Chaste Snowdrop, Venturous Harbinger of Spring

At this time of year snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, provide a valuable indicator that spring is on its way. Withstanding wind, rain, hail, and snow, they pop up throughout our gardens and woodlands starting in January (or even as far back as September if you grow some of the lesser known autumn flowering species and cultivars). They do not need to be consigned to the woodland, as long as you can provide shade in summer, they will grow almost anywhere.

Who better to tell us more about some of the less common snowdrop varieties than Helen Rushton of Bruckhills Croft Garden in Aberdeenshire? The Galanthus collection here has been built up over several years, and contains over 450 examples of snowdrop cultivars and some of the 22 species that occur in the genus’ natural range across Europe and into Asia.

“Due to the different habitats from which that Galanthus originate, we grow them in the garden in a variety of situations: the majority live within the herbaceous borders, but we also utilise alpine troughs, raised beds, an alpine greenhouse, and even in hanging baskets.

“With that in mind there are some Galanthus you may consider if you wish to try something a little different in your garden.

Galanthus nivalis Sandersii Group

“To start with there are the yellow versions of the common snowdrop known as the Galanthus nivalis Sandersii Group. All have yellow ovaries and yellow markings on the inner segments, in varying quantity and intensity of yellow. These yellow snowdrops actually prefer to be grown in full sun as this helps maintain the colour, they also appreciate some leaf-mould mulch which keeps them cool and helps keep the soil slightly acidic.

“Still keeping with the well-known snowdrop shape, Viriscent galanthus, or ‘greenish’ snowdrops are an interesting addition to the garden as they stand out against the traditional white snowdrop. From a distance these snowdrops have an overwhelming green appearance which is caused by a green shimmer or green stripes that cover the majority of the outer segments whereas the inner segments are completely green. One of the most famous and sought after is ‘Green Mile’ which was found in Belgium.

Viriscent galanthus ‘Green Mile’
Viriscent galanthus ‘Green Mile’

“Snowdrops also vary in size and elegance, how would you like to have one of the dancing galanthus in your borders? ‘Percy Picton’ is a tall growing plant with a long arching pedicel from which the flower dangles. Best planted in a sheltered area, this fully hardy Galanthus plicatus cultivar only needs a slight breeze to set the blooms bouncing as if dancing in the breeze.

Galanthus plicatus ‘Percy Picton’

“For the more adventurous there are a completely different shape of snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus, nicknamed ‘spiky’, where the segments have become elongated and look like clawed fingers. Often these spiky snowdrops do not face downwards like a standard snowdrop but instead face sideways where you can appreciate the colour and structure inside the flower.

“For me these spiky snowdrops grow well in alpine troughs: they appreciate the free draining soil, and the layer of grit keeps the flowers unspoiled by rain splashing off the soil. Raised up in this way, it is a perfect way to see the flowers. ‘Irish Green’ is a good example of this type of snowdrop, and has the addition of fine green stripes on the outer fingers.

Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Irish Green’

“If spiky snowdrops are too far from the norm for your tastes, does one shaped like a pagoda appeal? The first snowdrop to exhibit this shape was Galanthus plicatus ‘Trym’, and it caused quite a stir when it was first seen. Flowers that at first appear tubular, open to display reflexed outer segments similar in shape to standard inner segments. Many seedlings originating from ‘Trym’ show this characteristic, and one of my favourites is ‘South Hayes’ which as well as having the flower shape and reversed green heart mark on the outer segments, has a streak of green leading to the ovary.

Galanthus plicatus ‘South Hayes’

“Combining a few unusual characteristics is Galanthus ‘Midas’ which has reflexed outer segments when fully open. It also displays yellow marks and has a new talent of being a colour changing flower. When the flowers are closed and starting to open, the markings on the outer segments are green like the ovary, but as it opens and matures, those green patches turn yellow…and not just a wishy, washy, greenish yellow, but a bright. bold, egg yolk yellow.

Galanthus ‘Midas’

Top Tip
“Something that is often missed with snowdrops is the scent, especially in Scotland where it is often too chilly for the flowers to divulge their fragrant secrets, or too windy so any perfume is carried away. 

“I often bring a few blooms into the house and keep them on a bright windowsill where their hidden essence can be appreciated, and in the case of some cultivars such as the Galanthus elwesii ‘Mrs MacNamara’ their fragrance can fill a whole room. 

“Just placed in fresh water, the flowers will last for 5-10 days and you can appreciate their beauty closeup.”

If you would like to see more varieties of snowdrops you can read Helen’s blog at www.snowdrops.me, or follow the collection on social media at Facebook and Instagram. The garden is also open as part of Scotland’s Gardens Scheme.

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