Known to galanthophiles the world over as the snowdrop grower with the Midas touch, the Monksilver Nursery owner came to wider acclaim when his snowdrop struck gold on eBay.
Joe Sharman suggests meeting at Monksilver, his nursery near Cambridge. It proves difficult to find, which I later discover is deliberate. The first two locals I ask have never heard of the nursery, the third advises: “Look out for a gap in the hedge.”
Through the gap, up a track and in a circle of rough grass we sit in the sun on rickety white plastic chairs. Behind us a tall swathe of meadow grass and wild honeysuckle tumble through the hedge. It is high summer, but Joe Sharman is talking snowdrops. “I established Monksilver Nursery in 1989,” he says. “But snowdrops were just a sideline while I concentrated on developing the rarer herbaceous plants. Then the herbaceous market went into decline and I decided to focus on snowdrops.”
The recent explosion of interest in snowdrops has been compared to the tulip mania that hit the Netherlands in the 17th century, when rare tulip bulbs cost more than a small house. The current vogue is partly down to Joe himself, who hit the headlines in 2015 when his Galanthus plicatus ‘Golden Fleece’ was sold on eBay for £1,390. Over the past 15 years he has been a major influence in expanding the snowdrop market and now every weekend from mid January to mid March snowdrop gardens across the country open to the public.
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