A short guide to everyday snowdrops – with just a nod to Galanthophilia.

Words: Grantham Fitzriddle

Pictures: Tom Mitchell

Point me at somebody who does not like snowdrops and I will show you a complete cad, bounder and rotter. What is there not to love? They are small and perfectly formed and they flower at a time of year when the rest of the world is bleak, muddy and mostly brown. They are also unbelievably easy to grow.

But first, a little background… nobody really knows when snowdrops first arrived in Britain. Some say they came over on the caligulae of the Roman legions others that they did not get here until the seventeenth century. Strictly speaking they are probably not native plants (they have their origins in a pretty wide swathe of Europe from the Pyrenees through Italy, Greece, Bulgaria and up round to Poland) although they naturalise happily here and, as we have already established, everybody loves them except the weird and twisted.

The Victorians were particularly keen on them and used their virginal whiteness as a symbol of purity and chastity. They formed so called Snowdrop Bands which were designed to encourage working-class girls to avoid indecent conversation and immoral literature at all times. They also thought that, because they naturalise so freely in graveyards, they should not be brought inside the house.

There are many varieties of rare and exciting snowdrop: exciting, that is to the enthusiast. Because the natural simplicity of the flower means that basically it is white with a bit of green on the underside then the variations are very small and best appreciated while lying flat in the mud with a hand lens. If you wish to know more than I can do no better than to send you to see Tom Mitchell at Evolution Plants. He is a true Galanthophile (the name given to enthusiasts) and recently sold the right to name a snowdrop for £1600.00 on eBay: a new record.

In the meantime, the common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is the one most widely seen in woods and gardens. Now is the trime to divide clumps of snowdrops and spread them around. It is very simple: just dig em up, split the clumps and replant. There is a short film on the subject on our YouTube channel.

Badda-bing, Badda-boom.

Just for your information: never call a Galanthophile a Snowdropper. They are people who steal underwear from other people’s clothes lines. There may be some crossover but nothing has yet been proven.