I purchased The Plant Lover’s Guide to Snowdrops because I have had a recent rekindling of a romance with snowdrops. I’ve always loved them. They were one of the first flowers I learned to spot and name when I was a child. However, it wasn’t until I joined the Scottish Rock Garden Club in December 2019 that I began to look at these beautiful flowers with a new found interest.
When the book arrived I did what most of us do, I flicked through the book looking at the amazing photography. I also stopped at certain pages and had a quick skim read. I was immediately struck by how well it was written. I turned a few more pages, had another skim read, and again I was captured by the wonderful use of language the author was using. There were sentences that made me float away into a snowdrop daze, others I had to read more than once because I enjoyed the happy feelings they gave me. There is humour in the book too. My gosh, I thought, this is going to be fun. In fact, I was so convinced I had found the perfect author for me that before I even started reading the book from cover to cover, I ordered ‘Hydrangeas’ by the same author. I’m not a massive fan of Hydrangeas (but I bet I will be when I read the book), but I am a massive fan of great writing, and I knew right there and then I wanted to read more from this author.
The book starts with Naomi sharing with readers why she loves snowdrops. Like many of us she has fond childhood memories of this plant. The reader will very quickly realise Naomi knows about the power plants can have over us. They have the power to produce physical and emotional responses, whether it be a smile, a tear, hairs on the back of our neck tingling, or a memory that carries us back to a special point in time or to thoughts of a treasured loved one. Plants are magical, and the snowdrop almost gets the whole of February to itself.
The book goes on to look at designing a garden with snowdrops in mind, and to suggest some good planting partners for these flowers. I have a small garden, but even in smaller spaces there are hints, tips and information here that will help anyone thinking about introducing snowdrops into their garden, whether it be a small courtyard or a huge country estate.
This ‘Designing with the Milk Flower’ section is also where the reader is first introduced to particular pages where the author interviews various Galanthophiles (the great and the good of the snowdrop world – snowdrop experts, aficionados, and gurus). These are wonderful insights into a selection of people who have devoted time, effort, patience, and a whole lot of their plant knowledge to snowdrops. The interviews take on a sort of Desert Island Discs format. For example, how did you fall in love with snowdrops, what is your desert island snowdrop, what point in snowdrop history would you go back to, and more. Each expert is also asked the age old snowdrop question, should we plant snowdrops in the green or as dormant bulbs? There are 8 of these Galanthophile interviews throughout the book. It’s really interesting to read the personal responses to these great questions. I really enjoyed these segments. They got me thinking about what my replies might be, and what it must be like to get the opportunity to chat with these amazingly talented people about their passion for snowdrops.
The next section of the book, Understanding Snowdrops, gets to the nitty gritty of the snowdrop – it’s shape, form, colour, structure, taxonomy, species, origins, conservation, popularity, trade, price and even their theft (look, don’t touch). It’s not just paragraphs of facts you’ll find here. The author wraps those facts up in a series of enjoyable well written and fascinating stories. I found myself at the end of this section being both enlightened and entertained.
The author then provides us with A Spotter’s Guide to snowdrops. This chapter sets out Naomi’s personal snowdrop favourites. There’s something for everyone here. It begins by pointing out the features that help differentiate one snowdrop from another. Some are relatively easy to spot as different from others, and some will definitely need a closer look. There are about 80 pages of snowdrops in this chapter. The author lets us know which ones flower early or late, which are easy to grow (if they like us), and which ones would be difficult to grow even if we fell in love with them at first sight. These tricky characters are best admired in the ownership of more experienced snowdrop growers than myself. Personally, I don’t have to own the rare and the expensive. There is enough beauty in Galanthus Nivalis for me. I am satisfied enough to read the wonderfully written descriptions, admire the talented photography, and perhaps dream of meeting that particular rare or unusual snowdrop on a bright and cheerful February afternoon in an open garden full of acres of other snowdrops. I’d even be deliriously happy just seeing some of the out of my league snowdrops at a plant fair on a wet and windy day inside a village hall somewhere. The great thing is, I can open this section of the book to admire and read about this wonderful selection of snowdrops at any time of the year, rain or shine. I can also dip a little further in and purchase some of the more financially accessible varieties Naomi has identified. Although, I think that’s where all snowdrop obsessions start – we dip in by buying one or two varieties, then we go out a little deeper, and before we know it we have 10+ varieties of snowdrops and still want more.
There then follows a chapter on growing and propagating snowdrops, together with some plant pests and diseases to look out for. Many of these I hadn’t heard of before (Narcissus Smoulder – sounds nice, but isn’t, and Narcissus Eelworm – sounds big, but it’s microscopic), so I learned a lot.
The final chapter sets out where to see and where to buy snowdrops. There are recommendations of gardens to visit across the whole of the UK, and who have special snowdrop tours and stunning displays of snowdrops during the main flowering season. There are even recommendations of some gardens in Europe and in the USA. Purchasing snowdrops from a reliable and trustworthy source is also really important. The book concludes with a list of specialist snowdrop growers to contact if you are looking for a particular snowdrop variety, and of other books and organisations to contact if you were keen to take your snowdrop quest for knowledge and desire even further.
This book is a wonderful read. There is everything a newcomer and lover of snowdrops needs to satisfy their thirst for snowdrop knowledge. There is also a beautiful and elegant writing style. The reader enjoys the benefit of learning from a plant lover and talented writer who enjoys words, language and sharing their knowledge and passion for plants with others. If you like good writing and snowdrops, this is the book for you.
I’ll finish with just one example of the author’s wonderful use of language, her sense of fun, and her ability to open up the magical world of snowdrops to the curious reader. These words appear near the beginning of the book:
“If snowdrops can be compared to chocolate (from the better class of chocolatier), my offering is a selection box to tempt, intrigue, and entice. It contains old favourites, hard centres, and nutty ones. Even those of us who profess a love of caramels might, on a bold day, be tempted to try one with wasabi.”
Sublime. If that fun chocolate snowdrop analogy doesn’t tempt the snowdrop curious reader in, nothing will.
You can purchase this book, and other titles by the same author, direct from Naomi’s website: https://www.naomislade.com
The author’s other books include: An Orchard Odyssey; Dahlias, Hydrangeas, and Lilies.