The Galanthus Gala: Where Snowdrop Addicts Get Their Fix

– Posted in: Events, Snowdrops

In 1997, Mona Wysocki gave me a “sod” of snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) about the size of a salad plate. (I call it a “sod” because it was as densely packed with snowdrops as a piece of lawn is packed with grass.) I carefully separated the bulbs and replanted them about six inches apart. (Detailed instructions here.) Twenty-three years later, they have formed their own sod.

twenty-year-old snowdrop patch
The original snowdrops have grown tightly packed together.

Eight years ago we moved to a new house and garden, and I planted some of those same snowdrops here.

snowdrop patch after eight years
After growing for eight years, these snowdrops have formed clumps, but not sods. Take a tour.

A few years ago I joined the Snowdrops in American Gardens Facebook group. It is a friendly group, quite amenable to “off-topic” posts–especially when snowdrops aren’t blooming. I have gotten familiar with the gardens of several members and have even traded plants through the mail with a few of them.

David Culp, a member of the group and an obsessive snowdrop collector, organized the first Galanthus Gala in Pennsylvania four years ago. (I wrote a brief review of his first book here.) After three years of seeing pictures of this event on Facebook, showing people I’d dearly like to meet in person and photos of rare and choice plants offered for sale, in early March I made the three hour trip to attend the fourth Galanthus Gala.

But I had a plan.

Remembering how much Mona’s gift of snowdrops meant to me, I wanted to pass a little of that magic on to others. My son and his wife now live in our family’s former home. I asked my daughter-in-law if I might dig some of those original snowdrops up (a sod), and I did so two days before the gala. I portioned them into small zip-closure bags–perhaps three dozen bags in all with probably five bulbs in each. My plan was to give them out as tokens of friendship to my online gardening friends–and to anyone else who seemed interested.

Kathy Purdy basket of snowdrops
Here I am, dazed from the three-hour drive (I had to wake up pretty early) and about to enter the building. Photo courtesy Christopher Harley

When I think of the word “gala” I imagine a formal event with the gentlemen in tuxes and the ladies in floor-length gowns. This gala was packed with gardeners in casual (but clean) clothes desperately trying to buy their must-have plant before someone else did. I had imagined I would know most of the people there and we’d have plenty of time for chit-chat. In reality it was subway-at-rush-hour packed–I could scarcely move–and most of the people I knew were either behind a table frantically selling plants–or nowhere to be seen.

galanthus gala centerpiece Gerald Simcoe
This centerpiece, created by Gerald Simcoe, certainly evokes a Galanthus Gala.

Undeterred, I started handing out snowdrops. “Where did you get that?” a stranger asked me, thinking I had purchased a basketful of snowdrops. “They’re from my garden. Here, have one.” Her eyes widened. “Are you serious? Thank you so much!” The distribution was as spontaneous and random as that.

The gala always features talks by one or more experts. This year Alan Street of Avon Bulbs in Britain gave two lectures in an adjacent building. When the first lecture was announced, the sales room cleared out considerably. What a relief! (I had planned to attend both lectures, but I confess I didn’t understand the announcement David Culp made at the top of his lungs.) With the crowd thinned out, I finally got to browse the tables to see what was being offered.

The sales table of Matthew and Jamie Bricker gives you an idea of the scope of the plant offerings. Photo courtesy Christopher Harley.

Yes, this is a Galanthus Gala, but I have generally found that those who love snowdrops intensely love many plants intensely. They are used to paying top dollar for rare and unique snowdrops and likewise don’t blanch at opening their wallets for other rare and unique plants–especially if they are good companions for snowdrops. Don’t you worry, there were lots of snowdrops for sale.

Kermode snowdrop
These were at the upper limit of the prices I saw–but even at this price most sold quickly. Photo courtesy Matthew Ross.

I did attend Alan Bloom’s second lecture and his definition of a galanthophile is “someone who can’t stop buying snowdrops.” By this definition, I am not a galanthophile. I won’t pay more for a snowdrop than I would for a colchicum corm. Yet I was astounded to realize I grow twenty-two different snowdrops when I made a list the night before the gala. (See many of them here.) Some were purchased and some were gifts from galanthophile friends.

hybrid snowdrop
This is the only one I bought, one of the least expensive there. But that’s not why I bought it. This is supposed to multiply well, and that’s one thing I’m looking for in a snowdrop.

Truthfully, I was more tempted by the other plants. So many choices! I tried to focus on plants for the Secret Garden. I brought home Trillium flexipes–which is native to my county–and Trillium vaseyi, and Anemonella ‘Cameo’. I also purchased one of David Culp’s Brandywine hellebores as a souvenir of my trip.

Yellow hellebore with maroon heart
I purchased this hellebore in bud. I could tell it was yellow, and I was hoping it was double . . . this is still pretty special.

