Have you got galanthomania?
You can’t see it, feel it or get medication to treat it, but this is a very real condition that affects an increasing number of gardeners and it’s caused by the humble snowdrop or, to give it its proper Latin name, Galanthus.
Those who go on to develop full-bloom symptoms are usually known as galanthophiles, so I guess the condition should really be referred to as galanthophilia, but I prefer to use the term galanthomania in homage to those who suffered in a similar, but more costly way, most particularly in 1636-37.
Then, during what has come to be called the Dutch Golden Age, it was tulipomania that gripped the Netherlands as new species and varieties of tulips were received from Turkey and eventually bred in Holland. As seeds of tulips then took in excess of seven years to produce bulbs of flowering size, and it couldn’t be guaranteed what they would end up looking like, this fuelled speculation in a horticultural futures market the like of which had never been seen before. Traders signed contracts for the outcomes and while tulips continued to increase in popularity such investments proved lucrative. Prices for single bulbs soared – one particularly rare tulip which cost around 1,000 guilders in the 1620s was valued at 5,500 guilders by the start of 1637 when some contracts reached 20 times their valuation just three months earlier. But in February of that year, the trading bubble burst and prices crashed, taking the Dutch economy with it to cause a severe recession that lasted many years and put tulipomania firmly in the history books.
So what about galanthomania? Thankfully speculation on these even more diminutive spring bulbs isn’t linked to the stock market, but trade continues at a brisk pace, particularly on eBay. It seems as though last year’s record of £1,390 for a single bulb won’t be broken this season; the variety in question, Galanthus plicatus ‘Golden Fleece’, was the result of years of breeding to produce flowers whose white petals flare out rather than in, and which are distinctively marked with golden splodges. In 2015, when these bulbs were as rare as hens’ teeth, bidding was fast and furious up to the eye-watering amount; this year, bulbs have sold at around £750 for the same variety. I guess it is the same with anything new or novel, where people are prepared to pay a huge amount of money to share in the rarity; but already they’re already on the lookout for the next new thing.
There aren’t many galanthophiles, however, that have the resources to splash out on the latest varieties. Thankfully the majority are content simply to make collections of their own, less costly, favourites. They also take delight in visiting the collections of others, and to view and discuss the minutiae of different markings, petal arrangement, flower stalk, leaves and proportions.
Finally, that brings me on to the tell-tale symptoms that denote someone with galanthomania – whether it is early onset or they’ve had it for many years: the condition causes the sufferer to bend at the waist, stick their bottom in the air and reach out to tilt the flowers of snowdrops up for inspection. Should you hear them let out an appreciative sigh, however simple the ‘drop’, then your diagnosis will be complete. And if, like me, you recognise any of these symptoms in yourself, then don’t despair; I’ve found the anticipation of the snowdrop season is one of the best ways to beat the winter blues and set yourself up for the delights of the growing season to come.