The three snowdrops that I am turning the spotlight on in this blog are the three cultivars which started the collection here at Bruckhills Croft.
Shortly after moving to the croft in 1991, we had discovered that as well as the Common Snowdrop – Galanthus nivalis we also had some Double Common Snowdrops – Galanthus nivalis flore pleno. The revelation that there was more than one type of snowdrop inspired us to start looking for more. After a quick peruse of the back of a gardening magazine we picked some varieties from Beth Chatto’s garden and nursery down in Essex. Four cultivars arrived (Cedric’s Prolific sadly hasn’t made it through the years) but the other three have flourished and these are always the ones I recommend to others when they are starting a collection… S. Arnott, James Backhouse and Magnet.
Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’
The definitive origin of this snowdrop is unknown, but at some point, and by someone, seeds or seedlings of this plant were given to Samuel Arnott (sometime politician, sometime reverend and a keen gardener and snowdrop collector). He grew them in his garden and selected them as being of interest and named them ‘Arnott’s seedling’. He then passed some plants on to Henry J Elwes who introduced them to Colesbourne Park where they proliferate and can be seen today in huge swathes in the parkland.
‘Arnott’s seedling’ was brought to the attention of the horticultural world in 1951 when it was exhibited at the RHS by Mrs Mathias and was given an Award of Merit… it subsequently was given and Award of Garden Merit (AGM) too. By 1956 the snowdrop had a name change to ‘S. Arnott’ after E A Bowles deemed that the suffix ‘seedling’ was not suitable, and from then it has become one of the most famous and sought after snowdrops.
Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ increases in number year on year, and has a beautiful perfume reminiscent of honey. It also stands head and shoulders above the common snowdrop, so is ideal to add to the garden and not get lost.
Galanthus ‘James Backhouse’
This is another snowdrop that has no specific origin. Thought to be part of stocks of Atkinsii snowdrop bulbs obtained from the area around Naples by James Atkins, they found their way into the possession of bulb dealer James Backhouse. Once in his ownership it was spotted that unlike Atkinsii, these snowdrops had the habit of sometimes developing aberrant petals, and were different to existing stocks of Atkinsii so were named after him. These aberrant petals are not liked by everyone and at first were unwelcome, but have since become very popular. Sometimes these aberrant petals can sprout from above the ovary, or can be twisted, or stick out at funny angles, but not every flower will have them.
Galanthus ‘James Backhouse’ is another tall snowdrop, increases readily and will grow in shade or full sun. It has a gentle floral perfume. It works well as a cut flower and does not droop in water lasting inside for a week or more, and is becoming popular with flower arrangers for winter weddings.
At last, a snowdrop which we know the origins of…well partially. This was a seedling raised by James Allen (self-taught horticulturalist and keen galanthophile) in his garden at Park House, Shepton Mallet. The seed came from Galanthus ‘Melvillei Major’ and was recorded in his notes in 1888, but the other parent is unknown. Given an RHS Award of Merit after being exhibited in 1967, it was subsequently given an Award of Garden Merit.
Similar in height to both ‘S. Arnott’ and ‘James Backhouse’, this snowdrop stands out from the other two instantly from the length of the pedicel. The pedicel extends beyond the length of the spathe which means that the flower is unencumbered and so will move in the slightest breeze. Probably best grown in a more sheltered part of the garden, it also has a delicate floral scent and is popular for flower arrangements. The best way to appreciate the scent is to cut a few stems and bring into the house where the warmth and still air means it can be detected easier.
- C Stern (1956) Snowdrops and Snowflakes
- Heidger (2001) For Galanthophiles
- Bishop, A. Davis, J. Grimshaw (2006) Snowdrops A Monograph of Cultivated Galanthus
- Kilpatrick, J. Harmer (2018) The Galanthophiles