Snowdropping 2017

Rather than face 9 inches of snow and a 12F (-11C) low lets take a trip back to just four days ago when the springtime warmth brought on an emergency trip to enjoy this year’s first snowdrop trip.  It’s early of course, but we were on a mission this time and with the thermometer peaking at 60F (15C) it was now or never.  The mission was to visit Dr. John Lonsdale at Edgewood Gardens, and take a tour of his overflowing snowdrop and cyclamen greenhouses before the warm weather set all the flowers to seed.  We were not disappointed.

galanthus and cyclamen

Snowdrops and hardy cyclamen filling the greenhouse benches.

John lives and gardens in Exton, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia and from the looks of things you’d never guess he has yet to quit his day job.  These thousands of drops and bulbs (plus about a billion other plants spread out across his yard) are just a passionate hobby and sideline which is Edgewood Gardens.  You may already know this since he is a regular feature at garden events and lectures up and down the East coast, but to see his garden and hear him talk you would think for sure he lives the life of a full time nurseryman.

galanthus homersfield

Galanthus ‘Homersfield’ in the Lonsdale greenhouse.

I have plenty of pictures here and will likely ramble on too long so to keep things focused I’ll just add that John will be putting out his first snowdrop sales list this summer, and if you’re even just slightly interested in seeing what drops might be available send him an email via his Edgewood Gardens website.

forced snowdrops

I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I thought.  Most of my visit was spent poking through the benches admiring all the characteristics and nuances that a plain little green and white winter flowering bulb can give.

John may be growing a few extra bulbs for sale, but it doesn’t take more than a walk up his driveway to recognize he’s plant obsessed with a weakness towards collecting.

potted snowdrops

Hundreds of carefully inventoried and labeled pots fill every square inch.

The full range of snowdrops is represented in the greenhouse, selections from seed grown species right alongside some of the most coveted European varieties, many of which are nearly impossible to find on either side of the Atlantic.  This is even more impressive when you consider the cost and complications which are involved in bringing these plants into the States legally (something you’ll quickly notice when browsing overseas sources).

galanthus green tear

An all green snowdrop, Galanthus ‘Green Tear’, is one of those drops which broke records a few years ago when first offered on eBay.  Someone thought $500 for a single bulb was just right for feeding their obsession.

When they’re all together like this it’s hard to pick out favorites…. or even distinguish one white drop from another, but a few stand out even to a beginner like myself.

galanthus diggory

The puffy pantaloons look of Galanthus ‘Diggory’ (pantaloons as in pants, not the twenty one pilots song)

Travel is supposed to broaden the mind but I’m afraid all this trip did was make my snowdrop obsession worse.  I picked up several new names to add to the want-list…

galanthus duckie

Galanthus ‘Duckie’ on the left and top.  I loved the wide flat petals.

galanthus moortown

I also like how the green mark inside Galanthus ‘Moortown’ bleeds up a bit and stains the inside.  Plus it’s a nice big sturdy drop 🙂

galanthus green mile

Galanthus ‘Green Mile’, another sought after, deeply saturated green snowdrop.

Ok, so that might be plenty of snowdrops, but before we leave the greenhouse the hardy Cyclamen coum deserve some attention as well.  Not to pat myself on the back too strongly, but these are the same plants which John offers for sale through his website, and somehow through a remarkable feat of self control I managed to limit myself to just four carefully selected plants.

cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum at their peak in the greenhouse.  It will be another few weeks before the ones I have here in my own garden begin to flower, and weather permitting they will be just as nice.

There were also plenty of seedlings coming along for future sales.

hardy cyclamen seedlings

Various hardy and not so hardy cyclamen seedlings coming along in the “other” greenhouse.   If you look closely you can even see some of the cool purple centered C hederifolium coming along in the center of the photo.  Even the little babies color up!

