Galanthus ‘Mrs Macnamara’ and Seedling Hellebore

The first ever ‘collector’s’ snowdrop I purchased was at North Easton Gardens and it was ‘Mrs Macnamara’ about which I have written several times.

Galanthus ‘Mrs Macnamara’

The image is nothing special I’ll grant you but its reliability of early flowering, stature and classic form make it a special snowdrop in our garden. This is a must have for the winter garden. Unfortunately it simply has not increased in numbers and I’d love to show you a large clump. I shall have to move it elsewhere. Four weeks ago I saw a large display at RHS Harlow Carr Gardens so it does spread. It must be me.

Unnamed Hellebore seedling

Nothing is more exciting than the opening out of something new and here it is. Last year it had no flowers and amazingly this year it is full of buds having been moved to a protected spot in the sun and cared for like never before as I’ve been available all year due to obvious travel restrictions. I’m looking forward to it fully opening out. Perhaps I shall give it a name…

Galanthus elwesii ‘Big Boy’ – mystery monster

Well it’s not a ‘monster’ though it is a very big boy. I wrote a few days ago about one of my many lost labelled snowdrops. A little look around the garden would have revealed a second pot properly labelled and possessing the exact same fleshy, glaucous leaves with buds perhaps a week less advanced. So Galanthus elwesii ‘Big Boy’ my mystery snowdrop it is then, big and beautiful. Or at least I think it is….

Galanthus elwesii ‘Big Boy’ January 11th 2021

Identifying snowdrops is not easy given the very many cultivars available. Indeed it was to keep a record of my garden plants that I commenced the blog. So I recorded ‘Big Boy’ during mid-February in 2016 and 2017. I was thrown off the scent by the early flowering.

‘Big Boy’ pictured in February 2016
‘Big Boy’ pictured in February 2017

So I have a definitively labelled, reputably sourced bulb that is very slightly less advanced than my mystery bulbs but I can’t definitively say they are the same. The tinge of green on the tip of the petals, not always consistent, evident in 2017, is not in evidence in the 2021 version and there is a slight difference in shape. The latter is perhaps consequential on the flowers shown above being more mature, as well as revealing their dark green inner colour. In fact the current flower does have those exact same markings though you will have to my word for it. And it is a big flower.

The foliage is one key to identification

There was driving, cold rain yesterday when I took the photographs so the telltale inner markings were unavailable.

Wet ‘Big Boy’

And today’s weather is far worse with snow. So I’ll end with an incontestable variety.

Daphne ‘Jacqueline Postill’ braving the snow
And the brave, unflinching cameraman

Galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’ – one of the finest

Five years ago I purchased one bulb of ‘Godfrey Owen’ from a very well known seller on Ebay, Matt Bishop. In fact he had over-reached himself and had no adult bulbs left. So I received three or four immature bulbs. It was the best investment I’ve made. Exponential growth kicked in and I have them everywhere as well as giving them as gifts and swaps. One of our best friends keeps reporting back on the progress of Godfrey. Three buds, she informed me excitedly only yesterday.

Galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’

As may be seen above this distinctive elwesii cultivar is a true beauty, perfectly formed with six outer petals and a similar number of smaller inner ones. It caused something of a sensation following its discovery in 1996 in a Shropshire garden by Margaret Owen and named after her husband. One of its qualities of course is its early flowering habit.

A sunny spot brings the bulbs on more quickly

Lost Label

Last year at this time we were preparing to set off for Central America and the Caribbean for five weeks of welcome sun. A year previous to that I’d lost several snowdrops and many labels and pots as torrential rain, wind and pathetic carpentry completely collapsed two display benches strapped together for mutual support. Anyway the support failed, ended in divorce and I’m still counting the cost as I’ve been unable to identify or locate prized specimens. Which brings me to this unnamed pot. On January 3rd 2019 when we said goodbye to winter and set out for summer in a taxi it was as it is when photographed this very morning before the snow came down and covered the weeds. I never did discover what variety it is. And now is almost the moment, the denouement. What will it be? The excitement is too much to bear. Meanwhile I’ve done two things with potted snowdrops: heavy terracotta pots for bottom shelves, plastic for the top. No more collapses. Oh, and I’ve planted far more snowdrops in the borders and mislaid lots of labels as herbaceous plants throw them about like jetsam. Keep checking in for the big reveal. Will I be able to attach a label?

What will this snowdrop be? To be revealed….

Ted Hughes ‘Snowdrop’ on the Shortest Day

 I can’t let bad news on Covid, narcissus fly losses and me griping about paying excessive prices on ebay (when no one is forced to part with their money) pass without offering something positive. So here’s a little poem for the shortest day.

Snowdrop – Ted Hughes  

Now is the globe shrunk tight 

Round the mouse’s dulled wintering heart. 

Weasel and crow, as if moulded in brass, 

Move through an outer darkness 

Not in their right minds, 

With the other deaths. 

