Galanthophile Val Bourne stands in a snowy garden with her snowdrops in a wicker basket
Galanthophile Val Bourne with her snowdrops Photo: Christopher Jones

It’s an early snowdrop
season this year, thanks to the mild weather – although this may be
checked again by the recent cold snap. But early is bad news for me as I am
off to Ireland to lecture in late February and I suspect the Irish snowdrops
will have been and gone by the time I arrive. Boo hoo!

However, it raises my spirits enormously to see my snowdrop friends and
acquaintances. I’ll be like fizzy pop in a bottle for a few mad weeks, then
come down to earth with the arrival of the bank statement. But, as they say,
shrouds don’t have pockets and I’m creating my own snowdrop heaven at Spring
Cottage in the cold Cotswolds.

Today I’m off to Myddelton
House’s ultimate snowdrop sale
. My rotund form will be
bolstered by as much warm clothing as possible, as this is always an outdoor
sale. One snowdrop “friend” told me: “There’s a picture of you on Scottish
Rock
and it’s dreadful.” Do I care? No – it’s the first sale of the
year.

- Harvey’s Garden Plants in Suffolk also holds a sale, thankfully in plastic
tunnels, on January
31
. There’s lots to buy from top suppliers. The best growers go to
one or other, or both. As these sales are early, there’s plenty to buy.

– Because so much selling takes place on the internet now, there’s no National
Gala organised by Joe Sharman this year and it probably won’t happen again.
So the main event of the year is the Shaftesbury
Snowdrop Festival
held in Dorset over a week, February 13-22.
It began as a filler last year, put together on the spur of the moment, and
proved such a success it is now attracting a coachload of galanthophiles
from the Continent. The festival is a mixture of sales, talks, exhibitions
and visits. Tickets must be bought in advance, well before Christmas, on the
slowest website I know. The main sale (February 14) is now sold out, but to
give everyone a chance there is a “pay at the door” sale, 1-2pm, on the same
day. If you’re keen, make a note to get a ticket for next year.

- Early flowering is also bad news for Avon Bulbs which is staging an RHS
snowdrop exhibition at Vincent Square, February 20-21. Renamed the Plant
and Potato Fair
(which galanthophiles have been muttering about for
months), the show is later since the RHS sold Lawrence Hall in 2011. What
used to be the premier snowdrop event, where everyone gathered for a jolly,
is sadly becoming a mere sideshow.

- Open sales, where you pay at the gate on the day, are still the best places
to buy snowdrops. On eBay auctions prices are sky-high. One of my wants,
‘Seraph’, has just sold for £238. And the year has hardly begun. ‘Brian
Hewitt’, a six-petalled plicate named after a gardener at Myddelton House,
near Enfield, where it was found, is being offered by a Dutch seller at an
opening price of £119.99. Thankfully, Brian gave me a bulb last year and it
now has buds. Other lovelies, once so desirable but now old hat, are barely
making any money because, in the snowdrop world, familiarity breeds
indifference. Once a plant is out there in numbers, the galanthophile world
moves on to the next rarity.

- When buying, look at the flowers rather than the labels. It’s far quicker to
just buy the ones you like. Labels are never alphabetical and usually
illegible, especially when handwritten. You also have to bend your neck at
right angles. Inside tip: the most unusual snowdrops are normally at the
back close to the seller. Don’t take more than one of each rarity and be
patient. Even after the scramble there are treasures to be had. Keep your
dignity at all costs. You don’t want to be called “Hoover”, “Takeaway” or,
perhaps worst of all, “Big Foot”.

- Don’t dig up anything when someone comes to visit your garden to drool over
your prize clump. I have lost so many snowdrops like this and am rarely
given one back, even when I ask.

- Everyone has their favourite snowdrops. Some, like Sue Staines of Glen
Chantry, like small and dainty, others bold and big. I’m in the latter camp.
The fad for yellow-marked snowdrops seems to be fading. Now it’s the green
“virescents” that are making money. However, everyone is waiting for the
yellow ‘Trym’ bred by Joe Sharman. That will fetch a fortune.

Chris Beardshaw

Garden Designer at Chris Beardshaw
Chris has over 15 years experience in the garden publications circuit, and thrives on the feedback from his avid garden readers. He demonstrates unique perspectives on various parts of garden design, such as structures and plant variations.