Saturday, February 24, 2024

Word of the Week 2022 – Galanthophile

In cultivating a new variety of snowdrop Joe Sharman – known to many as ‘Mr Snowdrop’ – has brought joy to ‘galanthophiles’ everywhere and made himself £1,850 from just one bulb also; amusingly there’s even a variety named ‘John’s Y-Fronts’

It’s always great to improve one’s grasp of etymology and this morning I learnt about a word that describes a charmingly endearing collection of people. That word? Galanthophile.


A noun of 19th century origin that takes the snowdrop galanthus’s taxonomic name from the Greek gala, galkt ‘milk’ and antho- ‘flower,’ those that so enthusiastically collect these “magical and really special” bell-shaped flowers are known as galanthophiles.


The official flower for January birthdays and brought to Britain by the Romans, the “milk flower of the snow” – as it is sometimes described – is said to symbolise hope, purity, innocence and sympathy. It is the first flower to bloom at the end of winter and though Victorians associated it with death and bad luck, on Saturday, The Guardian’s Steven Morris charmingly reported on “hordes of galanthophiles” descending on Buckland Monachorum on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon this week to “take in the sight of a beloved flower that this time of year provides a vivid reminder than warmer, cheerier seasons are ahead.”


In a second article for The Guardian this morning, the paper’s Jamie Grierson enthused that a single bulb of new type of snowdrop – a variety named ‘Golden Tears’ – that has just sold on eBay for the remarkable sum of £1,850.


Grown by Cottenham, Cambridgeshire plantsman Joe Sharman (AKA ‘Mr Snowdrop’) of the Monksilver Nursery, ‘Golden Tears’ received 55 bids and finally hammered down to a buyer “unidentified.” It was listed as:


“A narrow-flowered yellow pterugiform with a very large mark and bright yellow ovary. Very beautiful and distinct. Quite different from Golden Fleece.  Exceptionally vigorous. 25cm. The result of a deliberate cross by me using the same parents that created Golden Fleece. First time sold by us on eBay only named 2 weeks ago. Only one for the season.”


In 2015, in an interview with The Guardian – clearly the paper with the most enthusiasm for snowdrops on the planet – Joe Sharman concluded:


“They come up early in the year when nothing else is growing, so if you have the kind of brain that needs lots of things to think about, you focus in.”


“They seem to be almost infinitely variable. You collect the 10 you recognise, then you realise that you can recognise 20 and it just goes from there. I don’t think there is another group of plants quite like it.”


Pictured top – Joe Sharman (right) and the now famous £1,850 flower he has spent years cultivating.
Britain’s leading botanist by far Dr Shirley Sherwood OBE – the widow of the late buccaneering businessman and one-time owner of hotels including the Cipriani in Venice and the Venice-Simplon Orient Express train service also James Sherwood – is a noted enthusiast on the subject of snowdrops. In December 2021, this delightful lady took to YouTube to discuss a painting of the flowers by Susan Ogilvy and commented: “I love snowdrops. I have lots in my garden and we have a very particularly version of the snowdrop. Whole groups of people, clubs of people who like snowdrops and grow every single kind they can think of. I think there are many, many varieties and of course there are wild snowdrops too.” Of her painting, she endearingly declared: “This is a lovely painting and it justifiably is one of the favourite ones in my collection.”
Snowdrop 1
Speaking to the ‘Daily Mail’ yesterday, gardening writer Val Bourne remarked of the bulb sold of eBay: “[It’ll] go under the knife. They’ll cut it into 20 pieces and start selling individual plants. They’ll get their money back in three or four years. It’s a mad hobby.” Going further previously, Mr Sharman commented: “Security is a big problem. I know people who have opened their gardens and had everything stolen. I don’t open my garden or nursery. But stealing snowdrops is like stealing a Van Gogh. If it’s rare, all the galanthophiles will know who propagated it and where it was stolen from.” In 2019, two men were arrested for stealing 13,000 bulbs from the Walsingham Estate in Norfolk and amongst famous collectors are Lord and Lady Heseltine. The former Deputy Prime Minister under John Major has accumulated over 700 varieties at Thenford House in Northamptoshire in his “garden of major importance.” Whether they have the variety named ‘John’s Y-Fronts’ is unknown.
Mount Spil Nature Park
Anyone who picks an endemic variety of the plant in the national park will be fined £5,954 ($8,070, €7,113 or درهم29,600, 110,000 Turkish Lira) according to a report published in the ‘Hurriyet Daily News’ in February 2022. The fine has risen from £4,330 ($5,870, €5,174 or درهم21,600, 110,000 Turkish Lira) last year and of why, Halil Ernalçacı, the head of Mount Spil Nature Park, told the paper: “Our visitors should be cautious when they walk in the park. They should look for where they take their steps.”
Edward Augustus Bowles botanist snowdrop
Artist, botanist and horticulturist Edward Augustus Bowles (1865 – 1954) of Myddleton House, Enfield, London was a well known “snowdrop enthusiast.” In January 2013, the blog ‘Plant Heritage’ delved into his connections to the flower after visiting a snowdrop sale at his former home.

