Without Covid19 snowdrop enthusiasts across the UK would normally be gearing up for the start of the much anticipated ‘Glorious 6th’; the sixth day in February when many of the nations most popular gardens open their doors to a marauding influx of galanthophiles. Cameras in hand, dentists mirrors, and knee pads at the ready this enthusiastic horticultural subgroup of proud monomaniacs will rush around to spot the rarest, the most appealing, and the latest varieties of snowdrop, inspecting the subtle variations in perianth markings and leaf form.
The term ‘galanthophile’ has been in use for well over half a century now and was thought to have been coined by the great plantsman and horticulturist EA Bowles(1865-1954) who had a large collection at Myddelton House, his Essex home. Several snowdrops have been named after him, notably ‘EA Bowles’ and ‘Augustus’, as well as over 30 other garden plants of merit and a number of books including ‘Garden Varieties of Galanthus’ which was published posthumously in 1956. Interestingly, he purchased a lifetime membership to the RHS in 1897 for £26 the equivalent of £3,400 pounds today. A lifetime membership now (2021) will cost you £1,395. Put that in your next pub quiz!!
With burgeoning interest in this diminuitive flower a desire to purchase some of the rarest forms has increased dramatically in recent years. National headlines were filled with sensational news when in February 2015 a single snowdrop bulb with yellow markings received 55 bids and sold online for £1,390; ‘Golden Fleece’ had taken breeder Joe Sharman from Monksilver Nursery in Cambridge ten years to refine. Previous records were set in 2011 with 'Flocon de Neige' at £265 quickly followedby ‘EA Bowles’ at £357 in 2012.
The online market has generally remained strong, peaking last year at £860 for a single ‘Dryad Gold Ingot’. With several years of propagation behind it ‘Golden Fleece’ has now fallen from its previous heady heights and sold last year for £321. That’s not to say interest has waned; 44 bids took it to that level!
Unfortunately rising prices and open days at gardens with valuable collections combine to create an attraction that can become just too tempting for some. Thefts started being reported as far
back as 1997 when a large clump of the rare yellow form of Glanthus elwesii ‘Carolyn Elwes’ was stolen from a private collection in Gloucestershire and last year 13,00 bulbs were taken overnight
from The Walsingham Estate in Norfolk. Jail sentences were handed out to the two men involved. But garden owners are fighting back and extreme measures are being taken to protect valuable
collections from thieves. Clumps are being buried in steel cages that are pinned in place underground while security cameras with infrared lights and powerful halogen lamps with motion
detectors are secreted around the garden. Some varieties are often not labelled to avoid theft of the more valuable forms or are grown nearer to the owners property where a close watch can be
kept on them. Extra staff are brought in to act as wardens with private security firms also employed when required. It all feels a bit too much like The A team than The Good Life!!
Bad practices have entered the online auction arena too. With high prices of genuine individual bulbs listed throughout the auction sites unscrupulous dealers are presenting common or garden varieties at hugely inflated prices trying to catch out the unaware. Fifty of the common snowdrop Galanthus nivalis from a genuine vendor would normally sell for £10-12 but a number of dealers are advertising the same quantity at £150 hoping that whilst mingled in amongst the heavyweights the infiltrators will go unnoticed and be purchased by an inexperienced buyer. They are however offering free postage. Aren’t they kind!!
If you want to start a collection most online sellers are passionate nurserymen and a quick look at their websites will confirm their reliability and honesty. Here’s a pick of the best. Don't see your nursery here. Let me know.