… and that’s just in the greenhouses.  Because of the exceptional temperatures things were pushing ahead outside as well.

colchicum kesselringii

The absolutely perfect Colchicum kesselringii, a late winter flowering relative of the more common fall blooming colcicum.

adonis amurensis

The first of the Adonis amurensis were coming up to take advantage of the sun.

And cactus.  I barely mentioned the cactus beds, but there they were looking as if they were growing a few hundred miles West and South of this Philly garden.

purple opuntia

An opuntia (prickly pear) which wrinkles up and takes on an unusual purple color once temperatures fall.  I wonder if it blooms as nicely as the regular version, the spines sure do look just as fierce!

Oh and I’m sure you’re done with snowdrops, but there were more outside as well, both in bloom and just beginning to sprout.

galanthus Mrs Macnamara

I believe this is Galanthus ‘Mrs Macnamara’, a perfect beauty and surprisingly hardy and early.  Word is this bunch has been going strong for a couple weeks already, and still looks this good.

Hellebores were also just beginning.

helleborus niger

A few of many Helleborus niger (Christmas rose) which were coming up around the garden.  Here on the slope they looked absolutely perfect.

Even a few of the trees and shrubs were showing signs of life.  The witch hazels (Hamamelis) were in bloom all over the gardens, but the delicate flowers of the Japanese plum (Prunus mume) really look too delicate for a Pennsylvania February.

prunus mume

Prunus mume.  Dr. Lonsdale told me the cultivar but at that point I’m pretty sure my brain was way too full to retain any lengthy Japanese names.

I could easily spend all day or another day at Edgewood Gardens, but if you’re at all familiar with our Philly snowdrop jaunts you’ll know we always fit in way too much for the still short days.  Before our greenhouse visit we happily dropped an hour and a half at a local park to again admire the sheets of naturalized winter aconite (Eranthis Hyemalis) which grow there.

naturalized eranthis bulbs

The forest floor was buzzing with hundreds of honeybees taking advantage of these first flowers of 2017.

We even managed to find a few snowdrops just coming up.  What a perfect combination, and quite a contrast to the deer chewed pachysandra, weeds and brambles.

naturalized eranthis bulbs

Naturalized eranthis and snowdrop bulbs.  Given a few acres and about 150 years and you might also have a similar show.

We were so lucky with the weather this year.  Snowdropping in February is one thing, doing it in short sleeves is unheard of even in the warmest of years.  Hopefully when March rolls around and it’s time to head north to visit Hitch Lyman and Temple Gardens we will be just as lucky.  History says otherwise though.

playing in the snow

Temperatures dropped to normal within 24 hours of our visit and we finally got a good coating of snow to cover up any signs of spring.  It now looks more normal for February, but that doesn’t explain why the kids can’t just go sledding in their snow pants like everyone else.

As usual a special thanks goes out to Paula for her annual enthusiasm for these trips, and also a big thanks goes out to Dr. Lonsdale for being so generous with his time, his knowledge and also his garden.  Truth be told I may have just kind of invited myself over that day, but you would never have guessed it by how warmly I was received by both John and by his other (more scheduled) visitors.  It was great getting to see everyone and I hope we do this again!

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28 comments on “Snowdropping 2017

  1. Pauline says:

    This looks to be a wonderful visit, what a fantastic selection of lovely snowdrops to choose from, I would have been spoiled for choice!

    • bittster says:

      There were more than enough, but unfortunately (or some would say fortunately) John will be selling dormant bulbs, so there were none available to join me for the ride back North…

  2. I wonder if that colchicum could survive this far north? Without a greenhouse, I mean.

    • bittster says:

      I was wondering the same thing. It sounds like it might be a little picky about location, but cold might not be the problem. These were growing outdoors in the open, but there were also camellias out in the open so definitely warmer there 😉

  3. Christina says:

    I love reading your posts when you are bursting with enthusiasm. Sounds a great day out. Garden visiting is always such fun.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Christina, you’re right that garden visits are always fun and even more so when you’ve spent the last three months looking at dried stalks and dormant plants.

