Oh No! Not More Snowdrops!







OK, here we go again. I try to resist it each year, but by the end of January I succumb to white fever. But as much as I love plants and at the moment snowdrops, readers of my blog will know that I also love a story.  The story of  H.A.Greatorex, creator of so many lovely double snowdrops with Shakespearean names, is an intriguing one. He was a very private person and not much is known about him. Even his first name was a bit of a mystery. Mind you, if I was named Heyrick, I would try to keep it a secret. If you google his name,  you will be told that he was an eccentric. I suspect that non- snowdrop lovers would think it eccentric to devote many years to snowdrop breeding. I don’t think it eccentric at all, I think it is a wonderful way to spend your time.

This is what I have found about about Greatorex, or should we be familiar and call him Heyrick? He was born in 1884  in Brixton, but in 1901 the family moved to Rowneybury House in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire. This Georgian mansion house gained fame when the Beckhams bought it and did it up; I am sure in the best possible taste with a recording studio, snooker room and gym. It was known as Beckingham Place. I should think that Greatorex must be turning in his grave. The Beckhams sold it for 11.5 million.

Much information about his life is inaccurate. In his lovely book, ‘Snowdrops‘ Gunter Waldorf  said that he was a vicar who retired to Snowdrop Acre. I don’ t know where he got that from. Greatorex  was educated at Repton School in Derbyshire. He married a woman from Norfolk, Janette Tillet in 1905 in Blofield Church, Norfolk. He doesn’t seem to have had a job, he was described as a gentleman, although when he died he was described as a poultry farmer. The couple set up home in a house with land attached belonging to his in-laws in Witton near Brundall, Norfolk.

He reached the rank of Corporal in the First World War  and fought in France and Flanders. He was wounded in the battle of Lagnicourt and decorated for bravery.  In the Second World War he joined the Dad’s Army  type, Home Guard. I love the story about how his job was to guard the Acle Bridge. Rather than spend chilly nights guarding a bridge in the middle of Norfolk, against invaders who never came, he very sensibly spent his  evenings in the nearby Bridge Inn.

You may read that he was a recluse and lived in a railway carriage in his grounds.  In fact the railway carriage was a guest room. The actual house wasn’t exactly comfortable. It was a single storey house made of brick, timber and corrugated iron. The plumbing and  drainage were primitive.  Greatorex lived there until his death in 1954, he and was in constant furious correspondence with the council about planning permission and drains. Although there was clearly no planning permission for the house, Greatorex’s widow was allowed to live on there until her death in 1971. After that, a purchase order meant that the land was taken over by the District Council and the house was demolished. Today a small part of the large garden is looked after by the council and is now called Snowdrop Acre. Prior permission is needed to visit it. It is full of the most wonderful snowdrops and new ones are still being found there. The very expensive ‘Greenfinch’, a lovely green tipped viridapice is a recent one.

Greatorex Doubles.
The snowdrops that Greatorex called after Shakespearean heroines were created by transferring pollen from Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’ on to  flowers of Galanthus plicatus. This must have been quite a challenge as these double flowers don’t produce much pollen. The resulting snowdrops are all very pretty, but difficult to tell apart. One of the problems is that they are variable.  I have Ophelia, Titania, Desdemona,  Jaquenetta and  Hippolyta, but they all look very similar.  Lavinia, probably named after his mother is very similar too. I have  found  that Hippolyta is later than the others and is still in tight bud at the moment. Anyway, have a look at these and tell me if you can tell them apart.

Galanthus 'Jaquenetta'

Galanthus ‘Jaquenetta’

Galanthus 'Desdemona'

Galanthus ‘Desdemona’

Galanthus 'Cordelia'

Galanthus ‘Cordelia’


Whoops, lost the label.

Whoops, lost the label. Ophelia?

One of the earlier ones, that is not a Shakesperean heroine is Dionysius. This was a great favourite of Greatorex. He also had one called  Poseidon;  maybe he was trying to create a series of gods as well as tragic heroines.  Having said how alike they are, I do have a favourite. It is a  Washfield Titania which came from Graham Gough who used to work at the wonderful Washfield Nursery. This is tall, elegant and the flowers are beautifully neat.

Galantus 'Washfiled Titania'

Galantus ‘Washfiled Titania’

All these beauties  were produced at a time when the only double available was ‘Flore Pleno’. Greatorex did not leave records of his work and  today, even experts find the snowdrops difficult to identify. In those days, there were no specialist snowdrops nurseries catering to the tastes of hordes of galanthophiles. Greatorex must have spread his snowdrops around through  fellow snowdrop collectors. I don’t suppose he made any money out of it. More recently found doubles at Snowdrop Acre have simply been given numbers. I have G71.

