By: Matthew Ross, Executive Director, The Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park
NMNLA Board Member
For centuries, there has been fascination surrounding the genus Galanthus. From hosting gatherings of royals, sparking international collection expeditions, and being the focus of festivals, the bloom that bookmarks the winter season has been celebrated and heralded as one of the high points of winter gardens! Their fascinating history aside, the tiny white flowers of snowdrops are often seen in mass at cemeteries, historic parks, and landscapes alike. My first experience with snowdrops are the large swaths of the early flowering bulb on the campus of Michigan State University. Being able to integrate their blooms in the landscape is one way in which to extend the period of flowering and build anticipation for the forthcoming spring.
While there are several species of the genus Galanthus (G. elwesii, G. plicatus, G. regina-olgae, and G. woronowii) in the trade, the most resilient and cold hardy species is that of the common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis). Reaching a height of six inches or less and known for naturalizing in the garden, they are a curious bulb to include in your gardens and a great compliment to overwintering foliage like that of Barrenwort (Epimedium), Pigsqueak (Bergenia), and Lavender (Lavandula). If you are looking for a way to stand out amongst the competition, having a plant that can bloom reliably in late winter/early spring (typically in late March through mid-April in our region) is one way to accomplish that feat. If you are feeling daring and want to expand your snowdrop collection, I have talked with gardeners that have also had success with G. elwesii in their gardens in our region, too!
While I hope I am not overselling this intriguing bulb, they have more recently been the craze of breeders and hybridizers reaching four figure prices on auctions in the U.K. and here in the states for a single specimen. This modern day Galanth-a-mania has also sparked an annual event in the Philadelphia Region called the Galanthus Gala which will be taking place online and in-person March 3rd and 4th, where top Galanthophiles will be sharing two days of lectures on the small but mighty bulb.