she’s rather far away from me, but I’m hoping to learn from her. Her garden is open every year in February.
    So interesting to hear what you say about these autumn ones. I guess they would do better here …? I think it’s hard to maintain an interest in a plant that clearly does not like one’s garden.

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    1. Another very keen and knowledgeable snowdrop grower in Mark Brown who gardens in Normandy – I have his address somewhere but not to hand. He is on Facebook as Fred Blogs, if you wish to look him up. And there are others, of course, G. reginae olgae seems to well with a great many people but not with me unfortunately so I won’t upset myself by continuing to try. The autumn flowering varieties of G. elwesii are more amenable, much easier in the open garden.

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      1. Thanks so much Paddy! I rarely look at Facebook now (in fact am less computer-minded generally these days) – but I see that I am already following Fred – no doubt due to your recommendation. There are many good things out there, just need to sit down in front of my screen more! Thanks again.

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    1. I have only a very few of the earlier snowdrop varieties, something I must remedy for they are very welcome at what can be a very dull time of the year.

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