I don’t know why  I am compelled to collect Greatorex doubles when they are all so alike. It is the nerdy stamp collector coming out in me.  I had to slap my hand and put my purse away when I came across Lavinia and White Swan, (another Greatorex) recently.

Actually I think the very best double is Ailwyn which is perfectly formed and completely symmetrical. She also costs also at least £30  so she hasn’t appeared in my garden yet. This one was found growing at Anglesey Abbey by Richard Nutt.

Other snowdrops looking good in the garden at the moment:

Galanthus 'Trymlet'

Galanthus ‘Trymlet’

Bill Bishop has lovely long outer petals.

Galanthus 'Bill Bishop'

Galanthus ‘Bill Bishop’

Greenish is, well, Greenish.

Galanthus nivalis 'Greenish'

Galanthus nivalis ‘Greenish’


Diggory is now planted in the garden and his flowers have expanded into the typical balloon shape.

Galanthus plicatus 'Diggory'

Galanthus plicatus ‘Diggory’

OK, your eyes are glazing over, maybe I will show you some more snowdrops another day. If you can bear it.

Nothing to do with snowdrops, but I have to show you the latest addition to the family.  My daughter and her husband have just acquired this little darling. He is an Italian Spinone called Hector. He is absolutely adorable and I expect he will be cropping up in this blog from time to time when he comes to help me in the garden.

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61 Responses to Oh No! Not More Snowdrops!

  1. AnnetteM says:

    Lovely snowdrops and story to go with them. I have only just started collecting snowdrops and I think you can take some of the credit for this. Your enthusiasm is very infectious. We have a wonderful snowdrop nursery near us that I hope to visit again this year to pick up a few more. I am really after a variety with yellow tops (don’t know the scientific name for it!). I look forward to seeing more of your collection.

    • Chloris says:

      I am coveting Spindlestone Surprise at the moment. It is a lovely yellow one. I have Madelaine which is pretty, but what would be wonderful is to be able to afford Golden Fleece which sold last year for £1390, the most expensive snowdrop ever. One can always dream!

  2. Sam says:

    Oh Hector looks lovely. As do all these snowdrops. I think my favourite is G ‘Cordelia’. Please can you help me identify a mystery snowdrop? There’s a photo on my latest post (at the end). Cathy at Rambling has asked a few questions about it which I’ve responded to. Perhaps between you..? Thank you 🙂

    • Chloris says:

      I’ ve had a look at your snowdrop Sam, oh dear it is tricky, there are more than 2000 varieties of snowdrops. I have trouble with the ones in my garden which have lost their labels unless they are really distinctive.

  3. Christina says:

    I enjoyed the story, I’m sure he would be amazed to know how much a single snowdrop can cost now, I won’t say “is worth” because I really don’t believe any snowdrop is worth more than say a bearded Iris (I think they are quite expensive when you consider how easy they are to divide and how quickly they grow). But having said that I’m sure if I lived somewhere that I could reliably grow snowdrops I would be like everyone else and want a collection of my own. Love the dog!

    • Chloris says:

      The trouble is that once you start you can’ t stop. I am sure that we wouldn’ t get carried away with them like this if they bloomed in June when the garden is full of other lovely things. But they do brighten up the darkest months.

  4. Thank you, Liz for the marvellous story of Greatorex and a peek into your wonderful ‘album’ of snowdrops. I enjoyed both immensely, please keep collecting and regaling us, you do it so well. I agree, an intoxicating and excellent post. I look forward to hearing more about handsome Hector, too, I’m sure you’ll have great times in the garden when he visits.

    • Chloris says:

      Do you collect snowdrops Kate? It is strangely addictive. Hector is a sweety, we are all madly in love with him.

      • Nothing choice, although your and others’ posts are tempting me! I planted a bank of nivalis with those gathered from around the garden which are a delight right now, I find them very hard to photograph which makes me admire the images I see on the blogs I follow. Plants can be infectious?

  5. rusty duck says:

    Jacquenetta I’d doing OK for me, given all that she has to put up with. I am tempted to get some more.
    Why am I thinking about Hector’s House? Showing my age 😦

  6. A wonderful tale. I am glad that your posts include such stories. I like Cordelia best too! Is the introductory picture by Beatrice?

  7. Chloris says:

    Thank you Allison. The picture is indeed by Beatrice and although Pip is no longer with us, I like to think he is still with me in the garden.

  8. Cathy says:

    Oh yes! More snowdrops! But also the lesson that we shouldn’t believe everything we read, even when written by supposed experts. Your version tells us far more about the sort of man he was – I like it! Do you have pretensions of becoming a snowdrop recluse in your old age…?! Only teasing 😉 I briefly toyed with collecting Greatorex doubles – mainly because because they were a defined and finite group – and may well do in the future but not yet as I am abstaining from purchases of snowdrop bulbs this year as well as plants. I think your lost label one is indeed Ophelia. I was interested to see your Washfield Titania as I have been trying to identify one wrongly sent to me as Washfield Warham but as a double it clearly wasn’t and I wondered if it was WT – but you say yours is tall?

