The Lord of the Snowdrop

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Valentin Wijnen, the Belgian “galantophil”, has a unique collection of snowdrops, the largest and most diverse in Belgium. He has more than 650 named and about 150 unnamed snowdrops in his collection. This means that almost all 21 snowdrop species are represented in his garden, along with several groups of brand new snowdrops in yellow and green colours.

Walking in the Snowdrop Empire

The snow has already melted when we arrive in Hoeselt, in Februari, in the former French town. We’re welcomed by rain and gusty winds, – the valey of Haspengouw provides of the wet climate of the precipitation, -but when we see the Snowdrop man’s house, our bad mood have gone.

Above the gate there is an inscription, says: “Grakes Heredij.” The name initially suggests that Valentin chose an English-sounding name for his English garden from this side of the Channel, but when the Lord of Snowdrop rushes to our greeting, he quickly makes it clear to us that “Grakes” (Gerard) was his grandfather’s nickname, and that where snowdrop paradise is now, was a heredij. “Heredij,” in the local dialect, means “beautiful house, well organized garden. Like this one.” -he adds, with no small pride.

-“When snowdrops come out from under the snow, I’m still as impressed as I was when I was a child.”- That’s how Mr. Valentine starts the tour. And how his passion for snowdrops arose, he says: -“My parents and I lived near vicinity of a park belonging to a monastery. There was a lot of galanthus blooming,- that’s the botanical name for snowdrops,- well, one day I dug up a few and took them home. Of course, my parents weren’t happy, but when they saw that I just couldn’t get enough of seeing the flowers, they put up with it. And that love has been going on ever since.”- My youngest daughter and I then look stealthily at each other and find that when Mr. Valentin talks about his snowdrops, he behaves like a young man in love. One thing’s for sure, his enthusiasm is perceptible. -“Snowdrops are my muse, they are the best part of the spring.” –he continues.-” I can’t help but I have a strong, excited feeling every year when these flowers appear. It’s as if the arrival of spring is ringing bells to my ears. Besides, why else would they call them snowdrops? (In German they are called Schneeglöckhen, means: Snowbells)

As we walk through his empire, we soon find out that Valentine and his wife Melanie’s romantic garden is a work of art. Everything carefully designed, divided by theme or color, with historical and decorative elements made them individual. -“I prefer the English garden style.”- Valentine notes. -“I’ve been loyal to this from the beginning.” -Well, the result of his obsession became a magnificent garden that couldn’t be more perfect.

Mr Valentine then tells us all about snowdrops and his impressive collection during our walk. Some of them have their own tribes, such as Galanthus Melanie or Galanthus Jolie, which he named after his wife. Valentine’s Day, a Galanthus nivalis, is a type of snowdrop that was discovered by Mr Valentin’s wife in their garden on February 14, 2004. This variety is the first registered, reverse pokuliform snowdrop, which means that all six flower leaves are the same. This is the most treasured place in Mr Valentin’s garden, where the most valuable and rarest types of snowdrops can be found.

Chess flower-or snake heads

-“Of the approximately 6-7 snowdrop species included in my culture, you can see nearly 300 varieties, including several natural and garden hybrids. A lot of my own kind carry my salute to my grandfather on my behalf. Grake, whose real name was Gerard Schoefs and was a postman, but he is remembered by his beautiful garden by everyone.”-Valentine says.

The garden behind the house, where there is a gorgeous blue veranda and conservatory, complete with a few garden rooms, populated with sumptuous ornaments and antiques. The shelves, the boxes are packed with all sorts of blue decorative elements, and the many accolades, awards and diplomas are also kept here by Valentin.- “Blue dominates the conservatory!”-somebody says aloud.- “That’s because it fits the bluish-gray hue of the snowdrop leaves.” -answers Melanie.- In addition to snowdrops, Christroses, Crocuses and Muscari, they are present throughout the garden, carefully labelled for all species. The “galanthophile” Valentin, the enthusiastic snowdrop collector and identifier, then pulls out a mirror to examine the snowdrop bell just in front of us. -“Because it’s kind of powerful, it’s worthy of being in the best part of the garden, among the best group. It’s still one of our best Galanthus nivalis.”-judges he his hibrid.- “This became the Galanthus Valentin’s Day as the first pterugiformes Galanthus nivalis recognized by the Dutch KNBV (Koninklijke Nederlandse Bloembollen Vereniging) Committee. The term “pterugiform” refers to the flower anatomy in which the outer petals take the shape of the inner petals. If they’re exactly the same shape, we’re talking about “perfect” pterugiform snowdrops.” -The explanation is a little bit beyond us, but we nod fervently. As we leave the garden, we see real, fanatical “galanthophiles” slipping on their knees on the wet ground to photograph the flowers. At the back of the garden there is an authentic vegetable garden and a chicken-hen house, also with photogenic chickens.

And that’s when we get to the end of our walk, thanking Mr. Valentine and his entire family for coming with us, patiently answering our questions, and for naming the flowers to get to know the members of the family by name, who, as to the real celebrities, gave their names to some sort of snowdrops. Galanthus nivalis-hatch snowdrops “Melanie S” (after his wife Melanie), Galanthus elwesii -“Senne’s Sunrise” (after his son, whose name is Senne) is a magnificent snowdrop variety, a sign that it is relatively large in stature, with a stalk up to 20-25 centimeters in height. It sprouts as early as November, and sometimes begins to flourish at the end of December. Its leaves are wide, greyish green, and the outer side of the inner shroud leaves, depending on the variant, is green at the base and tip, or only at the tip, or green all the way through. Galanthus Elwesii, “Sweet Alice” (after her mother Alice) and Galanthus nivalisRobert Wijnen” (after Valentine’s father). Finally Melanie offers us a delicious soup, with coffee and cake.

-“You always have to be sure of the style of the garden. And the most important thing is the harmony.” With this advice, says good bye Mr. Valentine. Well, I think he did it perfectly.

If you want to immerse yourself in a world that is still quite unknown in many parts of Europe and want to enchant in the realm of magnificent snowdrops, Valentin Wijnen’s garden is open to visitors, after prior arrangement!

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