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Snowdrops At The Chelsea Physic Garden

February 2, 2015
by the gentle author

The Snowdrop Theatre

At the weekend, I rose early on an overcast morning and took the District Line over to West London to join the other passionate horticulturalists at the Chelsea Physic Garden at opening time on the first of the Snowdrop Days. The Garden is closed during the winter months but these special openings permit the opportunity to admire the drifts of snowdrops, supplemented by rare species on display in a Snowdrop Theatre and a sale of exotic varieties.

The snowdrops in my garden in Spitalfields have already been in flower for a couple of weeks, encouraging my anticipation of seeing those at the Physic Garden. Through the passing years, the wonder of these flowers that appear in the depths of winter, glowing white against the dark earth as the first harbingers of spring, has never dimmed for me. Yet such is my short-signtedness, I did wonder whether the differentiation of multiple varieties might be no more than academic in my case.

Fortunately, the Physic Garden has strategies to bring snowdrops to your eye level. As you come through the entrance in Swan Walk, you encounter snowdrops growing in moss balls hanging from the trees – in the Japanese style – and then you arrive at the Snowdrop Theatre where sixteen different specimens line up for your scrutiny behind a crimson proscenium. To my mind, there has always been a drama in the appearance of snowdrops emerging out of the darkness and, placed in a theatre, their natural stage presence delivers an effortless performance worthy of applause.

Once you have taken a stroll through the woodland planting upon the southern edge of the garden where clumps of snowdrops may be viewed in an approximation of their natural environment, attending by starry yellow aconites and pale-hued hellebores, you visit the marquee where dozens of varieties are lined up on a long table just waiting for you take them home and cherish them.

I paced up and down, peering over and looking closely to ascertain the precise nature of the fine distinctions between all these snowdrops. The attendants even opened the showcase that contained the most expensive varieties at thirty and sixty pounds a pop, so that I might examine them too. Yet I could not bring myself to favour any particular example over another. The differences were immaterial. I love all snowdrops equally.

Moss balls planted with snowdrops hang from the trees



Selecting snowdrops from the dozens of varieties on sale

Sir Hans Sloane leased the land for the Chelsea Physic Garden to the Society of Apothecaries in 1673

SNOWDROP DAYS run at the Chelsea Physic Garden, 66 Royal Hospital Rd, Chelsea, until Sunday 8th February from 10am-4pm – including a variety of lectures, walks & workshops with snowdrop experts.

You may also like to read about

The Auriculas of Spitalfields

Bluebells At Bow Cemetery

15 Responses leave one →
  1. February 2, 2015

    How delicious! thanks

  2. Adriaane permalink
    February 2, 2015

    Now eager to have a Japanese snowdrop ball. Lovely post: thank you.

  3. Greg Tingey permalink
    February 2, 2015

    Most snowdrops are, of course G nivalis & are “just” varieties.
    I’m very glad to see at least one other species there, though … G plicatus
    Can I recommend G elwesii too? Larger flowers, wider, blue-green leaves, usually flowere earlier, too ( Some of mine are almost finished.)
    Always a reminder, to quote Oscar:
    “Winter is but Spring sleeping”

  4. February 2, 2015

    Wonderful spring is in the air! I never knew there were so many varieties of snow drop fascinating thankyou will go see …

  5. Elizabeth cornwell permalink
    February 2, 2015

    How lovely,they are such brave little flowers.I have them out now in my garden in Northumberland.Dont know whether I would pay £50 for a bulb tho!

  6. Jacqueline Sarsby permalink
    February 2, 2015

    Thank you so much for this! I have a snowdrop farm in Devon and, like you, love the ordinary snowdrops as much as any rare variety, in fact what I love is the great swathes of white flowers in the clearings in the woods. I sell bunches of my snowdrops in Totnes and Stroud, and have been doing it for 14 years. Actually, I sold the first bunches in 1987. Picking the flowers does not harm the bulbs as long as the leaves remain, but treading on them does the damage, so I don’t encourage friends to help! But they still do.

    The Snowdrop Lady.

  7. February 2, 2015

    What a super start to the day; thank you GA.
    Ah, that delightful moss ball!

  8. February 2, 2015

    So it really is winter aconite time, and my attempt to grow them has failed yet again? Thank goodness for snowdrops.

  9. February 2, 2015

    — Spring can come! —

    Love & Peace

  10. Cornish Cockney permalink
    February 2, 2015

    Thank you for bringing Snowdrop Days to me, as I was feeling a bit guilty that I wasn’t planning on going to it this year!

  11. Pauline Taylor permalink
    February 2, 2015

    How lovely all these snowdrops are, and the aconites and hellebores too. Sadly snowdrops do not like my heavy clay soil but a genealogy researcher friend suggested that I grow them in pots as he does, and having seen all these here I must try to do that, they are so beautiful. The friend does grow the very expensive ones but I think I will start with the more common varieties, unless the lottery comes up trumps of course! I was surprised to see the hellebores on bloom as mine are still only just waking up, the plant that keeps me going in winter is the winter jasmine which is really good at keeping the spirits up in those dark dreary days.

    Thank you as always for sharing these photos.


  12. Katya permalink
    February 2, 2015

    This and your other posts on the bluebells and auriculas are just glorious! Thank you for brightening the day.

  13. February 2, 2015

    A lovely way to start the day…I especially love the kokedama hanging displays of snowdrops…a much easier way to view them up close without getting your knees muddy! Thank you for sharing your visit.

  14. February 2, 2015

    Wonderful photographs (and a date for next year’s diary for us provincial types)! You may like to know a bit more about Elwes and his snowdrop:

  15. February 22, 2015

    I love snowdrops. They are the first in the list of my favourite flowers as to me they signify that winter’s grip does not have much longer to go, even if we should still get snow!

    They never fail to bring a smile to my face and fill me with optimism for the coming of my favourite season.

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