  9. Angie says:

    I often wonder if there is a little bit of the eccentric tucked up inside each of us. Although I was not aware of his story, I was familiar with how they are named.
    Being a recent convert to all things snowdrop I think I drooled over the ones you’ve shared with us today.
    I could not go without passing comment on Hector – what a cutie. I’ll bet he’s a right character.

  10. Chloris says:

    Actually I like eccentric people best of all. Specially eccentric snowdrop breeders.
    Yes Hector is a cutie but as he is only 9 weeks old he is still at the chewing everything stage.

  11. croftgarden says:

    I think my favourite is Hector. We all have our enthusiasms and eccentricities and I think I’m more of an irisophile. Mind you some of the snowdrops of very attractive, but I struggle to be able to tell them apart.

    • Chloris says:

      I love irises too and roses… my enthusiasms come and go as the year goes on. At the moment it is snowdrops and hellebores because these are what make it worth going into the garden on a dismal winter day..

  12. Anna says:

    I’m always happy to read about and gaze at all things snowdrop Chloris 🙂 You have some familiar faces in your garden but also some that I don’t have. I have ‘Ailwn’ who is indeed a beauty and may have spares to share in the future. If you shop around though you will find that she is available for less than you think e.g. through Avon Bulbs. I think that I’ve seen her at more favourable prices elsewhere too so will return if I can remember where. Young Hector looks like a fine fellow.

  13. Well, I like eccentrics, dogs and Snowdrops – interesting story. Titania would be my favorite of the bulbs, I enjoyed seeing the Aucuba as well. Dogs Hector and the drawing at the top of the post, magnificent.

  14. Kris P says:

    I loved the Greatorex story. While I admire snowdrops (generally from afar, as they don’t grow well here), I admit that I find the fascination with snowdrops, which seems to be quite common in the UK, somewhat perplexing but then I expect people in many parts of the world find the fascination with succulents, to which I seem to be succumbing, equally perplexing. I guess when gardeners become enmeshed in detecting the subtle differences within a genus of plants they all fall down the rabbit hole…

    • Chloris says:

      Yes and what about your grevilleas? The trouble with a snowdrop addiction is that they are so expensive. Oh I love that image of us falling down a rabbit hole Kris. Next time I write a post a out snowdrops I shall call it Down the Rabbit Hole.

  15. Pauline says:

    Lovely to see all your doubles, I have a few but tend to concentrate on the singles with different markings. All these beautiful flowers make January and February a wonderful gardening month, otherwise I wouldn’t get out into the garden!
    Hope Hector doesn’t develop a passion for digging!

    • Chloris says:

      I do so agree Pauline. That is why you and I love hellebores and snowdrops so much. We have to have something to look at and get excited about throughout the endless winter.
      I rather suspect that Hector may develop an interest in horticulture that extends to digging. He has already given my daughter a bit of panic by sampling some euphorbia leaves. Fortunately with no ill effects.

  16. Sarah says:

    Good name, my son’s girlfriend has a very handsome and well-behaved dog called Hector. Back to the snowdrops and I’m not sure I can discern enough difference to become a collector, although I do appreciate the naming and enjoyed hearing about Greatorex. I have plenty of the common snowdrop which suits me fine and I can see the new cottage garden is awash with them too. I’ve just remembered I did buy a pot of ‘Flore Pleno’ a few years ago, I’ll have to go into the garden and see if I can spot her spreading.

    • Chloris says:

      Well there you are then, you have the beginnings of a collection. You only have to buy a few more different ones and you will be hooked and joining Snowdrops Anonymous.

  17. Brian Skeys says:

    An enjoyable story Chloris, we have benefited from eccentric plant breeders with all the lovely, different plants they have left us. I am with you enjoying snowdrops and hellebores during their season.

  18. Julie says:

    I loved your story and all of the wonderful insightful detail into Greatorex’s life. I also love your infectious enthusiasm for Snowdrops, I spent some time this week on hands and knees in our old churchyard looking at the snowdrops there, they can’t be appreciated in a hurry, maybe thats part of their charm. Hector is gorgeous, he looks so gentle and I can imagine you’ll have many happy times with him.

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Julie. That’ s exactly it; you get it. Both snowdrops and hellebores make you get on your knees looking at all the different patterns. Every one of them is gorgeous.
      Italian spinones are known for their lovely gentle natures. I think we will have lots of fun with him.

