Thoughts from a Foreign Field

Galanthophilia can be contagious

Galanthus nivalis

At this time of year British gardens are (as expertly summed up by one of the Fine Gardening editorial team – yes, I am looking at you Antonio) mostly twiggy and damp. On balance I have to agree, but there are exceptions for this time of year is the moment for very small and delicate flowers.

Nothing much is happening in the way of trees or shrubs but right down at ground level a lot of bulbs are doing their thing.

In particular the snowdrop.


I don’t know whether you have such things as Galanthophiles in America? We do, they are a particular breed of plant enthusiast who are obsessed with snowdrops (or Galanthus if you speak Latin, hence Galanthophiles or Snowdrop Lovers).

They come out in January and February, well wrapped up and wearing sensibly robust shoes. The very keen Galanthophile will also carry a magnifying lens and a kneeling mat (the reason for this will soon become clear). Their destination could be any one of a few hundred gardens which open to the public specifically to show off their snowdrops.

Now, to most people a snowdrop is a very pretty small flower which scrambles gaily around woodlands and borders. The distinction between varieties is lost as it often comes down to a slight variation in size (only a matter of a few millimetres) or a minor difference in the green freckling at the ends of the petals. To the true enthusiast, however, these tiny differences can provide hours of pleasure – mostly spent kneeling on the ground peering at the undersides of flowers – hence the aforementioned kneeling mat and magnifier.Snowdrop wood in Worcestershire

I love snowdrops, especially en masse stretched out through an ancient deciduous woodland, but I am not an aficionado. However, galanthophila is a wonderful thing to behold as it is a passion and to hear people talk about something that moves them is always an inspiration.

Even if you have to be very damp and cold in order to fully understand.

View Comments


  1. rmckay 02/25/2013

    Next year...I say that every year but after reading your post I will set some snowdrops by my woodland creek! Thank you for the inspiration.

  2. user-7006916 02/25/2013

    Of course we have galanthophiles in the States! See this lovely garden in California:

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  4. Weezie40 03/04/2013

    I LOVE this little flower. So dainty and sweet. But when/how do you divide the clump?

  5. SteveA 03/04/2013

    I know a lot of people get excited by Galanthus, but I have never known why. I would expect it has to do with being the harbingers of spring, but then why not love the crocus or hellebore instead? Each has much more variety.

    Let me be clear: I am not disparaging any current of former members of the genus Galanthus. I do, however, want to hear someone talk about why snowdrops get so fussed over.

  6. lovemyyard 03/05/2013

    Why get excited, Steve? They are beautiful, reserved and pure, not fancy and in your face like forsythia. If galanthus were are woman she would be Grace Kelly. As you can tell I've always been a galanthophile and would order tons if the deer would leave them alone.

  7. janetsfolly 03/08/2013

    I guess for one thing, Steve, one must love white flowers, and I know there are some folks who just don't. But yes, they are the earliest spring bulbs and always thrill my heart with their message of Spring. But a snowdrop WOOD! That is much more my thing than kneeling in the damp with a magnifying glass!

  8. janeeliz 03/19/2013

    Yes, I guess, I am a galanthophile, too! A Maine one. Most of mine came from N.J. but not my doubles. I love spreading them around the state, but at my annual plant sale I can hardly GIVE them away. They look dreadful in April and May, but that is the best time to get them....when they are 'in the green'- or even brown-just not dry. Clumps can be divided easily in bloom; prefer an average to moist soil; part shade. Place them where you are likely to see/enjoy them very early in the season. I've lots in bloom right now-but they are all under snow ...10-14 inches predicted! But I expect they'll be just fine when the snow melts. That's one of their many attributes-they are verye resilient! I love the little upside down green hearts on their pure white petals.

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