"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Not-Quite-Spring Spring Snowflakes (2 of 2)

From “Lovesome Flowers” in The Origins of Garden Plants by John Fisher:

“[Just] as the [sixteenth] century draws to a close we meet with John Gerard, probably the most frequently quoted garden writer of his day. Gerard was born in 1545 and qualified as a Member of the Court of Assistants of Barber-Surgeons in 1595 and as Master in 1608….

“Gerard had his own garden, thought to be in Holborn, and his catalogue of plants, which listed more than a thousand species, many for the first time, is believed to have been based on those growing there at the time, that is, in 1596. The famous Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes was published in the following year….

“The descriptions which it gives of even the most commonplace plants are highly readable, and the style is confidential so that one might imagine that we are strolling alongside John Gerard, dressed for the part, four hundred years ago….

“Part of the attraction of Gerard’s writings lies in the unlooked for names given to familiar plants….
Leucojum vernum, known to botanists as Spring Snowflake, becomes the ‘Early Bulbous Stocke Gilloflower’…. Leucojum aestivum, Summer Snowflake, becomes ‘Early Sommer fooles or Somer Sottekins’.”

From “Of Bulbous Violets” in The Herball, or, Generall Historie of Plantes by John Gerard:

“The first of these bulbous Violets riseth out of the ground, with two small leaves flat and crested, of an overworn green colour, between the which riseth up a small and slender stalk of two hands high; at the top whereof cometh forth of a skinny hood a small white flower of the bigness of a Violet, compact of six leaves, three bigger, and three lesser, tipped at the points with a light green: the smaller are fashioned into the vulgar form of a heart, and prettily edged about with green; the other three leaves are longer, and sharp pointed. The whole flower hangeth down his head, by reason of the weak foot stalk whereon it groweth. The root is small, white, and bulbous.”


This is the second of two posts featuring snowflake flowers from Oakland Cemeteries gardens. The first post is Not-Quite-Spring Spring Snowflakes (1 of 2).

I had learned a little about John Gerard’s sixteenth-century book The Herball, or, Generall Historie of Plantes last year, and written about his delightful descriptions of anemone flowers as “winde-floures” (see Anemone, the Winde-Floure (1 of 2)). I hadn’t come across mentions of the book since, until today when I was searching for something to quote about our neighborhood spring snowflakes. The first quotation above was one of the things I found, which explains how Gerard referred to Leucojum vernum as “Early Bulbous Stocke Gilloflower” — the last word also written as “gillofloure” or sometimes as “gillyflower.”

Of course I had to see if I could find these references, which took a little digging because of the variations in wording or spelling among The Herball’s various editions that have been scanned as online books. But I did findeth them after an extended passage of time (!!), discovering a chapter where Gerard groups the snowflake variations, and — with illustrations — appears to include the flower we commonly call snowdrop among his categorization of “bulbous violets.” Here are three of the pages from his “Of Bulbous Violets” chapter, showing his original illustrations of these flowers, followed by the section John Fisher refers to above.

Toward the bottom of the third image you can see the Somer Sottekins, Sommer fooles, and Stocke Gilloflower that Fisher refers to. Just above that, you can also see a very early form of the plant genus Leucojum written as “leuconarcissolirion” — a blend of terms that appears to reflect an even earlier (or perhaps concocted) version of the genus name. Happily we don’t have to call it that anymore!

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Not-Quite-Spring Spring Snowflakes (1 of 2)

From “The Garden” in Hold Bright the Star: A Book of Poems by Sue McConkey:

Dreaming of springtime
she held in her mittened hand —
a single snowflake flower

From “Leucojum” in Garden Bulbs in Color by J. Horace McFarland:

“These are the Snowflakes of the early spring garden. Taller than many of our early-flowering bulbs, they grow best in small clumps, like violets. In fact, the genus name, which dates back to Theophrastus, means white violet. They were cherished in the seventeenth-century garden of John Parkinson, who considered them next in importance to the daffodils. Leucojum should not be confused with Galanthus, the Snowdrop; the former produces more abundant foliage and large flower-spikes.

Leucojums are by no means difficult to grow, and seem to do well in ordinary garden loam, preferably in full sun. Set them at least four inches deep, in well-drained soil. As with other early-flowering bulbs planted in the shrub-border, they can be left undisturbed for many years, increasing into great clumps, from which arise the dainty blooms….