  19. I am one of your story fans too, and this one is lovely. Although fond of snowdrops I am not an enthusiast, I think Diggory is my favourite. Well almost my favourite, that award goes to Hector, who is adorable. I hope he is naughty too! 😉

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Gill. Ah, I suspect you haven’ t set foot on the slippery path and bought your first couple of snowdrops . As Kris at Lateforthegardenparty said: you just fall down the rabbit hole once you become enmeshed in finding subtle differences. There should be a Snowdrops Anonymous.

  20. Flighty says:

    A most interesting, and informative post along with lovely pictures. That first picture makes me smile. Hector sure looks like a real softie. xx

  21. You spin a wonderful tale and anyone would think Greatorex would enjoy being remembered for his bravery and plant expertise, and perhaps even for his war against bad drains. If you see Lavinia and White Swan again, I think you should get at least one, because I don’t know anyone who does more justice to snowdrops than you. Hector looks like a terrific companion, but I don’t think he’ll be good with a spade. Pruning perhaps?

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Marian. I think I might need to buy the lovely White Swan, but I have spent rather a lot on snowdrops this year.
      Hector is very young at the moment but I have a feeling he might develop a talent for digging.

  22. Annette says:

    Nice story and nice pics, Liz, maybe you’d have to become eccentric with this name sounding like a dinosaur 😉

  23. hoehoegrow says:

    I am sad to say that I am a complete philistine, and (I’d better whisper this bit …) snowdrops leave me cold. I have tried and tried but I just don’t get it. I know I am missing out on excitement, history and perhaps something very special in the gardening year, but I can’t relate to them. Now Hector, on the other hand, is a most gorgeous pup. Spinones are lovely dogs. No doubt he will help you with the digging ?

  24. Chloris says:

    And very sensible too, Jane, it will save you a lot of money if you can remain aloof to the insidious charm of the snowdrop. And heartache too, when a special ( and expensive) one disappears completely. It’ s always the expensive ones that mysteriously die.

  25. bittster says:

    I suppose if you are going about admitting to a case of white fever I might as well admit to the same. This of course comes as no surprise to you since in spite of my denials you’ve already pointed out my snowdrop addiction, but rumor has it women enjoy hearing men admit they are wrong… so there you have it.
    I love your collection and admire your enthusiasm for Greatorex and his doubles. Nice that they are doing so well in the garden and I hope someday I can boast just as lovely a clump. I may even admit to adding a few new ones since last spring, that of course will have to wait just a little longer as spring is still a few weeks off for us.
    Glad to see the newest addition to the family. Quite a handsome fellow!

    • Chloris says:

      I suppose we don’ t like to admit to being galanthophiles because we know that people who don’ t share our passion look upon us as total anaraks. Do you have that word in America to describe a complete nerd? You haven’ t seen all my collection, I thought I might lose followers if I started showing them all. I might casually slip in a few more in another post. I’ m looking forward to seeing yours and finding out what new ones you have acquired.

      • bittster says:

        No anaraks here, the word is completely new to me. Galanthophiles are also few and far between, so a collection of small white winter blooming flowers is barely noticed and the owner doesn’t even raise an eyebrow when the labels are noticed.
        I will hopefully be able to put a few photos up. My followers are a hardy bunch who don’t expect much from me to begin with, so there’s a much smaller chance of me losing their interest 🙂

  26. Cathy says:

    I love to know the background behind these plant names, and enjoyed the story today Chloris. Your snowdrops are all lovely, but I have to admit that my favourite photo is that of Hector. Adorable! Was he named after the children’s programme Hector’s House?

  27. Chloris says:

    Thank you Cathy.
    No, Hector’ s House was before their time. Son in law is Scottish and Hector is a good Scottish name. But I just looked at a YouTube of the programme and he does look like our Hector.

  28. What an extraordinary name, no wonder he was a little eccentric, I think it would be impossible not to be, saddled with that! The puppy is delightful, as are the snowdrops, and I love that new ones are still being discovered, but I am afraid that the struggle to tell the difference between the different varieties is the reason that I am sticking to our simple native and aiming for drifts. Though I know it more than possible that I will find myself succumbing to snowdrop fever in time… It seems to happen to a lot of otherwise sane people…

  29. I also love a good story, and that of Greatorex is certainly an intriguing one. I have to wonder about the origins of his last name as well. You have quite a varied selection of Snowdrop beauties.

  30. A very interesting story, Chloris. And we can never have enough pictures of Snowdrops. Thanks!

  31. Where to start? So many wonderful pictures of beautiful snowdrops.a great story about the breeder. And then a puppy!
    Fabulous post

  32. I only have a few very common snowdrops but the story about Greatorex is an interesting one. I hope the new pup doesn’t dig up your garden! My 4 are determined to dig holes across my grass and would dig a moat if they could.

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