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Diggin' It

A blizzard of snowdrops

One of the first flowers of spring, snowdrops arrive in a cheery blizzard of white.

By Betty Earl / March 17, 2010

Galanthus nivalis, the common snowdrop, is readily available and exceptionally hardy. It's a cheerful welcome to spring.

Courtesy of Betty Earl

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After a miserable winter, there is nothing as enticing as the first blossom of spring. And in my garden, the first ones to appear are the honey-scented snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis.

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In years when we experience a very mild winter, those sweet, tiny dangling milk-white flowers sometimes wrestle their way through the frozen soil and shine in my garden as early as the last week of February. This year, however, we had a snow pack. So I figured my plants were still asleep.

Then last week, the temps soared into the mid-50s, the snow melted, and, to my total amazement, I found clumps of snowdrops in full bloom all over the yard.

Although I have always found them charming, I never really thought much about these tiny bulbs – that is, until last year. Galanthophilia (collecting snowdrops) struck me when I visited a friend’s incredible woodland garden in Iowa.

His is a landscape blessed with numerous mature trees that provide the perfect habitat for his vast collections of many rare and wondrous plants. And one of the plants he collects is snowdrops.

While meandering along his neatly mulched pathways, I saw several fine examples of distinctly unusual snowdrops. One look at those virginal, white-tipped spears emerging from the stark earth, and, as much as I hate to admit it, I was hooked on yet another plant.

Of course, there was the double form, readily available, G. nivalisFlore Pleno’ [see second photo above]. But I also saw the much treasured ‘Lady Elphinstone’, a double flowering nivalis with buttery yellow inner petals, ‘Merlin’ which is popular because of its all-green petals, 'Magnet’, a vigorous bunch, with large blooms on very long flower stalks, and ‘Scissors’, so named because the green spots on the inner petals supposedly look like tailor’s shears – takes a bit of imagination, but it’s there.

White Gold – Britain’s love of Snowdrops

In England, nothing stands between a true galanthophile, or snowdrop fancier, and the object of his or her obsession. In late winter, thousands of snowdrop lovers visit British gardens whatever the weather to admire these tiny, bell-shaped flowers. They hold “snowdrop extravaganzas," “soup and snowdrop days,” and “galanthus galas” where truly rare snowdrops – such as this year’s sensation, the “orange” colored G. elwesii ‘Anglesey Orange Tip’ – are bought and sold.

These fanciers spend their winters down on their hands and knees on the frozen ground, peering at these small white flowers! They revel in the flower’s beauty, looking for the slightest difference between a light fleck of color and a solid band of green, and whether the leaves wrap round each other or stand apart.

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