Friday, December 18, 2009

Snowdrops of late autumn

The nature of our winters here on the east coast is such that any plant which tries to bloom during the winter is up against huge odds. The winter-flowering plant game is a dicey one here. Winter here almost always eventually takes a big bite out of the garden. And that seems to take a big bite out of local gardeners’ enthusiasm for winter flowering plants. Recent winters have been so mild that new gardeners will be in for a nasty surprise if old-style killer winters ever return.

Decades ago I tried two of the autumn-flowering snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis reginae-olgae (as it was called back then) and something called Galanthus nivalis corcyrensis. Neither persisted for long in the open garden. It was a real bother to acquire these from UK sources (does anyone else remember Mr. Mars of Haselmere?), and I made no rush to replace them.
Now, years later, I have a renewed interest in the snowdrops which flower at this time of year. I've selected two here which I call my Thanksgiving snowdrop and my Christmas snowdrop. They really do flower on or near the dates suggested by their names.

The Thanksgiving snowdrop is a one-spot Galanthus elwesii sort. It has a largish, slender flower but is otherwise not very prepossessing. Its only claim to my attention is its blooming season.
The Christmas snowdrop (it's just beginning to bloom now) is a typical two-spot Galanthus elwesii, with softly rounded ample flowers smaller than those of the Thanksgiving sort but more substantial.

Both of these are clumpers, and with luck there will eventually be a nice patch of each. Each of these grew for decades in the lawn; it was only when I realized that their season of bloom was not an anomaly that I marked them for cosseting. They now grow in the cold frames where their flowers are protected should the weather suddenly turn nasty.

These Galanthus elwesii forms seem to be indifferent to our local weather: plants in full bloom don't seem to suffer when the temperature plunges into the single digits F; mechanical damage is another matter. Flowers are on rare occasions destroyed by severe weather, but the plants themselves seem not to suffer at all. I suspect that in the long run these Galanthus elwesii variants will prove to be much better autumn and early winter flowering garden plants than Galanthus reginae-olgae and similar forms in our climate.
I might have another group of late-autumn snowdrops on hand. A friend gave me some plants of Galanthus elwesii sorts which, when I visited her garden a week of so ago, were in full bloom out in the open. It will be interesting to see what these do when they settle down and bloom in my garden.

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