When the first lecture was over, some people left and many others wandered back to the sales building, where lunch was also being sold. I caught up with many of my Facebook friends then and shared my snowdrops with them. I’m sure they all had this particular snowdrop growing in their gardens already. Galanthus nivalis is called the common snowdrop, after all. But they accepted it as the token of friendship that I intended, and I like to think my common snowdrop is an especially vigorous form that will eventually makes “sods” in their own gardens.

The next Galanthus Gala is planned for March 6, 2021. This event is not widely advertised. If you are on Facebook, like the Galanthus Gala page or join the Snowdrops in American Gardens Facebook group to keep abreast of the details. If you’re not on Facebook, visit their website, where there will soon be a form to subscribe to their email list.

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.

What differentiates a bulb from a perennial plant is that the nourishment for the flower is stored within the bulb itself.…There is something miraculous about the way that a little grenade of dried up tissue can explode into a complete flower.

~Monty Don in The Complete Gardener pp. 142

Comments on this entry are closed.

Pat Frank May 26, 2020, 1:53 pm

Your article and pictures are so nice, I envy you because I live in Florida and flowers are not as beautiful as up north, the winter rest is fantastic for plants and flowers. I enjoyed looking the pic.
Thank you again.

Linda Brazill May 17, 2020, 12:57 pm

I loved getting the inside view about this event. I read Paddy Tobin and love his garden and personal take on garden events, visits etc. And it was fun to see a photo of you as well!

Kathy Purdy May 17, 2020, 9:38 pm

Glad you enjoyed the post, Linda. There aren’t many pictures of me because I’m usually behind the camera. I guess there are a few more on Facebook.

Corina L May 16, 2020, 6:12 pm

A Gardners Gala. How awesome! I hope one day to attend one myself.

Miron@ROD im. Emilii Gierczak Koszalin May 15, 2020, 5:42 am

This Snowdrop path looks so incredible, like from a movie. Wonderful idea to plant them that way. This flowers look so beautiful, You have amazing talent. Godbless.

Kathy Purdy May 15, 2020, 8:27 am

Thank you for your kind words.

Paddy Tobin May 14, 2020, 6:40 pm

Hi Kathy, I read the posts in the Snowdrops in American Gardens Facebook page and make the occasional comment. As I live in Ireland I don’t think it appropriate that I post my photographs there – I do that on the British and European sites. The gala seems to have been a great success. We have one here in Ireland also but, believe it or not, though I am a snowdrop enthusiast I have never attended. I am not into spending big money on snowdrops and most of my bulbs come via swapping or as gifts and I also consider the price of attending here is excessive – around 80Dollars per person, 160 for both of us. Not good value to me. I’ll watch out for you on the Facebook page though the season is about over now, all out of flower here. I’m going to chip a few in the next few weeks. Nice to see you here.

Kathy Purdy May 14, 2020, 7:47 pm

The U.S. Galanthus Gala charges admission for the first hour (when all the best plants get sold) and for the lectures. After the first hour, admission is free to the sales area. If I had to pay an admission price as well as driving three hours, I don’t think I would attend. The “fix” that galanthophiles get from such an event is equally the fellowship as it is the plants acquired. And I think I first discovered your blog from one or the other of the snowdrops groups on Facebook. Glad you could stop by. Speaking of the weather, had an inch of snow May 9th and it got down to 21.6°F (-5.7°C) on May 13th. Atypical even for us, but it’s why I marvel at your “winter” weather.

Patricia Evans May 14, 2020, 8:06 am

Well, since it’s 2 months later, I’m guessing the attendees managed to not share any COVID-19 with each other. Kind of funny, that about 2 weeks later , the event would probably have been cancelled. I bought a dozen Galanthus (I’m sure the most common kind) bulbs at Costco last fall and I’m delighted that they survived the chipmunks and squirrels and are blooming happily.

Lisa at Greenbow May 14, 2020, 3:31 am

What a fun time. Can’t imagine paying $200 for a Galanthus. Yet I have done so for a tree, that died. ha… I bet the Galanthus survives.

Frank May 13, 2020, 10:52 pm

Thanks Kathy, I’m also on my way towards a snowdrop ‘sod’ to remember this gala by!

Dee Nash May 13, 2020, 1:21 pm

I so enjoyed this post! The only thing similar I’ve been to are the daylily conventions. How fun! ~~Dee

Nancy Robinson May 13, 2020, 12:14 pm

Good read!

Tim C May 13, 2020, 9:51 am

Nice to revisit such a pleasant day, Kathy. Somehow it seems so much longer ago than just two months. My nivalis ex Purdy are nicely settled in under an apple tree, and I look forward to seeing them next year. Thanks for both of these souvenirs of the day!