Snowdrop Race

– Posted in: Catalog review, Plant info, Snowdrops, What's up/blooming

image of a large group of snowdrops growing in the secret gardenOld Roses has won the snowdrop race, but IBOY made a fine showing. Me? I won’t even start looking for snowdrops till February, but I’ll be lucky to find any before March. And what about the Southerners? How far south can one go and still grow snowdrops?

These snowdrops were blooming in the Secret Garden last year on March 28th. (If you want to learn a little more about them, you can read this essay which I wrote a few years ago, and maybe search this site for snowdrops using the Search box in the sidebar on the right.) Just as there are people who go ga-ga over the latest daylily or hosta, there are galanthophiles out there. (Galanthus is the snowdrop genus.) The February 2003 issue of Horticulture had a good article with photos of several cultivars (pp. 64-68) and the February 2002 issue of The Gardener (which is no longer published, unfortunately) has a black-and-white glossary of inner petal patterns. And while it wouldn’t surprise me if Martha Stewart Living had a similar article, I’m not aware of it. Lacking those magazines (or the ambition to unearth them from storage), browse through this British woman’s collection.
Temple Nursery catalog coverIf the possibility of minute variations in snowdrops excites you, you should really write to Hitch Lyman, the proprietor of the Temple Nursery, at Box 591, Trumansburg, NY 14886 and request his $3 catalog. I wrote last year in early April, which was when my snowdrops were still blooming, but to my surprise, I was too late. Mr. Lyman responded in an elegant hand that the digging season was over, so he was returning my check but would still send me a catalog this year. He was true to his word, for his catalog arrived in today’s mail, and it is eye-popping and chin-dropping on several accounts. (You can click on the catalog for a closer look.)

First of all, this catalog comes in an envelope which is hand-addressed (both my address and his return address) in the same beautiful calligraphy as his note to me of last year. Secondly, the catalog appears to be hand-assembled. The photo on the front cardstock cover has been pasted on, though the word Snowdrops below seems to be printed. (And that’s exactly what his handwriting looks like.) Inside, there are two 8 1/2 by 11″ sheets of paper folded in half to make eight pages with, I’m guessing, 10-point type. I would suspect it had been written on a computer with a word processor and a laser printer, except for one thing: in our previous correspondence Mr. Lyman professed to be ignorant of what a website was. He has no website or email (at least none that he will admit to), and everything else seems to have been done with the least amount of technology possible. But it’s not typewritten, so perhaps he took it to a printshop. Most specialty nurseries with such a small selection would merely send two sheets of a photocopied pricelist and save themselves the extra work and postage. Mr. Lyman seems to put aesthetics over efficiency. Between the labor and the layout, each catalog probably costs him three bucks once you add in the postage. I wonder how many he sends out, if he has any help with the mailing, and if he has another source of income, for this is surely a labor of love.

Finally, the prices will knock your socks off. There are 35 kinds of snowdrops offered for sale. The least expensive is the common Galanthus nivalis “our own stock” going for 5/$10. The most expensive are $35 each. Yes, that’s for one snowdrop. And since the best way to transplant snowdrops is “in the green,” that is, while they’ve still got green leaves and haven’t gone dormant, that’s how Mr. Lyman ships them: “plants will be dug to order and sent express mail, bare root, in early April.” Okay, I expect overnight mail to be expensive, but even then the $18 shipping fee gave me pause.

The plant descriptions are brutally honest, with a sidedressing of humor. Regarding ‘Benhall Beauty,’ he states, “May flop in wind and frost.” His description of ‘Scharlockii’: “The spathe divides into two tall rabbit’s ears. Green patches on the outer segments and an eccentric long pedicel. Essential as well as charming.” He says of ‘Nellie Brinsley’s Double’: ” . . . almost identical with ‘Pusey Green Tips’. I am not sure why I keep this going.” And then, somewhat anachronistically, of ‘Auntie Flo’ he enthuses, “Lovely rounded flower, forming good clumps. Excellent, Dude.” (Dude? Really, Mr. Lyman!) Oh, I could go on, but why spoil your fun? Don’t you want to get your own catalog?

Meanwhile, the snowdrop race continues. Please post in the comments when your snowdrops bloom. Obviously you can’t be first (unless you’re a southerner and they’ve already bloomed), but it will give you a chance to make me envious, as I have a strong suspicion mine will be last.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.

~Mitchell Burgess in Northern Exposure

Comments on this entry are closed.

entangled January 23, 2006, 12:47 pm

My first snowdrops bloomed over the weekend, almost 10 days later than last year. I plan to have a picture posted later today. I tried the Martha Stewart website, on the chance that they might have archived the magazine articles there, but no luck. There is this, however:
Galanthus nivalis.

OldRoses January 13, 2006, 11:18 pm

Hi Kathy! I’m way behind in my blog reading and didn’t realize I “won” the race. You’re right about the snow melting. Usually the snowdrops that are currently blooming in my garden are the last to bloom because that is where the snow melts last in my yard (it’s my deep shade garden). I didn’t realize until last year that there is more than one kind of snowdrop. I’m trying a new one, can’t remember what it is but I’m curious to see if it really does look different and if it grows and spreads as well as the “regular” ones. Needless to say, I’ll be blogging about it.

Kathy Purdy January 9, 2006, 12:49 pm

Hi, Catherine, nice to meet you. A lot of the better bulb catalogs (Brent&Becky’s, McClure&Zimmerman, and Odyssey Bulbs come to mind) offer more than one kind of snowdrop, even if they don’t offer as many as Temple Nursery. And they will be more reasonably priced. Even the place with the old tulips (Old House Gardens, by any chance?) probably has snowdrops. Just remember to note where the snow melts first in your garden or lawn, and plan on planting your snowdrops there!

catherine January 9, 2006, 12:38 pm

35 varieties of snowdrops — who knew? Of course i want the catalog…but then again, what with the heirloom tomatoes and the old roses and the peonies and that place with the old tulips i found last year, not to mention the orchids and agaves inside…maybe i should just NOT order it, out of self-preservation….

Kathy Purdy January 7, 2006, 6:35 pm

I agree with you about MSL. I used to get an invitation to subscribe in December or thereabouts and would attempt to send it in so that I would get the March gardening issue as my first issue and then cancel. Shameless, I know. Well, they must have gotten on to me because they don’t ask me to subscribe anymore. They are great to look through to see how the other half lives, and I agree the gardening info was first rate, no matter what issue it was in. I always take other folks’ back issues with open arms, and I think it should be a law of the Medes and the Persians that MSL be in every medical and dental waiting room in the land, but who listens to me? At any rate, after I wrote the above post, I availed myself of the public library’s electronic database (Masterfile Premier from EBSCO) and discovered MSL ran an article about snowdrops in February 2000. Unfortunately, they don’t let you see the text, but only provide the citation. And Victoria had an article about Hitch Lyman in their February 2002 issue. In this case, the text was provided, and it implied that Lyman is younger than I had imagined–and he is an artist.

jenn January 6, 2006, 11:17 am

Martha did do an article on galanthus/ snowdrops.

Since I have yet to look up the gardening quote I offered to find for you a year ago, I think you know not to look to me to supply further information. I can confirm that it is out there.

I stopped taking Living some time ago because I couldn’t justify the expense. I do wish that I could buy a coffee table book of the lovely plant samplers. They were always exquisite to look at and full of information. That and the Cooking:101 articles were all I was buying the magazine for.

(Maybe I will get energenic and find both at one go… but don’t hold your breath. sigh.)