Snapdragons. They’re bold, they fill your home with lovely colour and the Romans used them to ward off witchcraft. Here’s everything you need to know about snapdragons, including how they got that weird name…
As flowers go, the snapdragon is a bit of an animal. The genus name (Antirrhinum) is Latin for ‘like a snout’, but we all call it a snapdragon because once upon a time somebody reckoned that if you squeezed the flower’s head it looked like a dragon opening its jaws and then snapping them shut.
That slightly beast-like quality may be why snapdragons have featured in so many myths and legends: the Ancient Romans and Greeks thought they warded off witchcraft (the Greek physician Descorides recommended wearing them around the neck for magical protection) and in medieval Europe they were planted around castles as an extra line of supernatural defence, just in case the walls didn’t work.
But snapdragons are not really beastly at all, of course: they’re beautiful.
‘Snapdragons’ (1921) by Australian artist Elioth Gruner. Image credit
Displaying snapdragons in your home
Snapdragon flowers are cultivated in lots of different colours, from a showy white to a brilliant yellow to a slightly risqué crimson – and they also range in height classes from ‘midget’ (6-8 inches) right up to ‘tall’ (a whopping 30-48 inches).
When we use them in our Freddie’s Flowers weekly flower deliveries, we like to combine them with something scented and some vivid complementary colours. In this delivery from April we used some phlox (to fill your home with glorious smells), along with greeny-gold solidago and a purple trachelium for a bit of soft, fluffy texture.
In Britain snapdragons have been popular since Victorian times (long before you could buy flowers online – though I’m pretty sure you could have flowers delivered to your door, by horse, of course). In fact, if a young lady received a bunch from a chap it meant a proposal wouldn’t be far behind – which is possibly why in Victoria’s Dictionary of Flowers, a snapdragon means ‘presumption’). So if you’ve got a lovely vintage vase or an Arts & Crafts-y ceramic pot to put them, they’ll look splendid.
On the other hand, there was a particular craze for breeding snapdragons in 1950s America, so if you’re going for a bit of a retro Americana look in your home, a bouquet of snapdragons will be a suitably authentic choice.
Important tip – snapdragon flowers open from the bottom to the top, so as the lower flowers at the bottom die, snip them off and this will encourage the upper flowers to grow.
Growing your own snapdragons
If you’re thinking of growing snapdragons in Britain, you can sow snapdragon seeds between January and March for a spring/summer flowering. They’re not too hard to grow if you have the space. They’re fine in any kind of garden soil and you can grow them on indoors until they reach 8 to 10 cm in height. The height of a fully grown snapdragon is pretty impressive. Snapdragons grow up to 50 inches high so you may want to grow them outdoors, lest your home starts drifting into some kind of strange flowery Game of Thrones parody.
You can plant them out once all risk of frost had passed, into large pots or straight into the ground 30cm apart. (For more detailed growing instructions, the RHS has a nice succinct step-by-step summary here.)
But if you don’t have the space (or the time) for gardening, you can always let us surprise you with a lovely bunch in one of our delivery boxes. That way you’re certain to get your snapdragons at just the right time to make your home naturally lovely… and quite free of all forms of witchcraft.
Four unlikely appearances of snapdragons in culture…
1) Van Gogh’s oddly realistic bouquet
Crimson snapdragons feature in this still life (‘Bouquet of Flowers, c1886) by none other than Vincent van Gogh. They’re jolly nice, of course, but just two years later he unleashed his expressionistic, hyperreal sunflowers and changed the history of art.
2) A dodgy movie starring Pamela Anderson
Baywatch bombshell made this Basic Instinct-style erotic thriller in 1993, but if you haven’t seen Snapdragon (1993), don’t worry, neither has anyone else. On review site Rotten Tomatoes it has a rating of 0%, based on zero reviews.
3) A trippy psychedelic song from obscure 1960s band
The almost entirely forgotten British psychedelic band Kaleidoscope included a song called Snapdragon on their trippy 1969 album Faintly Blowing. The funny thing is, it’s actually quite good…
From about the 16th to 19th centuries, snapdragon was a parlour game – deemed suitable for children, note – which involved getting a big bowl of brandy, setting it alight and then attempting to fish out flaming raisins, which you were required to extinguish in your mouth.
…and one very lovely painting
Finally, if you love snapdragons so much you want something permanent in your home, we found this gorgeous painting by Emma Carasimo over at Artfinder (those fine purveyors of affordable original artworks). You can buy it here.
‘Snapdragons’ by Emma Carasino. Image credit
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