  4. Lisa Rest says:

    What an amazing place! I appreciate your devotion to Snowdrops, but I am quite taken with the Prickly Pear Cactus.

  5. Cathy says:

    Some very pretty specimens Frank. And what a nice warm spell you had! It’s slowly warming up here now, but the ground is still too cold even for snowdrops.

  6. meg8337@verizon.net says:

    Thanks.  Wow, way more than I need to know about snowdrops.  I can’t do obsession!

    • bittster says:

      heh heh. Do you know my wife? She flat out tells me pretty much the same thing, and usually includes “I don’t see the point” and “you’re really driving that far in the winter to be cold and look at plants?”

  7. rusty duck says:

    I am beginning to worry that I could part with some serious money on snowdrops. I think I may have the bug.

    • bittster says:

      Be careful Jessica. If you even suspect you have the bug you most surely have the bug. I was in denial for a few years but now there’s no hope. All I can offer is that the first purchase is all it takes, so be very wary about innocent looking souvenir plants or that cute ‘just one it’s really cheap after all’ bulb.

  8. Peter Herpst says:

    What a special garden and amazing snowdrops! Your restraint in the cyclamen is admirable. Colchicum kesselringii is new to me and quite a stunning creature. That opuntia was quite a surprise.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Peter, I know you understand the struggles of restraint when it comes to plant purchases.
      Unfortunately a purple opuntia is surprising, and of course I want one too. They’re such miserably pokey plants and you can’t avoid the nearly invisible spines but somehow I’ve added a few to the garden again and I’m sure it will be a few years until I relearn this lesson…

  9. hoehoegrow says:

    It sort of reminds me of the Tulip Fever, which took off in Holland in the 17th Century , only Ebay is the preferred way of selling !
    I sort of get it, but not quite – I clearly need to look more closely and appreciate those subtle differences I think.
    Love that Prunus – such a strong colour !

    • bittster says:

      Yes I agree, there’s a bit of a mania involved in the snowdrops right now and I often wonder why I even consider adding more which are nearly identical… but then get them anyway and am entirely pleased with myself.
      I’ve heard that many people live entirely full and productive lives without any interest in snowdrops, so I’d strongly suggest forcing yourself down this dark path 😉
      Thanks for stopping by Jane, I enjoy reading your blog!

  10. Ian Lumsden says:

    I would dearly love to have toured John’s garden myself. Some of the varieties are familiar to me though there are new ones, including in the photograph of the packed plants, some yellows. Hoehoegrow is correct, there are traces of Tulip Fever. ‘Mrs Macnamara’ is not too expensive and it is always one of my most reliable and early snowdrops, tall and elegant. A great article.

    • bittster says:

      I agree the excitement does approach the levels of mania. I don’t think it’s as widespread here as in Europe but even on this side of the Atlantic when something special goes up for sale, it’s sold out within days, if not hours. All this fuss over little white flowers which can disappear across any distance greater than a few yards 🙂
      There were a number of exciting varieties, I really haven’t done them justice, and in fact missed quite a few really interesting ones.

  11. Chloris says:

    What a treat. How would we get through winter without these little beauties? I am mystified how all these people who don’ t get snowdrops, get through February. I have Diggory and I love it but I would love Green Tear, but oh dear, it is so expensive.

    • bittster says:

      I’m in heaven right now with warmer temperatures and snowdrops sprouting all over. I almost feel guilty going out in public since I know my air of superiority over non-snowdrop lovers must make them feel a little empty. No worries though. Marigolds and begonias will be out soon enough and I’m sure that will be distracting enough to ease their unrest.

  12. Wow, I’ve got to get some Winter Aconite. Some great Snowdrops in your greenhouse. I like the picture of your kids – very cute!

  13. Oh, and our first snowdrops are just getting ready to bloom.

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