The best snowdrops for your garden
John Sales, former head of gardens at the National Trust, recommends 12 of the snowdrops to grow in your garden. Words Mary Keen.
The garden of John Sales, former chief gardens adviser for the National Trust, is a snowdrop-lover's dream, although he likes it to look good all year. His shady woodland with irises in the grass, his special meadows studded with orchids, his borders, his slim box hedges, well-grown veg and unusual plants are all managed with the same high spirits and humour that earned him so many fans in his NT days.
John thinks the reason many snowdrops get diseased, is partly because in borders they share a rich diet with other plants, which they hate. He also thinks that old narcissi cultivars, such as the early Backhouse cultivars ‘Empress’ and ‘Emperor’, which are often grown with snowdrops in spring displays, were carriers of viruses.
Congested clumps are less likely when bulbs are grown naturally – left to their own devices, often in grass, for a natural look. He rarely divides his snowdrops unless they are in very tight clumps. “Putting them in grass stops disease,” he says firmly.
Here are John Sales's favourite snowdrops for naturalising.
The best snowdrops for your garden
An early, easy and strong snowdrop with good green markings on the inner segments. 12cm.
John admires this snowdrop for its early flowering and for the fact that his wife Lyn found this Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’ variant locally. John is particularly attached to a plant with provenance. 20cm.
Galanthus nivalis ‘Anglesey Abbey’
A snowdrop much loved by John for its provenance as well as for its broad, deep-green leaves and elegant flowers. Once known as Galanthus lagodechianus, it is now firmly identified as an unusual variant of Galanthus nivalis. These snowdrops reproduce freely from seed. 12cm.
Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’
Scented, elegant, easy to cultivate and long lived snowdrop. If you grow only one snowdrop this should be it. 30cm. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 4a-8b.
Buy Galanthus 'S. Arnott' from Crocus
This snowdrop looks lovely everywhere, but especially in huge naturalised drifts. There are early and late-flowering versions of this beauty, which is best seen with the sun behind you.
10cm. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 3a-8b.
Buy Galanthus nivalis from Crocus
Arguably the best of the Greatorex doubles, early crosses (from Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Flore Pleno’ and Galanthus plicatus). This snowdrop was crossed in the 1960s by Heyrick Greatorex, an eccentric recluse, they were welcomed with much excitement. 14cm.
Buy Galanthus 'Dionysus' from Beth Chatto
A beautiful snowdrop, with a long pedicel (but less exaggerated than Galanthus ‘Magnet’), which increases easily. This snowdrop is an old hybrid that dates from the end of the 19th century, it clumps up well and grows undisturbed in my garden at the back of summer flowers near a yew hedge. 25cm.
Buy Galanthus 'Galatea' from Beth Chatto
Galanthus elwesii ‘Mrs Macnamara’
One of the earliest snowdrops to flower, usually in January but sometimes before Christmas. This is a tall, graceful plant with narrow, blue-green leaves. It increases quickly into large colonies. 25-30cm. RHS H5.
Buy Galanthus elwesii 'Mrs Mcnamara' from Beth Chatto
Galanthus nivalis from Prior Park
John identified this as distinct on a routine visit to the National Trust garden in Somerset. 12cm.
John says these are hard to name precisely, as they can be confused with other snowdrops (ikariae and platyphyllus are often grouped under the same heading). Galanthus woronowii comes from southern Russia and has glossy, broad-folded leaves in a bright green that are a handsome feature even without any flowers. 15cm. AGM. RHS H5.
Buy Galanthus woronowii from Crocus
Where to buy snowdrops
• Avon Bulbs
Burnt House Farm, Mid Lambrook, South Petherton, Somerset TA13 5HE. Tel 01460 242177, avonbulbs.co.uk
• Beth Chatto
Clacton Road, Elmstead Market, Elmstead, Colchester CO7 7DB 01206 822007 bethchatto.co.uk
Gardeners never retire and the garden remains my best occupation and preoccupation, whether designing for clients , or writing, or gardening at home. A new smaller garden proves more delightful every day and having an allotment is a another new experience.
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