I confess, I confess. I bought some snowdrops “in the green” this year. I can’t help it, it’s been a miserable winter and the idea of snowdrops pushing their heads up through the grey and bitter cold was just too tempting for me not to start calling around with my credit card in December. I’ve contemplated stealing the common snowdrop, galanthus nivalis, from the side of the road, but I can’t bring myself to break the law. When I was a kid, there used to be old abandoned homesteads in Riverhead and in Patchogue and even in Bridgehampton where you could find old clumps of snowdrops and daffodils and asparagus and wisteria that just longed for a lovely home, but those days have disappeared along with impromptu fires on the beach and the ability to bike anywhere without having to fear for your life.
If you are going to steal snowdrops, (or at least divide the ones on your own property) right now -- early spring is the time to do it. Snowdrops need to be dug up and transplanted while they are still growing, thus the term “in the green.” They also enjoy being separated every couple of years, and replanted with more compost and rich soil to keep them vigorous and thriving. You can dig them up right after they are done flowering, or in flower if you can bear it, and gently tease them apart into individual plants which you space out and water in well by hand. Don’t forget to water them, since all of our irrigation systems are still shut off and it hasn’t rained here in ages. I would also recommend planting a golf tee where each bulb resides since they do go dormant in the summer and fall, and if you are at all like me, you too have an unerring knack for planting right on top of existing plants. If they gave a medal for this activity one could hear me clanking from a mile away.
Unlike most spring bulbs, galanthus do not want to be fiddled with in the fall, as that is when they are actually starting to send out their new growth. If you can’t find snowdrops in the green, or don’t want to bother, they do sell them as dried fall bulbs, for planting in late summer or early fall. However, it is important that you get the bulbs from a good source and that the bulbs are fresh. Galanthus do not keep well and if planted too late, will not have time to grow their fall roots and won’t survive the winter.
The first batch arrived at my house the day before our last snowstorm – the one that was threatened to be a foot of snow, but turned out to be a smattering and warm enough in the afternoon for a little trowel work in the garden. Luckily for me, since my snowdrops had actually arrived a day or so earlier and had been living in their box in my husband’s car without my knowledge. Bad Dereyk. Poor snowdrops. Although they were a tad yellowed, they didn’t look too worse for wear and I got them all in without too much trauma, in spite of a bad stomachache and a fierce, blustery wind.
This first batch came from Linden Hill Gardens, a retail nursery in Ottsville, Pennsylvania specializing in rare plants that I ran across at Plant-O-Rama this year at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. They are only the third place in this country that I have found that ships snowdrops in the green and I have ordered plants from all three. I am not yet a galanthophile, and I will not be paying extraordinary money for a single plant as some of the more passionate collectors are now doing, but I did invest in a few named varieties. I had requested galanthus H. Purcell and galanthus J. Hadyn, but both were sold out at Linden Hill, so I had to make do with just galanthus G.F. Handel and galanthus S. Arnott. I also bought galanthus nivalis, the basic snowdrop and galanthus flore pleno, the basic double.
I also ordered a few varieties from Carolyn’s Shade Garden in Bryn Mar, Pennsylvania who tempted me with one slightly more expensive named variety, Galanthus ‘Blewbury Tart’, that I just had to have for the name alone. She in sending hers in pots, so they won’t be as traumatized if they have to hang out in the Rover with Dereyk, and I am quite excited to see this single little chive like thread of green with it’s crazy upward facing double green flower.
My third source was the most well know galanthophile of them all, Mr. Hitch Lyman. He has a beautiful catalog that you must write away for by post (with your five dollars enclosed in the envelope) quite early in the summer if you want to have any of his more unusual varieties. No email, no fax, no phone, and he’ll write you back and tell you if what you desire is available. By the time I got my act together he had only the more usual suspects left, but the handwriting in his note explaining it all to me, and the aside that I could buy the dried bulbs for significantly less online, both charmed me beyond words. When I win the lottery and no longer have to work like a crazy person during the gardening season, I shall head up to his Temple Nursery in Trumansburg, NY on the day they have the Garden Conservancy open house there.
Speaking of the Garden Conservancy, I shouldn’t have joked about stealing snowdrops. In England the crime is all too common, and one of the best Garden Conservancy gardens in America, our own divine Madoo is holding it’s first “in the green” galanthus sale in mid-April with snowdrops that belong to a local collector whose garden location is a well guarded secret. He is promising ‘Lady Beatrice Stanley’ and ‘Hill Poe’ two doubles I must admit to lusting for as well as galanthus virdipice, ‘Blewbury Tart’ and an unnamed but vigorous one that I would very much like to add in to my collection. Get in touch with them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org for the exact dates but beware, I might be there to elbow you away for the best ones.
Paige Patterson already has a huge bag stuffed with dahlia tubers in her kitchen just waiting for the cold to go away.