“The species
Leucojum vernum is perhaps the best known, with its delicate white bells, dotted green, on twelve-inch stems. A later-flowering kind is L. aestivum, the Summer or Meadow Snowflake. Then there is a fall-flowering kind known as L. autumnale, but it is comparatively rare.”


My frequently-visited favorite historical cemetery and garden was closed for the month of January and part of February — the first extended closure in the eighteen years I’ve lived nearby. There are several large reconstruction projects going on, many of which started last summer and will continue well into the year, including repair or replacement of retaining walls and brick drainage culverts, and repaving many of the roadways. When I was able to observe some of the repair work last fall, it was fascinating to see how the it’s being done with materials that readily match what was originally put in place, including brick and stone that match that of a hundred years ago yet is still available for purchase at your friendly neighborhood hardware store — and can also be found in many residential properties (including mine!) throughout Grant Park.

This work is taking place in parallel with the construction of a new visitor center that broke ground last fall and is expected to take 18-24 months to complete. Of several articles I read about the new center, this one from Rough Draft Atlanta has the most renderings of the proposed building, including this bird’s eye view of the property…

… which shows that the spacial orientation and layout (including the landscaping behind the building) is being designed to mirror the layout of the cemetery itself…

… reminding me of three research papers I wrote years ago about how the layout of the cemetery mirrored the geographic, racial, and ethnic divisions of the city of Atlanta throughout the early years of its founding and subsequent development. The research project is one I remember well, and from it I learned a lot about how to better observe public spaces and how to consider the relationships between those spaces and the people that (historically or currently) inhabit them. It will be interesting to see if the completed visitor center and its surroundings will help provide another reflective layer to that history.

While the work continues, the cemetery reopened a couple of days ago — it was only the road paving that necessitated a temporary close-up — whenst This Photographer returned to find a variety of late winter, pre-spring flowers, including the first light yellow daffodils, some white and red quince, and the happy little snowflakes you see in the images below (and in the next post). The snowflakes had popped up in two locations: the first ones (shown in the first five photos) were emerging in a shaded area filled with pine bark and were skinny and and a bit sparse; but the rest were in a sunnier area near the property’s entrance and exhibited the more robust clusters of white flowers and clumps of dark green leaves. These are officially called Leucojum vernum — the spring snowflake — which has a summer relative called Leucojum aestivum and an autumn version (that I just learned about from the quote above) originally called Leucojum autumnale.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Snowflakes of the Southern Kind

From “Town and Country” in Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively:

“My own life in the garden has been a particular, and special, aspect of life in general: the activity, the preoccupation, to which I have retreated both in practice and in the mind when everything else permitted. Get out there and dig, weed, prune, plant…. Escape winter by swinging forward into spring, summer: maybe try those climbing French beans this year, what about a new rose, divide the irises, the leucojums are crowded — put some under the quince tree….

“The gardening self becomes a separate persona, waiting to be indulged when possible, and never entirely subdued — always noticing, appreciating, recording…. [Gardening] has this embracing quality in that it colors the way you look at the world: everything that grows, and the way in which it grows, now catches your attention; the gardening eye assesses, queries, is sometimes judgmental…. The physical world has a new eloquence.”

From “Snowdrops” in My Garden in Spring by E. A. Bowles:

“My favourite form is that known to science as Leucojum vernum, var. Vagneri, but which lies hidden in catalogues and nurseries as carpathicum. Both are larger, more robust forms than ordinary vernum, and strong bulbs give two flowers on each stem, but whereas carpathicum has yellow spots on the tips of the segments, Vagneri has inherited the family emeralds….

“It is an earlier flowering form than
vernum, and a delightful plant to grow in bold clumps on the middle slopes of the flatter portions of the rock garden. Plant it deeply and leave it alone, and learn to recognise the shining narrow leaves of its babes, and to respect them until your colony is too large for your own pleasure, and you can give it away to please others.”


It’s been a couple of years since I stumbled across batches of snowflakes to photograph; the last time I caught them in their bloomers was in March 2021 — where they were mixed in with some snowdrops, causing The Photographer a lot of confusion over the differences between snowflakes and snowdrops. I sorted that out in a post at the time — see Snowdrops and Snowflakes, Daffodils and Tulip Leaves — so this year I didn’t have to worry about that, though I did have to remind myself. This year, too, I never saw any snowdrops (only snowflakes) though I may have just missed them.

