Plants - Flower Bulbs

Welcome spring snowdrops

Laura Langston
Photography by
Burt Klassen

Overlooked and oft-forgotten, these elegant early-bloomers have found their white knight

If there were a sign on the back of Richard Hebda's blue pickup, it would probably read Driver Slows for Bulbs but Stops for Snowdrops.

By day, Richard is the curator of botany and earth history at Victoria's Royal British Columbia Museum, and adjunct associate professor in the department of biology at the University of Victoria. But during off hours, the 54-year-old is a “galanthophile”: a self-confessed—and obsessed—lover of snowdrops (Galanthus spp.). Richard's passion for bulbs, and snowdrops in particular, has led him to rescue clumps from ditches, pulling discarded snowdrops from their slimy graves near his home on the outskirts of Victoria.

“Snowdrops are quintessentially elegant and simple,” says Richard. “And not only are they hardy, but they bloom at a time of year when you're craving flowers.”

Richard believes they're woefully under-appreciated, as snowdrops often go unobserved, quietly naturalizing in forgotten corners. But that's something he's setting out to change.

He grows thousands of snowdrops under trees, along hedges and fences, and in eight raised beds on his five-acre property. (He also grows thousands of other bulbs, including tulips and crocuses, as well as a wide variety of fruit-everything from figs and currants to apples and plums.)

Richard can trace his passion for bulbs back to his childhood. Born in Hamilton, Ontario, he grew up on a nine-acre fruit farm on the Niagara Peninsula. “Every year, these beautiful red tulips, white narcissi and blue irises would appear like a surprise in the orchard, and it always fascinated me,” he says. When Richard was 18, however, his family moved back to Hamilton so he and his siblings could attend university, a move he describes as traumatic—his ancestral roots are rural and he feels a strong tie to the land. But planting bulbs in his city garden helped him adjust, just as it did when he left Ontario and moved west in 1980, finding the lure of the mountains and ocean too powerful to resist. He had also concluded that B.C. offered the best climate in which to garden.


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