Event date: Monday 25th January 2016
Speaker: Kathleen Scott
Write-up by Sylvie Field

Kathleen gardens in Ponteland in a north-facing garden with a heavy soil. This has not deterred her from growing a wonderful collection of snowdrops, or should we say Galanthus. We learned that there are 21 species and some 2,500 named snowdrops. I am not going to attempt to recall all of those which Kathleen named but a few which took my fancy for various reasons.

We looked at nivalis which was first recorded in 1597, albeit as a violet. It was not until Linnaeus appeared on the scene in 1753 that it was given the name Galanthus nivalis. I rather like hearing about those countries from which it originated naturally such as Western, Central and Southern Europe and the tantalising notion that it may have been brought here by priests from France. No DEFRA rules then. Galanthus plicatus on the other hand originated in Southern Russia, the Crimea and Northern Turkey and may well have been brought here by soldiers in the Crimean War, although there is evidence that it existed here before then. It wasn’t until 1874 that snowdrops were commercially imported in bulk.

Kathleen explained that the identity of snowdrops is determined by the shape of their leaves, some of which will have a flower in their centre. In others the leaves come through with the edges folded down. In some one leaf comes through with the flower stalk and others circle it. Also the size will vary from about a foot downwards.

And so we looked at Galanthus gracilis, a dainty snowdrop used a lot in hybridisation, ‘Merlin’ with its long claw and ‘Magnet’ with its long pedestal. After ‘Fred’s Giant’, ‘Robin Hood’ (with his aberrations!) and ‘Jonathan’ had all made their appearance things took a saucy turn with ‘Blewbury Tart’ and her upturned petticoats. Sadly for ‘Lady Elphinstone’ her flowers go from apricot to the more pedestrian green. It was at this stage that we learned how much people are willing to pay for such variations.

One can now bid for snowdrops at specialist auctions and Alpine Bulb Fairs where prices can range from the twenties and thirties to several hundreds of pounds. However, I liked the notion of Snowdrop Lunches, altogether a more genteel affair when one could hobnob with others over ‘Diggory’ and ‘Angelique’. Growers of course grow their specimens in pans so that you can see exactly what you are getting. There are snowdrops with variegated leaves but this is the result of a virus and if you grow them they have to be kept well away from the main stock.

Kathleen looked briefly at companion plants such as Heuchera, Hellebore, Bergenia and daffodils and at various gardens where they can be seen such as Hill of Tarvit, Cambo and Howick. She, however, had the distinction of presenting one of her snowdrops to Prince Charles on a visit to Highgrove and was duly thanked with a very nice letter.

Certainly some snowdrops are becoming collectors’ items and a prized yellow snowdrop apparently brought £725 on E-bay recently. So, I suppose the final message for you amateur growers and hybridisers of snowdrops would be to forget the lottery and concentrate instead on those little white flowers pushing their way up as we speak.