The record for the most expensive snowdrop has been smashed yet again: a single new snowdrop bulb has sold on eBay for a record-breaking £1,850 (plus a modest £5 postage).

Tweet by Lou Nicholls (@loujnicholls), a head gardener and galanthophile who was following the auction of snowdrop 'Golden Tears' on eBay
Tweet by Lou Nicholls (@loujnicholls), a head gardener and galanthophile who was following the auction of snowdrop 'Golden Tears' on eBay

Galanthus plicatus 'Golden Tears' was bred by Joe Sharman of Monksilver Nursery, known as the 'king of snowdrops'. He previously broke records in 2015, when another of his introductions, ‘Golden Fleece’, bred over the course of a decade, sold for an eye-watering £1,390.

'Golden Tears' has the same parents as 'Golden Fleece' (main image), but according to Joe, looks very different. Like 'Golden Fleece' it has a narrow pterugiform flower (pterugiform describes the shape – like a Roman legionary’s skirt), with a very large mark on its white petals, and a bright yellow ovary. It is said to be exceptionally vigorous, reaching 25cm in height.

To the uninitiated, it’s hard to understand how these tiny early flowers can evoke this snowdrop obsession, known as galanthomania. In the past 20 years, as snowdrop collecting has become increasingly popular and competitive, leading to bidding wars over rare and unusual types. The craze is reminiscent of the tulipmania in the 17th century, when vast sums of money – often ten times a yearly wage – changed hands for a single tulip bulb.

Unlike tulips, however, the features of a snowdrop can be hard for the unititiated to spot – and involves lying prone on cold, wet soil to appreciate them. To the untrained eye, the only differences are slightly different flower shapes, unusual markings on the petals and the colour of the ovary (tip of the flower). More common snowdrops can be picked up for as little as 99p each.

But that doesn't stop galanthophiles around the world paying ever-increasing prices for a single bulb. 'I always run my auctions at a 99p starting price, without a reserve, as I have total faith in my snowdrops finding their true value,' says Joe. It seems that, for the time being, this value is only going to increase.

Snowdrops have a special place in gardeners' hearts, as they're the first true flower of the year. Snowdrops walks, with a warming soup or tea and cake at the end, are becoming a February tradition for many. In late winter, these tiny, delicate flowers appear, seemingly from nowhere, come rain, hail or snow. Maybe you can't put a price on that.

East Lambrook Manor snowdrops


Veronica Peerless is a trained horticulturalist and garden designer.