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Snapdragons

Magenta snapdragon

Antirrhinum majus

I never thought I’d be a snapdragon fan. As a child I saw them every summer in my grandmother’s garden. They seemed too… familiar. When I first started gardening I was so obsessed with starting native plants that I usually ignored most of the ‘annuals’ table at every gardening center, but then, one autumn while I was looking for some color to fill in bare spots, I visited a gardening store I’d never been to before and they had rows and rows of snapdragons. And to my surprise, they were fragrant, so fruity and sweet. I had never remembered snapdragons as being scented before, and I’m sure some are more so than others.

So I bought a flat of really tall ones, in pretty pinks and deep rich magentas, and planted them informally amongst my roses. Around here snapdragons can bloom all the way through winter if cold doesn’t stick around for long. They dislike our summers, but six months of bloom (from October to March) is not bad at all!

Just seeing them in perspective in my garden suddenly made them all the more romantic and old-fashioned. Antirrhinums (also fondly known as ‘snaps’) were very popular in Victorian cutting gardens. They are native to Israel (as well as many other Mediterranean regions). Getting to know their history a bit hooked me past the usual rows and rows autumn annuals and (just as with dianthus), I went on a hunt for kinds I knew I’d never get in a store. Before I knew it I was buying seed packets of different snapdragons, trailing, short, tall.

Like many of the plants I am trying, I’m most interested in heirloom varieties or those with a story of some kind. And I’m also interested in fragrance (and why, oh why, does it seem to disappear with so many modern developments?). Even my small nursery flowers have a slight, sweet perfume to them, so it makes me want to hunt down the true snapdragon fragrance. I tried four different kinds from seed in the fall but they have been my only seed failures so far. Many of them failed to germinate, and those that did grew sooo sloooowly.

But in the meantime I was pleasantly surprised by the springing up of all those fall-planted snapdragons. Now I know, that like violas or alyssum or any of those cool-season plants you see around here, fall is the best time to plant them. They bloom on and off all winter but even better, grow 5 times their original size only to put on a fantastic show in spring. Yes, you can buy snapdragons in March but you’ll have such a puny and short life of them. Plan ahead for next fall!