I did freshly learn that snowflakes come in a spring version (Leucojum vernum) and a summer version (Leucojum aestivum), which grows a good bit taller just to one-up the spring varieties. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen them during the summer, and I’m assuming my photos are the spring version since these typically start blooming as we head out of winter. It’s a bit tricky here in the Southeast, though, to think in terms of “blooming season” when identifying plants: in February and March the temperatures swing freely from wintery 30 degrees to summery 70s or 80s in alternating weeks, so there are often surprises that don’t quite align with “this plant blooms in spring” characterizations.

Regarding the second quotation above, you may remember E. A. Bowles as the proprietor of a lunatic asylum for wayward plants (see Winter Shapes: Corkscrew Hazel), but he was equally well-known for his garden writing. His book My Garden in Spring has an entire chapter on snowdrops, where he does what we all do: mixes them in with snowflakes both in his gardens and in his writing about them. I like his writing style — I mean, referring to young plants as “babes” is awesome! — and I thought it was interesting that in a twenty-page chapter devoted to snowdrops, he digressed into a discussion of his favorite varieties not of snowdrops, but snowflakes.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Snowdrops and Snowflakes, Daffodils and Tulip Leaves

From “The Onset of Spring” in A Garden of One’s Own by Elizabeth Lawrence:

No matter how closely you watch for the snowdrops, you never quite catch them on the way. One day the ground is bare, and the next time you look, the nodding buds are ready to open!

From “February (Winter Blooms)” in Through the Garden Gate by Elizabeth Lawrence:

English snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), called Candlemas bells, or Mary’s tapers, are the emblem of hope. They are not often seen hereabouts, as their place is taken by the snowflake, which grows so much better with us, but I have had them in my garden by the second of February or before….

“One of the stories of the garden of Eden is that it was snowing when Adam and Eve were driven out, and the Angel, touching the flakes, turned them to flowers as a sign that spring would come.

Below are five views of a snowdrop I found growing in the filtered light provided by a large maple tree, at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. I couldn’t decide if I liked the partially darkened background (in the last three shots) better than the others … so I included all five photos.

I took the photos below in the same area, thinking they, too, were a kind of snowdrop … yet imagine my surprise to discover that they aren’t.

I’ve mentioned before here that I often use a site called Plantnet Identify to help me figure out the names of various plants and flowers that I photograph. I typically use the site as a research-starter, since it takes a picture you upload and returns the names and images of possible matches, which I then chase down some googly rabbit-holes to see if I can confirm the plant’s identity. I uploaded one of the three pictures below, and here’s what Plantnet said:

Loddon-lily? Spring snowflake? — what? not a snowdrop?

Turns out many people (!!) get confused by these two plants, enough that there are articles describing how they’re different. See, for example: What is the difference between snowdrops and snowflakes? Or just remember this: snowdrop flowers have petals that look like helicopter blades with only one flower on a stem; snowflakes look like tiny bells and will often produce multiple flowers, clustered near each other, at the tip of each stem.

If you would like to learn more about the differences between these two plants, see Galanthus (the snowdrop’s plant family) and Leucojum (the snowflake’s plant family). The history and cultural references for the snowdrop, in particular, are interesting to read.

Here are the first three snowflake photos:

Here are three more snowflakes, produced with a little more grain in the images because they were nestled in a very shady spot so I used I higher ISO — which rendered the images a lot softer in focus, but not entirely unpleasant to look at. 🙂

Here are five views of one of the early daffodils I found, one of the few hardy enough to produce two large flowers during these late-winter, early-spring days. The five views were taken at decreasing focal lengths; and for the last two, I used a shallower depth of field to blur the backgrounds more but retain some of the surrounding purple, gold, and blue colors highlighted by a bit of reflected sunlight. The background colors in all five photos come from pine bark and leaves that fell around the hibernating daffodils during late fall and early winter.

Sometimes nature just likes to surprise me with its deceptively simple yet elegant forms. Here’s a batch of tulip leaves, just a few inches high, soaking in some mid-day sunlight, probably waiting a few more days to send up some blooms.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!