Types of Snowdrops

Snowdrops bloom from September through to March and peak in January and February. Amongst the many types – there are in excess of 1,700 in the collection of Joe Sharman alone – are:


Galanthus ‘Dionysus’

Named after the god of the grape harvest, winemaking, orchards and fruit.


Galanthus ‘Elwesii”

Named after H. J. Elwes, an English plant collector who found the original plants in Turkey. Its leaves “neatly fold inside the other” and its “flowers have two green spots on the inner petals, which sometimes fuse together.”


Galanthus ‘Fly Fishing’

Features a “long, slender pedicel (stalk) that looks like a fishing rod.”


Galanthus ‘Golden Fleece’

Joe Sharman spent 18 years developing this and sold a bulb of this variety for £1,390 ($1,884, €1,661 or درهم6,920).


Galanthus ‘Golden Tears’

A new variety and record breaker in terms of the £1,850 ($2,508, €2,210 or درهم9,210) price Joe Sharman sold it for, this variety features a “narrow-flowered yellow pterugiform with a very large mark and bright yellow ovary” and is noted as “very beautiful and distinct” and “exceptionally vigorous.”


Galanthus ‘Ivy Cottage Corporal’

“Features two green Vs resembling a corporal’s stripes.”


Galanthus nivalis ‘Norfolk Blonde’

Rather like a blonde bimbo, this snowdrop features “pale leaves and pale yellow flowers” and has a “long ovary” also.


Galanthus ‘Ophelia’

Named after Shakespeare’s tragic young noblewoman of Denmark who ends up in a state of madness that ultimately leads to her drowning.


Galanthus ‘Nothing Special’

Modestly named though lauded by Joe Sharman as “one of the best forms I have selected,” this “very clean white and wonderfully scented” snowdrop is supposedly “vigorous” also.


Galanthus ‘Primrose Warburg’

Described as a “dainty snowdrop with yellowish leaves” and named after the “legendary galanthophile Primrose Warburg.”


Galanthus ‘Trumps’

Described as having “an elegant flaring pagoda shape” and thankfully has nothing to do with the 45th POTUS of the same name.


Galanthus ‘Wendy’s Gold’

Described as “far more vigorous than [other] yellows.”


Galanthus ‘John’s Y-Fronts’

This variant is described as “small, late, neat, single with a very clearly Y-shaped mark on inner.” It has grey leaves. Could it’s name have been inspired by the former British Prime Minister John Major’s “underpant episode” with Edwina Currie where he allegedly tucked his shirt into his allegedly grey Y-fronts?


Matthew Steeples
Matthew Steeples
A graduate of the London School of Economics, Matthew Steeples is a writer and marketing consultant. He conceived The Steeple Times as a media arena to fill the void between the Mail Online, The Huffington Post and such organs as the New York Social Diary in 2012.


  1. Good to have a positive thing to “Awww” over. Everything else is so ruddy depressing these days.

    Another prayer for the Queen please, everyone.


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