Snowdrop expert John Grimshaw is returning to the Cotswolds to talk about these winter favourites at Allomorphic in Stroud.
I caught up with him to chat about his favourite varieties
and snowdrop mania.
With hundreds of new varieties being named each year, the snowdrop world is, says John Grimshaw, a “bit out of control” and he feels at least in part responsible.
He was one of the authors of the definitive work on the winter beauties, a monograph that for the first time looked in detail at each variety, comparing their differences and deciding which was which; some snowdrops had more than one name.
Yet the 2002 book had another unintended consequence as it brought the snowdrop to a wider audience, fuelling what has become an obsession with many.
“The book suddenly made it possible to learn. It was a big catalyst and I do feel partly responsible, I’m afraid.” says John, who until 2012 was Gardens Manager at Colesbourne Park, which has one of the country’s major snowdrop collections.
Interested in the snowdrop since childhood, his enthusiasm was really fired up as a student in Oxford when he met well-known galanthophiles (snowdrop enthusiasts) Primrose Warburg and Richard Nutt through the local Alpine Garden Society.
But the snowdrop world was, he says, very different in the 80s and 90s.
“A relatively small group of people were interested in snowdrops before the book came out and it was more manageable. You knew everybody and people shared material rather more freely and generously than they do now.”
In fact, the monograph detailed only 500 varieties, a far cry from the multitude that have been named since it came out.
“Nowadays several hundred are named each year. It’s just a bit impossible to cope with.”
And snowdrops can be big business with a record £1,390 paid for a bulb of ‘Golden Fleece’ in 2015, though John is quick to stress that the average snowdrop sells for sensible prices.
Top five snowdrops
So, with hundreds of snowdrop varieties on offer, where should someone new to the galanthophile world start?
Top of John’s list is ‘Three Ships’, a pretty variety and one that flowers early, usually before Christmas.
“It is probably the most reliable pre-Christmas flowering snowdrop.”
‘Comet’ is another recommendation and one that he describes as “very large, handsome and robust”.
Another favourite is ‘Diggory’, which has beautiful, big round flowers.
“It’s so distinctive, it stands out a mile away.”
When it comes to yellow snowdrops, he suggests ‘Primrose Warburg’ because it’s robust and vigorous, unlike many of the yellow varieties.
And no collection would be complete without ‘S Arnott’.
“It has vigour, charm, beauty and scent.”
Since 2012 John has been running the 128-acre Yorkshire Arboretum where he confesses he has introduced some snowdrops, although not on a grand scale.
“Much of the arboretum is very sticky wet clay which is very unsuited to them so the planting areas are quite limited but we’ve made a start.”
He also still has quite a collection of his own with around 350 different varieties in his private garden.
And he urges gardeners to ignore the hype surrounding the snowdrop and add them to their gardens.
“They’re charming winter flowers. You can’t not like a snowdrop.”
• John is one of two guest speakers at the Colesbourne Park snowdrop study day in February.
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