To be or not to be a Galanthophile?

Galanthus nivalis Flore Pleno

I am not wavering nor is my immunity to this particular obsession wearing thin and I’m certainly not sitting on the fence. There are 20 or more species of Galanthus and I’m happy to grow a few more in addition to nivalis. Some of the cultivars are quite distinctive and attractive, but why are there so many which are virtually indistinguishable one from the other? Do we need over 1000 cultivars? I am so cynical that all I can smell is filthy lucre? With single bulbs being sold for £100s (or even a reported $2,500) we’ve not yet quite reached the lunacy of the Semper Augustus of the 17th century tulipomania. Obsession becomes dangerous when common sense leaves the room and greed move in.

There is nothing wrong in having a passion for a plant family or genus and growing a large number of species or varieties, the problem begins when they become commodities. As the desire to have more and to possess the rarities grows, there is always a danger that original motivation for growing a certain type of plant becomes diminished. I am not claiming the moral high ground, I am just saddened that something as delicate and simple as a snowdrop has become commercialised.

I have enjoyed reading all the recent posts about snowdrops and had great pleasure in looking at the photographs. There are some who admit to a weakness for snowdrops and who are building small collections, but this appears to be an enthusiastic susceptibility rather than full blown galanthomania.  What has left me feeling uneasy are the accounts of high security and crowd management at some of the gardens known for their displays of snowdrops.

I adore snowdrops and it is the one flower I always look for in the garden in February. I definitely do not have the right conditions in my garden for growing snowdrops, although I persist in my attempts to try to establish something a little more extensive than a very small clump of G. nivalis. I am thinking about replacing some of the species which I grew in my last garden, although they will have to spend a little time undercover each year so that I can appreciate the flowers.

The Head Gardener recently issued a challenge on the forum of the Scottish Rock Garden Club for the members to put together a list of 12 species/distinctive cultivars which we could grow here – albeit with some help from the greenhouse.  So although I’ll never be a true galanthophile, I’d appreciate your suggestions for species/cultivars which we might grow. 

10 thoughts on “To be or not to be a Galanthophile?

  1. I am very firmly not in the galanthophile camp although I love snowdrops and am trying to establish a lot of them here, partly because they will grow, as the verges and woods around prove, and partly because I love their simple beauty. Because I am after quantity I grow only nivalis in the simple single form and the double flore pleno. I am also tempted by Elwesii for its greater height and slightly different flowering time but haven’t actually imported any yet. I have been busily counting for the last five years to see how they are spreading. I think snowdrops are like many other plants for me in what moves me is the sweep of the big picture rather than any kind of collecting urge for the individual plant and like you I am wary of the money which rare varieties attract.

    • Thank you Elizabeth. I was concerned that my post would be misunderstood, so your comment reassures me. It was not a censure of the snowdrop enthusiasts, just an expression of concern and sincere hope that this nonsense of extreme commercialisation won’t spread. There have always been fashion trends in the plant world, gardeners have always have their “enthusiasms” and long may it continue. I definitely agree that very little can beat an expanse of nivalis in a winter garden.

  2. Hello Christine,
    Another interesting post. I must own up to being a snowdrop nut. But you’re quite right, that it’s money for the nurserymen which feeds the mania. However in mitigation I think the time of the snowdrops’ flowering, and the vigour, for many, of a lot of cultivars makes a range worthwhile – my aim is to try to grow a selection of heights, flower size, and flowering times for example. And then over time to produce a few of my own by hand pollination – since in many years, the bees just aren’t around early enough.
    Personally I think Cyclamen coum are even more appealing, but of course you can’t twin scale them , so there’s no money to be made…
    Which brings me onto which you might try to grow… I’m guessing that your rainfall will be similar to ours,(i.e. heavy) and that you won’t have severe cold, so the big differences will be soil and wind.
    I’m growing a lot of my ‘exotic’ forms in double tyres, which all have herbaceous perennials in them, and they all get a good top dressing of leaf mould in November. They have an open sunny East facing aspect, with apple trees nearby. So free draining, sunny, and hopefully a bit drier in the summer. I guess stone/wood lined deep beds would achieve the same result for you? But I think the leaf detritus/ root associations are key.
    A very few have died out, or are so slow to recover the trauma of a move that they’re really not garden worthy. A few are not very vigorous, and some are romping away. Since the beauty (to my eye) lies in numbers, I’ll pass on my current top 10 cultivars for vigour, and impact – for what it’s worth!
    Mrs. Macnamara
    Gerard Parker,
    Cedric’s Prolific,
    John Long,
    Benhall Beauty,
    Melanie Broughton,
    Percy Picton.
    Also a reasonable spread of flowering times from these ( something which very few sites/nurseries give in sufficient detail, in my opinion. (And none of these will trouble a bank balance too much…)
    I also rate rhizensis and woronowii as vigorous species here, when grown in this way, gracilis less so.
    In 3 years time I shall probably have an alternative list, such is the name of the game.
    Look forward to hearing what you eventually plump for, and how you grow them, and whether they then thrive. – I’m really convinced that they do best close to other plants, whether shaded in the summer, or not.
    Sorry to have rabbited on…

