Sunday, February 01, 2009

Snowdrop Musings

I've been thinking about snowdrops; it beats wondering about whether the snow on the roof will ever melt. Specifically, I've been thinking about the relative growability of the only two species commonly available here: elwesii and nivalis. In reading about snowdrops, one immediately comes away with the idea that nivalis is much more growable, and rapidly forms large clumps; elwesii is said to be less growable, and in general is a relative slugabout in the garden. Well, the opposite is true in my little corner of the horticultural world; elwesii grows rapidly and lustily, multiplying and seeding all over the place, while nivalis slowly forms cute little clumps that one could handily cover with a wadded Kleenex, and I never see seedlings.
The problem is that snowdrop knowledge comes from cool, misty Great Britain where Galanthus nivalis is native; elwesii is native to sunny, dry southern Europe down through the Caucasus, and undoubtedly spends most of its time shivering when grown in a Brit garden. The reason I have been thinking about this is there just recently was some discussion in the snowdrop forum of the Scottish Rock Garden Club about Galanthus nivalis; the statement was made that their impression was that in the States, nivalis was the best grower on the east coast, while elwesii grew best in the western part of the country. They also said that there are some clones of nivalis that are better/easier growers/multipliers than the ordinary species, and interestingly they mentioned Galanthus Scharlockii as being a very good grower. This is a cultivar of nivalis that was discovered in Germany in the 19th century, later named after its discoverer by the famous bulbsman E.A. Bowles, who grew Scharlockii in his garden. I added Scharlockii to my snowie collection a couple of years ago, and it is a very vigorous grower here, too; from a single bulb it has already formed a nice little patch, so I also heartily recommend this strain of nivalis, if you can find it; a bonus is that Scharlockii has a lovely, faint brushing of green on each outer petal.
One additional nivalis/elwesii observation from my garden is that the former makes tight clumps that if not divided every few years, start pushing some of the bulbs out of the ground, while elwesii forms looser patches (though it also will sometimes push bulbs out of the ground, and would benefit from occasional splitting (notice I said "would" benefit rather than "does" benefit; maybe this spring I'll finally get around to it).
The pictures from last spring, above from top: typical open patch of elwesii; individual elwesii flower; Scharlockii; tight little nivalis clump.

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Just the sight of a snowdrop makes me instantly happy, even though I don't expect to see mine poking up through for at least another 6 weeks--longer, if we keep getting proliferations of snow like we're having. I wish my snowdrops would proliferate that well, because they are one of the most delightful of flowers.
Little white darlings, and one of the sweetest harbingers of spring. I hope it's not too long before the snow melts off your roof. ;)
Snowdrops are something you have inspired me to plant. This Fall I planted 10 'Galanthus woronowii.' I know you've posted on these in the past. I "accidentally" had snowflakes last Spring (!yea!) and now I'll have snowdrops, too. Thanks!
Jodi... give them time; mine just sat there for a few years, then boom!

Nancy... I check the roof every day.

Shady... you'll love woronowii.

How can you tease me with blooms when the ground is still frozen?

Hi Don,

Kathy from CCG sent me the link to this post. Interesting. I have some of both readily available kinds in my garden. I find that the elwesii grow much better here in sunny, hot Oklahoma. I wrote about this on Examiner, and that's why Kathy sent me your link.

You know so much about plants, and I love how you explained the difference between growing things here and in Britain. Britain is a maritime climate, and the differences took me a long time to figure out. Thanks.~~Dee
Wanda... well, it's all I've got.
Dee... I'm interested to hear you can grow elwesii in Oklahoma. There are some other snowdrop species that are from warmer climates that might do well there, too.
Thanks so much for this helpful explanation. Up here in wintery Toronto, the first snowdrop sighting can become an obsession.

I never realized the different heritage of the two types, and why some of mine seem to seed prolifically with the others, like the cheese, stand alone. I hope you won't mind if we add a link to this post to our Toronto Gardens blog ... (

Helen... believe me, the first snowdrop sighting is an obsession in this garden too! you're welcome to link.We loved our trip to Toronto two years ago; your public transportation system is wonderful.
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