Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival

 In Bulbous plants, Bulbs, Shows and Festivals

Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival is an annual event. It’s held every February. Snowdrops are at their best in February!

This was our first visit to the Festival. We thoroughly enjoyed it. The poor weather didn’t dampen our spirits.

The Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival is a relatively new event and has been running for about 5 years and it’s beginning to build up a head of steam!

Their very informative website is here.

Why Shepton Mallet?

Snowdrops are not synonymous with the town of Shepton Mallet. Perhaps Showering’s Cider or that luxury brand Mulberry would be.

The wealth generated by farming sheep made Shepton Mallet the place it is today.

I’ve discovered that the real reason for the Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival is to celebrate a previous resident. He was a fanatical grower and hybridizer of this early flowering bulb.

James Allen

Born in 1830 just outside Shepton Mallet, James Allen had a passion for growing snowdrops and could rightly have been called a ‘Galanthophile’!

If you haven’t come across that term before then see an explanation from the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh here. A derogatory term for snowdrop lovers is galanthobores and that’s explained too!

Anyway back to that great man  James Allen! He was the first to hybridize these beautiful hardy early bloomers. It is said that he named and introduced a hundred varieties.

Sadly very few of his varieties remain today. Apparently he lost many due to grey mold [Botrytis sp.] and to an attack of narcissus fly.

Two great varieties remain in cultivation. I’m told that they are in very short supply.

I happen to have one of them in my garden. It’s called ‘Merlin’. Around 10 years ago I bought a pot containing just one bulb and it has gradually spread! Now I have a large patch of over 150 bulbs!

snowdrop, Galanthus Merlin

Merlin snowdrops in my garden


snowdrop, Galanthus Merlin

Detail of Merlin in my garden











James Allen’s ‘Magnet’ snowdrop

‘Merlin’ is a great snowdrop.

James Allen’s other variety that’s well worth growing is called ‘Magnet’. I came home with a pot of that variety!

When I visited the Festival Great Britain had just been battered by two great storms.

The flowers of Magnet snowdrop looked battered too! I’m expecting it to settle in well in my garden as the rest of the plant looks very strong. I’m hoping that just like ‘Merlin’ it will increase in number and form a carpet of blooms.

I’ve planted most of my snowdrops among my hellebore collection. You can read more about these lovely plants here.





Specialist nurseries

I was delighted that I could buy uncommon snowdrop plants at Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival.

Several nurseries had stalls in St Paul’s School Hall selling masses of named snowdrop varieties. Avon Bulbs was there and the owners of Elworthy Cottage Garden [see the link to my blog on a visit to this great snowdrop collection at the bottom of this page].

But it wasn’t only snowdrops on offer since Tynings Plants were also there with many of their well grown climbing plants.

In the centre of the hall I spotted a fabulously decorated cake! It was part of a fund raising raffle. The intricate details of snowdrops on this cake was simply breathtaking!

iced cake

Iced snowdrop cake

iced snowdrop cake detail

Iced snowdrop cake detail










On the hall stage was a delightful display of snowdrops framed by wooden boxes. See my title image.

It’s a community event

The way that this festival appeared to bring the community together impressed me.

Sheets of white snowdrops line the verges, they’re planted on the roundabouts, displayed in shop windows and potted up in containers wherever you go!

The garden club, local businesses, town council and Mendip District Council are all involved. The enthusiasm of the team running the event shines through!

Shepton Mallet Market Place Cross

Volunteer Royston Cox at the Market Place

Anna's Attic shop front

Shop fronts [Anna’s Attic] decorated










This festival is truly a community event.

Highfield House

James Allen was born outside of the town of Shepton Mallet.  James lived for much of his life close to the town centre in Highfield House. This building now forms part of the Town Council offices.

My wife and I visited the house. We tried to imagine this great snowdrop breeder living there. Just to left of the front door I spotted a few of his Merlin snowdrops just finishing blooming!

Highfield House, Shepton Mallet

James Allen’s Highfield House



Snowdrop themed sculptures were scattered around the town. The stormy weather meant that sadly we only saw a few.

One that did impress us was appropriately made from willow [the Somerset Levels are nearby] and depicted a row of large snowdrops.

willow snowdrop sculptures on a blue fence

Large willow snowdrops



Art, poetry and photography

We discovered lots of crafts and art in the very welcome warmth of the church of St Peter and St Paul near the town centre.

Lovely photographs were projected onto a screen allowing us a moment to sit, warm up and be inspired to see more outside!


James Allen Memorial Lecture

A feature of the Festival is to invite a speaker to give the James Allen Annual Lecture.

This year the speaker was Tim Upton from the Royal Horticultural Society. Tim’s talk was entitled “Plants, People and Places – the work of the RHS”.

We had to miss this lecture as we had our two flatcoated retriever dogs with us. I learnt from Tim that there was a good turnout!


Unveiling the obelisk

James Allen and his relatives are buried in Shepton Mallet cemetery. His family grave is in a prominent place in front of the chapel of rest and overlooks the town in which he played a significant part in its history.

Unfortunately the obelisk on his grave had become unsafe and was removed several years ago. Fortunately sufficient funds have been raised to replace this obelisk and this was unveiled on Sunday after lunch.

The eminent garden designer Dan Pearson unveiled the new obelisk in his new role as the Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival Patron.

Dan Pearson unveiling an obelisk in front of a chapel

Dan Pearson unveils the new obelisk

He admitted that he is an amateur Galanthophile and has a collection of around 70 varieties!

Sam Lee and Amelia Crowley-Roth designed and engraved the new obelisk. Andy James carved the lettering. The support of Mendip District Council made the project possible.






carved stone obelisk detail

Carved snowdrops, Scilla and Anemone flowers on obelisk base.

Dan Pearson

Garden Designer and Festival Patron Dan Pearson










More about snowdrops

Elworthy Cottage on the edge of Dartmoor has a great collection of snowdrops. Read about my visit to see it here.

Chelsea Physic Garden holds a snowdrop festival and I’ve written about seeing that too.

Close to where I live there’s a great cottage garden that opens to the public to show off and sell a superb collection of snowdrops. East Lambrook Garden is a partner garden to the Festival and I’ve written about my visit in February 2020 to see it here.



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