She, too, pursues her ends, 

Brutal as the stars of this month, 

Her pale head heavy as metal.

As the globe has ‘shrunk tight’, predators weasel and crow struggle to survive in  winter’s dark, the mouse hibernates in the earth and, like stars in a cold sky, the snowdrop flowers, albeit ‘pale’ and with ‘metal’ for petal.

Narcissus Fly: The Ugly Truth

 A chastening, unpleasant image today as I reveal the murky secrets of the Narcissus Fly larvae. They make a home out of a nice plump snowdrop or narcissus bulb that serves them as food and shelter through the winter. This little dwelling is or was ‘Pieces of Eight’ – a warning for those who fork out lots of cash for the latest varieties of snowdrops. For the record, it is possible for a bulb to survive although in the case of smaller bulbs, and this one, I rather doubt it. I live in hope. Whatever, from top down: bulb, grub, adult fly. Pretty things aren’t they. There does not appear to be a pesticide on the market to deal with the pest. Prevention is better than cure I read though how one might practically whack every passing two winged bumblebee (real bees have four wings) is beyond me. 

Snowdrops: Inflated Prices, Ridiculous Prices on eBay

 Today I had a look at some of the pots of snowdrops that have shown no sign of life on my display bench. This can be a dispiriting experience though most are simply biding their time. But there have been casualties. ‘Pieces of Eight‘ has a hole right through it, infestation or rot, I’m not sure. So a blast of fungicide but little or no hope. I have also just done the hot water treatment of 40C to kill any larvae still devouring the bulb. Snowdrops achieve huge prices on eBay. Given that a passing narcissus fly may take a fancy to your prized and expensive plant it’s a huge risk. I have parted with no money for snowdrops this season and little over the past two years. All my snowdrops now come from swaps and I’m very cynical about new varieties that add little if anything to the range. For instance most featured below are very adjacent to a number I could mention – clever marketing campaigns from sellers who rightly see eBay as the money tree that keeps on giving. Some growers I know have switched sales entirely to eBay. Here are a few delights on offer today. One has little visual merit from what I can see and maximum merit in terms of price. By the time you read this post one at least will have been sold. ‘Titanic’ gives me that sinking feeling. Should you be a reader outside the UK I will convert the currency for you. (£200 is a lot.) Note that the price for delivery varies. It does not cost £10 to post a single snowdrop. Greedy! Oh, and I have one of those featured below bought last year for a sliver of the price. It has at least two flower buds and one plant will be swapped after flowering. I may get a replacement piece of eight.

Sun and snowdrops

 Yesterday I photographed ‘Three Ships’ with only one flower fully opened. Lots of sunshine today and four ships are sailing. Time to plant them in the garden. I tend to spread my bets with snowdrops. Rot, narcissus fly and stray weeding take a toll. 

Early snowdrops – Galanthus ‘Three Ships’ & Galanthus ‘Fly Fishing’

 The weather has been mild this year with only a couple of mornings of mild frost. ‘Three Ships’ and ‘Fly Fishing’ have been out for a few days. Discovered under an oak tree in 1984 ‘Three Ships’, a plicatus or Crimean form, is a conventional snowdrop in every way save for its reliability in flowering in time for Christmas. I saw three ships come sailing in …. The best name for a snowdrop.  ‘Fly Fishing’, an elwesii or giant snowdrop, is a particular delight with a long pedicel and the tendency for fish to leap up and take the bait. We are indebted to John Morley and Alan Street for the two cultivars. 

My Snowdrop Year

 I’m attempting to move my snowdrops from pots to borders out of necessity.  I have too many. However in the meantime here is a photograph of one of the racks replete with weeds to trigger a quick synopsis of my snowdrop year which commences after flowering when I split up the clumps and, in this case, transfer from pot to border. The second image shows a newly planted area of the garden, beefed up with compost and divided snowdrops, cyclamen and daffodils. If I remember I’ll feature this very spot in the spring. The pots have been fed with slow release fertiliser, so all I do is water them frequently.  I have discovered the perils of compost drying out when the bulbs are busy plumping up. After the bulbs go into dormancy I repot at my leisure, mixing potting compost, grit and vermiculite. This can be an ordeal as it is depressing to root through compost to discover not discover a solitary bulb, perhaps the remains of bulbs or grubs of the narcissus fly. E.A. Beale has disappeared  from two pots, the third and final time I’m growing the damn thing. Anyway, I discard any soft ones, and where there is any sign of rot apply a fungicide I was given by a friend. About now the autumn flowering ones are placed in a prominent position and I move the rest into a sunny area. Labels are a bete noire because they go walkabout. Then of course there’s the little matter of adding to my collection. I only have three new ones this year, a major change. Only very distinctive snowdrops will be added. I’ve certainly started to diversify. Bavk to the photograph of the pots. Plastic pots on top, terracotta ones at the bottom to ballast the racks. I’m not risking another collapse. And finally, the last man standing this year, a little glum in the wet.