John Sales, former chief gardens adviser for the National Trust, is a snowdrop-lover’s dream, although he likes the garden to be satisfying 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 virus. Congested clumps are less likely when bulbs are grown naturally and 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.
Snowdrops: Galanthus ‘Bess’ © Jason Ingram
An early, easy and strong snowdrop with good green markings on the inner segments. 12cm.
Snowdrops: Galanthus ‘Lyn’ © Jason Ingram
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 ‘Richard Ayres’
A handsome, early flowering double form snowdrop that is named after the head gardener at Anglesey Abbey, from where so many good snowdrops have originated. 30cm.
Galanthus nivalis ‘Anglesey Abbey’
Snowdrops: Galanthus nivalis ‘Anglesey Abbey’ © Jason Ingram
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’
Snowdrops: Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ © Jason Ingram
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.
Snowdrops: Galanthus nivalis © Jason Ingram
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.
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.
A beautiful bell-shaped, single snowdrop found in local woods by Ruth Birchall of Cotswold Farm. It seeds into large colonies and in the secret site, near Daglingworth, there are large patches under trees that have been there for years. 20cm.
Snowdrops: Galanthus ‘Galatea’ © Jason Ingram
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.
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.
Galanthus nivalis from Prior Park
Snowdrops: Galanthus nivalis from Prior Park © Jason Ingram
John identified this as distinct on a routine visit to the National Trust garden in Somerset. 12cm.
Snowdrops: Galanthus Woronowii © Jason Ingram
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.
Where to buy
• Avon Bulbs
Burnt House Farm, Mid Lambrook, South Petherton, Somerset TA13 5HE. Tel 01460 242177, avonbulbs.co.uk
• Snowdrop Company
Barn Cottage, Shilton, Oxfordshire OX18 4AB. Tel 01993 842177