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Snowdrops worth growing and searching for

March 14, 2023
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All snowdrops are lovely, and for many of us in the UK a woodland floor in February carpeted with common snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) cannot be beaten. There are many gardens around Britain, some famous, others only known by enthusiasts, that open especially for the occasion. I recommend a visit as few other floral experiences can match this. But a word of caution, you may well become hooked on snowdrops, an addiction for which there is no known cure! This article will recommend some snowdrop varieties worth growing in your garden.

Snowdrops in woodland, Pla

Snowdrops in woodland, Plas yn Rhiw

Building a collection

If you do succumb there is plenty of scope as more than a thousand cultivars have been named in the last 100+ years. For various reasons many of these are no longer available. Some have simply been lost. Others have been superseded by later selections and are no longer widely grown. This is a continuing process as each year sees novelties emerging, some of which you may like, some not. But as with most things in life, ability to survive the test of time is a pretty sure sign of quality. Many of the varieties which would be in most snowdrop growers top ten have been around for many years. I suggest you start with a few of these and then progress to less freely available sorts. That way your initial expenditure will be small and your reward great.

When you have a yen for the scarcer varieties a good source is the snowdrop days held around the country, generally in February or early March.  These events attract professional nurserymen and amateur enthusiasts alike and offer a treasure trove of bulbs to choose from.  Foremost among these are the very popular snowdrop days held each year by our Society.  Here you may hear lectures by snowdrop experts as well as having the opportunity to buy bulbs.

Beware, you might become a galanthophile before you know it!

As your collection increases, you will reach a stage where you can, if you wish, swap bulbs with fellow enthusiasts. For many of us this is an enjoyable and useful exercise. You get to obtain varieties otherwise unavailable to you either because they are not on the market or are too expensive. And your favourites can be spread around more widely. Many long-lived friendships with fellow galanthophiles (snowdrop lovers) have developed in this way.



It is not appropriate here to go into details of the complexities of snowdrop classification. Suffice it to say that all the many selections and hybrids in cultivation originate from only approximately 20 different species. The so-called ‘common snowdrop’ has provided the large majority, of which new varieties continue to appear every year.

Other species that have played a prominent role include the so-called ‘giant snowdrop’ (Galanthus elwesii). This is a very variable species, larger in all its parts than Galanthus nivalis, with grey leaves.

Galanthus plicatus has, as the name suggests, pleated rather than the usual flat leaves of other species. Of the remaining seventeen or so species we only see a few in gardens, notably Galanthus woronowii. This is about the same size as common snowdrop, the chief distinction being its shiny green rather than glaucous grey foliage.

Galanthus gracilis in John Good's garden

Galanthus gracilis - credit John Good


Vegetative – division

The easiest way to propagate snowdrops, essential if you wish to increase a particular variety, is by division. As indicated above, the best time to divide the bulbs is when the foliage is dying down or soon thereafter. As long as you replant almost immediately and water if required they should not notice the move. It is best to divide clumps before they get too congested, which has two virtues. First, you can increase your stock quickly, whether for replanting or passing to other gardeners. Second, moving them into new soil reinvigorates the bulbs.

You may have read about the vegetative propagation technique commonly known as ‘chipping’. This involves cutting a bulb into a number of pieces which will hopefully each produce a new bulb. It is mainly used by expert growers for increasing particularly rare or interesting varieties. There are articles in specialised books on snowdrops, and on the internet, describing the method in detail, but I shall not describe it further here.


Most new snowdrop varieties arise by chance from seed naturally set and sown without assistance from the gardener. So, it is always worth casting an eye over your snowdrop collection each flowering season and checking for any variants. It is exciting when you find one, and in your eyes at least it will probably be special and perhaps worth naming! Best let some fellow enthusiast have a look as he or she will probably have a more balanced view of its merits. Of course, if you do get something special you will have to propagate the bulb vegetatively to perpetuate the variation.

