Snowdrops – An Obsession

Hurrah!  The Christmas decorations are just about packed away and the Christmas tree is hanging around the garden waiting to be composted or cut up for firewood.  The first eager shoots of the snowdrops are peeking through – surely the most welcome of all gardening signs, showing that we are more than half way through winter.

Perhaps I am biased but I really love to see a swathe of snowdrops offset by delicate aluminium garden furniture.  I’m thinking of the bronze, dark metallic garden tables and chairs which look so striking against the pure white flower heads.

An Obsession

It has only been in the past couple of years that I’ve been aware of the snowdrop obsession that grips some gardeners or galantophiles as they are properly termed.  These enthusiasts come from all quarters of the globe.  There are walking sticks with tiny mirrors fixed to their tip for the snowdrop fancier and snowdrop obsession has long been associated with crime.


E.A. Bowles (1865-1954), of Myddelton House, resorted to numbering his snowdrops rather than naming them, after a series of thefts undertaken by unscrupulous visitors.   After his death, RHS Wisley established Bowles’ Corner to celebrate his iconic snowdrops.  They were laid out, labelled and then quickly pinched.  More recently, there have been a couple of notorious thefts; the yellow form of G. elwesii which was dug up in 1997 following a gala at Colesbourne Park in Gloucestershire and the entire stock of ‘Green Tear’ – the star of the Vincent Square show in 2011 – was subsequently pinched from the Somerset nursery that had produced it.  The theft was only noticed after the Cheslea Flower Show, but since the stock number had been clearly displayed at Vincent Square in February, the thief had obviously noted it down.

£725 For One Bulb

It’s not for the love of plants, but for profit that thieves take snowdrops – rare varieties can reach improbable sums.   The rarest bulbs are being stolen from verges, private gardens and public parks in worrying quantities.  In 2012, a Scottish nurseryman sold a new variation for £725 on ebay.  Green-tipped or virescent snowdrops are the current trend and single bulbs of ‘Green Tear’ sell for over £300.

Galantophiles Fight Back

Some gardeners are installing anti-theft devices worth thousands of pounds to protect their snowdrops from unwanted attention.  In public gardens, often displays do not label the variety growing to help protect the identity of rare plants.  Growers have taken to planting snowdrops in subterranean cages so that they can’t be dug up easily or to removing them from the ground to rehouse them in pots in locked, alarmed greenhouses.  The National Collection of snowdrops is maintained by Steve Owen in a quiet corner of Bedfordshire.  Over the past decade, he has amassed the world’s largest collection – some 900 varieties.  After thefts following opening the gardens to the public in 2012 and 2013, he has now installed four CCTV cameras and night-time anti-theft lights.   Elsewhere nurserymen have their premises patrolled constantly to protect the plants.

Snowdrops Mania Is Spreading

It is not just the larger public garden displays that are being targeted by thieves.  Online gardening forums attest to the fact that people are having their plants pinched from their own flower beds.  Those in the know reckon that the thefts are driven largely by unscrupulous gardeners who want specific varieties for their own collections and who can’t get them any other way – they are simply too rare to come to market.

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