    • Thank you for the suggested list of cultivars and for the advice. We now have a long list of suggestions and I’m sure there will be long heated discussion over which to acquire, although I suspect that it will depend on what we can buy by mail order. I particularly like your idea of choosing varieties to extend the growing season, always a good idea for those of us who live with highly unpredictable weather.
      We’re also cyclamen enthusiasts, mainly species, but Himself is interested in leaf variation. Easy to grow from seed too.

  3. I think if you are paying a lot of money for a snowdrop in order to make more money then it is as good a way as any to make a living, but I agree that paying ridiculous prices just to own another very similar looking snowdrop has to be a bit obsessive. I am just glad that some people decide to have collections,though, so that I can see all the varieties that I could never afford to own. It is a shame, though, that people are likely to steal these bulbs and so crowds have to be managed.

    • I’ve no objection to people earning a living by selling plants, bulbs or seeds or anything else, although I would prefer them to do it ethically. I know that propagating some plants is a long slow process and there is nothing wrong in charging extra for those which are difficult or rare in cultivation; and how people spend their money is their prerogative. My objection stems from the commercial exploitation which turns plants into commodities, i.e. their monetary value has no relationship to anything other than what someone is prepared to do to acquire it. I also have no problem to people having collections, I just become very uneasy when it becomes obsessive and the original reason for collecting becomes superseded by the desire to acquire more and it becomes ruthlessly competitive.
      I suppose this all stems from my distaste for a society where too often the value of something or indeed someone is too often based on monetary worth, which is probably why I live on a remote Scottish island.

  4. An interesting and thought provoking blog. I do like snowdrops, I’m not obesssive, I just grow the ones I like, that are different, that will survive easily and add something to my garden at a time of year when we are desperate for life and colour. Having worked in the horticulture trade most of my working life (nearly 30 years), I have seen plant fashions and obsessions come and go and for crazy prices too. I can’t quite get to grips with the obsessional mania either, maybe I should be living on a remote island too 🙂

    • Hello thank you for visiting the croft garden and joining in the discussion. I think snowdrops can add so much to a garden and are such a wonderful feature of the early spring. I’m delighted that there is so much enthusiasm which is probably the reason for my concern over this nonsense.
      Living on a small island on the edge of the North Atlantic is just another way refusing to condone a society that is powered by money and greed, there are plenty of other ways too, but perhaps not as pleasant.

  5. You can’t beat nivalis in drifts of course – that is pure (and reliable!) pleasure. Unlike the specials, where you watch and wait for them to re-emerge, checking on your map or list if you have one to remind yourself what to expect – and then the pleasure or disappointment when they re-emerge, or don’t re-emerge in some cases. Identifying strays is good for the brain too, checking leaves and then flowers till you can be sure which it is – I have 8 or 9 orphans that were dug out of my bed when I was raising it but it will be year or two before I know if they are self-seeded examples or the remnants of long-lost specimens. It will have all blown over for this year in a few weeks – but once you have decided on your list do let me know what is on it and I will see what I can help with

    • There is nothing quite like the excitement of bulb watching – will they reappear, will there be more, less or none at all? Alas more often the latter!
      You are kind and thoughtful, but I could not possibly accept bulbs – well not until you have so many that you are desperate to give some away.

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