Anyway, if you wish to raise snowdrops from seed, whether to simply increase your stock or with the hope perhaps of producing a novelty or two, it is not difficult.

Seed collection

Snowdrop seed needs to be sown fresh as it, like the bulbs, is damaged by drying out. But it needs to be fully ripe, which is generally indicated by the capsules changing from green to gold. Also, when mature the capsules usually collapse onto the soil surface, releasing their ripe seed. You need to collect them at or just before this point. If you can not sow the seed immediately, keep it moist, perhaps in a plastic bag with a little damp vermiculite or perlite. If for more than a few days it is best to keep the bag(s) in a refrigerator.

Snowdrop seeds germinate early in the following spring - credit Razvan Chisu

Snowdrop seeds germinate early in the following spring - credit Razvan Chisu

Sowing, germinating and growing on

Sow the fresh seed thinly on the surface of a good seed compost that will neither become waterlogged when wet, or dry out too rapidly. Cover with a few millimetres of the same compost and top off with horticultural grit. Place the pots outside, but shaded from strong sunlight,  or in an unheated, preferably uncovered cold frame. If  rain does not fall soon after sowing, water the pots thoroughly. In British conditions it is unlikely that they will need more than an occasional watering thereafter.

The seedlings will hopefully appear in the spring following sowing. They generally look like blades of grass. Make sure not to let them dry out completely, even after the foliage has died down. Half-strength general fertiliser may, with advantage, be applied with any water that is required. I generally leave them in the pots for two years, turning out the tiny ‘rice-grain’ bulbs when the top growth has just died down. It is easy to miss them in the compost so make sure to check carefully. Pot them up immediately, spacing them out evenly in the fresh compost. They can then be grown on for two or three more years until the bulbs are big enough to flower.

Here are some snowdrop varieties worth growing

It is impossible here to describe more than a few of my favourite varieties. There are a number of excellent snowdrop books (several of which are available at a discount to Members from the AGS Bookshop). They cover a much wider range and include detailed information on cultivation and propagation. All I can do here is concentrate on a few of the varieties that I grow and love. There are many more that I could have chosen and there is no significance in the order in which I present them.

The plant lover's guide to snowdrops Product Snowdrops (whose Latin name is Galanthus) have a delicate, quiet beauty. Their white, bell-shaped petals are striking alone or in a swath, and they ar...
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Common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) varieties

As mentioned earlier, if only because it has been in cultivation the longest, there are more varieties of Galanthus nivalis than any other species. In fact there is a bewildering array of cultivars available, mainly separated by greater or lesser differences in flower form and markings. I will simply show you a few to give you an idea of the range.  You, like me, will  no doubt prefer some to others, but remember my recommendation to start with some of the older, trusted varieties.

Perhaps the simplest division is between ‘singles’ and ‘doubles’. I generally prefer the simplicity of single flowers, but I shall also show a few doubles that appeal to me too.


Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’

This is a very old variety and still one of the best. It’s particular virtue is its ability to clump up quickly, so by frequent division you can soon have a drift. It is also sweetly scented, especially on a warm spring afternoon.

Galanthus 'S. Arnott'

Galanthus ‘Straffan’

An equally old and well trusted cultivar that flowers later than ‘S. Arnott’, still being good here at the beginning of March.

Galanthus 'Straffan' GALANTHUS 'STRAFFAN' snowdrop varieties worth growing

Galanthus 'Straffan' - credit John Good

Galanthus ‘Magnet’

This too is a good ‘doer’, but its particular appeal is in the way that the flower is presented. The pedicels (flower stalks) are longer than in most other varieties, the flowers dangling at their tips. Thus they are stirred by the lightest breezes, giving animation to what is already a beautiful, wide open bloom.

