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