In high demand Why so many people collect snowdrops
Oberkassel · Snowdrops are popular. Many people grow, trade or sell them. One fan is Michael Dreisvogt. He runs the arboretum in Bonn-Oberkassel, where we visited him.
Michael Dreisvogt has a few labels for himself including nature lover and plant freak. But one describes him best: "In English they have the concept of the plantsman. I feel it very well describes my all-embracing interest in plants. And that was always my dream job," says Dreisvogt, who runs the Park Härle Arboretum in Bonn-Oberkassel. That "plantsman" is an English word also underlines another of the 51-year-old's passions: He loves English gardens and that is where he learned a lot about plants. For example, he was given his first snowdrop there, and this was the beginning of his passion for the little plant. Today, he collects the harbingers of spring in Härle Park and is one of thousands of collectors worldwide. A community of growers, gardeners and private individuals has developed around the snowdrop.
Dreisvogt is standing in his park and looking over the many white splashes of colour peeking out between the brown fallen leaves of the trees. The white flowers have the scent of honey. Dreisvogt is wearing brown shoes and a brown-green jacket. With his dark tweed cap and corduroy collar, he resembles the stereotypical Englishman. He repeatedly mentions his love of Great Britain and tells of numerous trips to the country. His first was at the age of 19. "In a book I discovered a plant that didn't exist in Germany. So I asked my father if we could go to England," Dreisvogt recalls. The one-week trip shortly after graduating from high school shaped him for life. He realised that he wanted to work in nature and create plants "aesthetically beautiful" in a park or garden.
Twenty years later, Dreisvogt has 400 varieties of snowdrops.
Today, more than 400 different snowdrops grow in the arboretum. Dreisvogt is pleased that after 20 years of work many of the plants are now in bloom. "You need a lot of patience," he says. He has plenty of that for propagating the flowers and planting them in the right places. "But I don't have enough patience to breed them," he says, laughing. He is very impressed when nurseries and especially private individuals breed new varieties. " New varieties are named almost every day during the snowdrop season," Dreisvogt explains. There are several thousand worldwide, but it is difficult to state an exact number because of the daily new arrivals.
Just as others collect stamps, Dreisvogt has accumulated snowdrops over the years. But why this particular plant?
"Snowdrops are simply incredibly graceful plants. Those hanging blossoms, that delicacy. And of course, there are other beautiful flowers in spring. But somehow the snowdrop is ultimately the perfect plant for me," explains the Bonn native. It also plays a big role that the white flowers come out of the ground as early as February. "If the snowdrops were to grow between dahlias and roses, they would probably not survive," the expert suspects. The bright white colour brings light into the dark season, he says. And the hype about the plant has only arisen because the snowdrop is one of the first flowers of the year.
The Snowdrop community originated an England. "This developed from keen plant lovers in England who all had time in February. They would meet for so-called snowdrop lunches. In May, you won't find two gardeners at the same place at the same time," says Dreisvogt. They have too much to do then, so there is no time for such meetings. So the yearning for a brighter season and the spring feelings triggered by snowdrops have spawned a whole society. Dreisvogt likes this "conspiratorial community" of fans in the UK, Germany and other European countries. So he meets with private collectors who show him their gardens, goes to swap meets or visits professional nurseries that specialise in growing snowdrops.
"I got into this whole community by chance," Dreisvogt reports. He had done an internship in England, "by chance with one of the craziest collectors." Since then, snowdrops have never failed to fascinate him. He does not suffer from "galanthomania", he says. But, "I would say I am in the zone galanthophilia zone." A galanthophile is an avid collector of snowdrops. "Galanthus" is the botanical name of the plant, which is made up of the Greek words for milk and flower. For some people, however, collecting has definitely developed into a mania, says Dreisvogt: "There are already people who spend a lot of money to acquire a new snowdrop."
Snowdrop bulb sold for over 2000 euros
Depending on the variety, a snowdrop bulb can well cost several hundred euros. Last year, his friend Joe Sharman, a breeder from the UK, auctioned a bulb for about 2200 euros on Ebay.
Why are individual plants so valuable? "This was one of the first snowdrops with a yellow ovary, yellow markings and a yellow outer marking," Dreisvogt explains. Until then, this had only existed in green. In addition, there was only one bulb of this variety at that time. When the plant reproduces in subsequent years, the price will drop.
The most expensive bulb Dreisvogt himself ever bought cost about 90 euros. With prices like that, "of course you're a bit nervous," says the director of the arboretum. This is because he obviously doesn't want the plant to die. But in the meantime, he is spending less money on the flowers. He prefers to wait a few years until the prices go down or he can trade plants.
Dreisvogt was already interested in nature as a child: "My father is a great nature lover. We always had house plants, an aquarium, and later a small-scale farm with sheep. On car trips, our parents gave us the task of counting deer, rabbits and so on." Today Dreisvogt does this with his own children. "On the drive to Emden, we saw 102 deer. We could have watched films for four hours. But animals are more exciting," says Dreisvogt.
He finds it "incredibly fascinating" that there is always something new in his line of work. "By observing nature, you discover special moments and fascinating things happen that you can't always explain," he says. That's how he always learns something new. He is "visual person" and likes to see beautiful things. "There is a beauty in nature." For example, his spirits are lifted when sunbeams hit his plants or when he hears an eagle owl calling out in the park. "These are the little pleasures of life." He wonders how people who don't notice these things can cope. "What puts a smile on their faces? I couldn't live without these special moments," says Dreisvogt.
Dreisvogt doesn't want to lose touch with the plants
His connection to nature is intimate. He talks about his relationship with plants as if it were a human relationship. "In order not to lose contact with the plants, you really have to stay in touch with them manually. Otherwise you don't know anything about them. You have to have dug them up yourself and watched them multiply," says Dreisvogt. He doesn't manage to be in the garden eight hours a day like he used to, but his connection to the plants has to remain.
Today he spends a lot of time in the office: he does his reading, looks for new plants for the park and takes care of the administrative work. These are all tasks that have to be done, but one thing is clear to him: his place remains outside in nature. "A cash register is not as exciting as dividing a snowdrop and thinking about where to put it," he finds. He is looking forward to getting his fingernails dirty again now that spring is here. This weekend he is going to the annual snowdrop days at Knechtsteden. He is sure to discover new specimens for his collection there.
(Original text: Marie Schneider; Translation: Jean Lennox)