Galanthus 'Magnet' - snowdrop varieties worth growing

Galanthus 'Magnet'

Galanthus ‘Warei’

Most forms of the common snowdrop only bear green markings on the outside of the tube in the centre of the flower. Occasionally, however, forms with green marks on the outside of the outer tepals (petals) occur, and these can be very attractive. Quite a few have been selected and named and in recent years forms with bigger, bolder flowers with more pronounced green markings have appeared. Galanthus ‘Warei’ is one of the earlier sorts, but again, I illustrate it here because it is such a good reliable grower.

Galanthus 'Warei' snowdrop varieties worth growing

Galanthus 'Warei' - credit John Good

Galanthus ‘Blonde Inge’

The ‘Blonde’ in the name refers to the fact that this snowdrop has yellow markings instead of green. There are now many similar cultivars, some found originally growing naturally among clumps of ‘normal’ green flowers. They are certainly interesting and much sought after by enthusiasts. The yellow colouration often takes some time to develop so don’t be alarmed if you have only green markings in recently established plants. Also, the yellow colour develops best if the bulbs are not planted in too much shade. Because they have less chlorophyll in their cells than normal they are less vigorous and take much longer to bulk up in the garden.

Galanthus nivalis 'Blonde Inge' snowdrop varieties worth growing

Galanthus nivalis 'Blonde Inge'

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There are SO many more single varieties of the common snowdrop to choose from including many with unusual flower form and structure as well as distinct green/yellow markings. But I promised you some doubles.


Galanthus ‘Jessica’

This is one of a group of snowdrops known as ‘Greatorex doubles’, developed in the middle of the 20th century by Heyrick Greatorex, a great enthusiast for the genus. He named some of his best selections after female characters from Shakepeare plays. I have grown many over the years, most of them excellent, and this is among my favourites.

snowdrop varieties worth growing: Galanthus 'Jessica'

Galanthus 'Jessica'

Galanthus ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’

A very vigorous full double that can be recommended as the flower is substantial, well formed, and the bulbs bulk up well. It was named in 1981 to commemorate a very distinguished horticulturist and botanical artist of the early 20th C.

Galanthus 'Lady Beatrix Stanley' close-up

Galanthus 'Lady Beatrix Stanley' close-up

The Giant snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii)

This is a very variable species both in leaf colour (although generally grey-bloomed) and flower form, size and markings, and flowering time. Some of the more vigorous sorts may attain 20+ cm height at flowering. It is these that tend to grow best among competing vegetation, including grass. It is generally more successful in dry, sunny situations than common snowdrop.

Galanthus elwesii ‘Cedric’s Prolific

This is the best of the giant snowdrop varieties worth growing in our garden, spreading with gay abandon and flowering well.

Galanthus elwesii 'Cedric's Prolific' - snowdrop varieties worth growing

Galanthus elwesii 'Cedric's Prolific'

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Galanthus plicatus

The distinctive pleated leaves curled over at the outer edges are distinctive. If I had to choose my favourite cultivars they would be selections of Galanthus plicatus. I am illustrating just two, but they are among the best. Galanthus plicatus ‘John Long’ is one of the earliest, with beautiful grey foliage and large flowers carried on short stalks. The inner tube has a strong dark green mark. Galanthus plicatus ‘Augustus’ flowers towards the end of the season, has much greener leaves but similar large flowers. A feature of both cultivars that particularly appeals is that the flowers last in good condition for several weeks.

Galanthus woronowii and Galanthus ikariae

I am describing these two species together because there is a good deal of confusion about their nomenclature. Most of the bulbs offered as G. ikariae are in fact Galanthus woronowii, which is much more common in cultivation.

The chief differences between them chiefly relate to leaf colour and the green markings on the inner tepals. The leaves of Galanthus ikariae are matt green, sometimes greyish tinged, those of G. woronowii are bright shiny green. The green markings on the tube of G. ikariae are larger and more pronounced. Both species are easy to grow and G. woronowii does well in quite deep shade. As this is generally a late flowering species it offers a useful means of extending the snowdrop season.

Galanthus ikariae - snowdrop varieties worth growing

Galanthus ikariae - credit John Good

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Author: John Good

John Good