At the time of writing the snowdrop season is well underway.
Social media is full of pictures showing carpets of pure white Galanthus nivalis or special varieties that gardeners have often paid a not insignificant amount of money for. Here in the UK, where the humble Galanthus is enjoying cult status, the enthusiasts, the Galanthophiles and Galanthomaniacs, are out in force.
Yes, I split snowdrop enthusiasts into two groups.
The ‘Galanthophiles’ are a small group of very gentle souls; their season is marked quietly, with visits to collections and meetings with small groups of other Galanthophiles, and while they will purchase bulbs and share bulbs with their friends, the size of a collection is of no real importance to them. What’s importance is the passion, and reverence, for the humble snowdrop in all its forms.
The ‘Galanthomaniac’ is quite a different beast; for the Galanthomaniac the size of the collection is vitally important, but so too is the price. You’ll easily recognise Galanthomaniacs at snowdrop events; they strut around like roosters, or as we call them here in the UK, cockerels, crowing about how many varieties they grow and how much they paid for plants. Oh they will share with other Galanthomaniacs, in the way a rooster will share corn with his hens, but they’ll be sure to share only if they’re getting something back of exactly the same financial value. I don’t doubt that they love looking at their plants as much as the true Galanthophiles, but their relationship with the genus is much more about status with other Galanthomaniacs than quiet moments of worshipful reverence.
There is a handy test that you can use to test which of these two groups you’re dealing with: ask them about a fairly common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis, G. ‘S. Arnott’, G. elwesii etc) and see what the response is. A Galanthomaniac will roll their eyes and tell you how common and boring these plants are, while a Galanthophile will speak with great enthusiasm and joy.
By contrast I’ve found most daffodil people pretty amiable really.
There’s the Galanthophile’s passion for the genus, but I guess there is a much wider range of things for people to be interested in. Snowdrops are all variations on a theme of white. I’m sorry, but they are; white with green bits, white with yellow bits, green bits where there should be white bits, tall ones or short ones, double white flowers and single white ones. The season is also very condensed too, so every bit of interest is squashed into a few short (and usually cold and dark) months.
The genus Narcissus is most famously yellow, yet within the yellows there are many different shades of yellow and different shapes of flower. Then of course we move on to the white ones, which pick up from the creamy yellows and go through to perfect white while still keeping the various different flower shapes. Then, as if this wasn’t enough for us to enthuse about, we have different sizes ranging from tiny plants no taller than the length of your thumb right up to plants the height of a small child!
Oh, and the season is long; if you ignore plants to be grown under glass then you’re looking at having flowers from February/March right through to June if you choose the right ones (and yes, assuming you’re not living in the coldest regions). If you are a little more committed and do want to grow Narcissi under glass then you can start with the green autumn flowering N. viridiflorus, then go through ‘forced’ Narcissus through winter before joining the rest of us with the outdoor plants as winter eases.
The genus Narcissus offers so much more for gardeners than Galanthus.
This is down to two key things: the number of and diversity of the wild species, plus the fact that people have been deliberately breeding Narcissi for centuries. For those of us a little more inclined to collect plants there are plenty of options; historical varieties, varieties raised by specific breeders, botanical species, miniatures, dwarf daffodils (ones whose common name is ‘narcissus’ or ‘narcissi’), specific divisions (long trumpets, triandrus, N. cyclamineus hybrids etc), doubles, ‘split corona’ varieties, scented varieties… I’ve probably missed some out! The genus Narcissus offers so much variation for gardeners to enjoy and, I’ve saved the best for last here: as daffodils aren’t the current ‘in thing’ it’s entirely possible to build up your collection without spending the sort of money snowdrops command.
I’m not saying there aren’t expensive bulbs to be had but these are the exception rather than the rule, and high prices are almost always either for something very new or something very rare (and even then they tend not to be in the same ball park as new or rare snowdrops).
Of course the idea that daffodils are better than snowdrops is nonsense. Both are wonderful, both bring joy to the gardener, both are fun to grow. The big thing for me is that daffodils, this is to say the whole genus Narcissus, offer more to gardeners than the snowdrops in terms of diversity and accessibility. If you can grow daffodils and snowdrops in your gardens then you should grow daffodils and snowdrops in your garden, and while snowdrops enjoy their celebrity status we should also celebrate the humble daffodils too.