Snowdrops are the joy of the January garden with their regular, cheerful appearance and delicate white nodding heads which do more than almost any other plant to raise the spirits at this otherwise bare time of year. However, did you know that they are not just prized for their aesthetic qualities? These little bulbs are real diamonds in the rough.
The fact is bulbs of sought-after varieties command eye-popping sums. One bulb was sold on ebay a few years ago for upward of £700 and a three figure sum for a bulb is nothing unusual. Unsurprisingly, this weighty price-tag means there’s money to be had for the unscrupulous. It might sound like a “Midsommer Murders” plot line but in all honesty, snowdrop theft is really a big deal. And this is nothing new: the history books are full of reports of famous heists from various gardening exhibitions and collections.
But, the gardening world does indeed move with the times. Anti-theft methods employed by modern gardens range from the high tech – surveillance lights and cameras to the cunning such as underground cages in which to grow the bulbs and which are difficult to remove. Other, dare I say, darn right obvious precautions involve growing the plants in pots and keeping the pots under lock and key in a greenhouse somewhere. These plants are more likely to be stolen than metal garden furniture!
Steve Owen is the nurseryman charged with protecting the National Collection which is housed in a discreet part of Bedfordshire. For the past ten years or so, he’s been gathering the world’s biggest collection of snowdrops there and now boasts over 900 varieties in his care. Having suffered a couple of raids after the gardens had been opened to the public in 2012-13, he has gone high tech with CCTV and security lights. Other plants men have even gone so far as to resort to night-time patrols. Just so long as their Alsatians don’t wee on the snowdrops, I suppose.