The Snowdrop Stakes

With about one sunny day every seven – if we’re lucky – I’m changing the terms by which I judge a snowdrop.

On those occasional sunny days you can almost hear the snowdrops making stretching noises as they spread their arms out wider than you thought possible, as if to maximize their exposure to the rare blast of sun.  You can’t help but smile at them, and sometimes go so far as to laugh out loud at their apparent joy in the moment.  In the sunshine, every snowdrop is a heart-stopper.

But the rest of the time, they’re closed.  And it’s at this time, I reckon, that they most differ in the pleasure they provide.  Some with flared outer tepals are almost charmless when closed– you’re just waiting for the next blast of sun or warmth to transform them.

Galanthus elwesii. Not quite at full tilt here, but approaching irresistibility. On a cloudy day it looks like wet washing.

Some of the doubles are so double that the outer tepals are forced apart, like the arms of someone in a Sumo-suit.  There’s a kind of pleasure in that – a sense of mimicry of the real joy of sun-induced tepal-spread, but it’s only a dim reflection of the real thing.

The fully double Galanthus ‘Lavinia’ yet to open (and a little underfed). I can’t really love it, though there’s always the anticipation..

The ones I like best, without any doubt, are those that close into a tight, egg-shaped pearl (top image).  You can’t help but think that they’re nearly as good closed as open.

Then along comes a sunny day, and you love them more still, with their distinctly cup-shaped outer tepals in propeller position.

Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ nearly ready to fly..

Then they close again, and you love them like that too.  In my very small collection (of currently only four different types) that makes Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ the out and out winner.

A call to all you serious collectors:  I can’t have stumbled this easily on the best of them.  Which of them would you still want to grow if you only ever saw them closed?


This added some hours later, after I’d received an email reply from Otto Fauser.  He included a pic, so I’ll put his reply in here, as I can’t put a pic in the reply box.

He wrote

Due to the dull weather most of the 80 odd species and cultivars of snowdrops in my garden were in the closed state ,except those already past their prime and the Doubles which can’t close due to the many inner segments .I took a composite photo of just 7 , most of them old and tried ones ,including ‘Magnet ‘ on a long arched pedicel which enables it to sway in a breeze . Gal. ‘Spindlestone Surprise’ has a yellow ovary and yellow markings on the inner segments (hard to see on the photo). I think I mentioned it before : if I could grow only one snowdrop it would be ‘S. Arnott’

from left to right : Gal. nivalis ‘Viridapicis’ ,rizehensis , ‘S, Arnott’ , ‘Magnet’ , elwesii , ‘Spindlestone Surprise’ and ‘Hippolyta ‘ (the double).

Back to me – Michael.  You can see from the pic, can’t you, that S. Arnott is probably the best when closed, given the exceptional cupping in the outer segments.  There’d be plenty of overlap, and that seems necessary for that globular, pearl-like quality.  Both G. rizehensis and ‘Spindlestone Surprise’ look like they’re pretty good at overlap as well, though they’re substantially smaller, and slenderer than ‘S. Arnott’.

Thanks for the pic and para, Otto!


  1. Hi Michael,

    I think all galanthus are pretty weatherproof. They have to be given the time of year that they decide to inhabit!

    Best single snowdrops: Three Ships or John Gray (early) : Sam Arnold (middle) : Percy Picton (late).

    Best doubles: Lady Beatrix Stanley (early) : Rodmartin (middle) : Ophelia (late).

    Alas many of the best will never make it to these shores.

    Cheers, Marcus

    1. And it you heard that the sun was never going to shine again, and they all had to be judged on how lovely they were when closed, Marcus, which would you still want to grow?

  2. John Gray, M

    1. OK, I’m reading brevity as conviction. Gonna get me some – or maybe just one..

      (Please note that this comment and Marcus’s above are supposed to follow the thread below)

  3. So many Snowdrops are beautiful when closed….. but also look quite similar (to me) If I had to choose those that I love open and closed I think I would go for …..

    Galathus “Primrose Warburg” … I love it for its yellow/green ovary that looks just like lovely old gold pearl sitting on top of the flower
    Galathus “Viridapicis” It has large elegant flowers with a “brushmark” of green on the tips of the outer petals. As if someone has come along and painted it!
    I am a lover of plants that have fantastic flowers and also lovely leaves. When I first recieved Galanthus x allenii. it only sent up leaves…. These are almost metallic in their pewter like sheen. But it also have lovely flowers. I grow mine in black mondo grass. The combination of gunmetal grey and shiny black is delightful at this time of the year.

  4. Hi Michael,

    These things are very subjective. I kinda like them all because they are so early and give me great cheer, along with the crocus and the cyclamen. After all they all are basically green and white. I think too much is made of individual clones. But I am collector so I want them all!

    Sam Arnott is the one to grow if you want indestructibility, a fair flower and good increase.

    John Gray is much earlier and has a huge but well proportioned flower. Three Ships is also very early, certainly for a plicatus type, its almost too early! It has those lovely pleated, broad leaves. I agree with Mat re x allenii and would add that there are some lovely broad leaved species not available in Australia, e.g., krasnovii and platyphyllus. Cheers, Marcus

    1. I love that – ‘I kinda like them all…’. That’s really got to be the drive for the collector, doesn’t it? It’s never going to be about the best ones, for them, but about having more different sorts.

      I mean, did Otto really say he has 80 different forms and species? I’m in awe!

      Michael Dale mentioned that he thinks its possibly the byzantinus blood that provides the best light-globe shape when closed. Would you agree with that?

  5. I love snowdrops; especially “Sam Arnott” and “Galatea”. Where can I obtain some bulbs; I’ve been searching online but with no success.

    Has anyone here heard of one called “Daglingworth”? It is very pretty and I grew it in my garden in England. I was once fortunate enough to visit the gardens of Colbourne Park in Gloucestershire; home of the Elwes’ of Galanthus fame.

    1. Golly, if you can’t find them in the UK Annie (which is where I assume you are, given the email address), I can only ask you to imagine how hard it is for us to get ’em out here in the antipodes!
      If you’re out here now, try Hill View Rare Plants. Marcus Harvey has a very impressive list

    2. Colesbourne…messed that up!

      Yes…I am in Victoria now. Thanks for your reply. A

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