In the Green


This time of year, when the snowdrops bloom, I always think of Bill Owens.  Bill was a remarkable man:  born in 1905 in the tiny community of Pin Hook, Texas, he was raised in poverty by his widowed mother.  His teaching at a one-room schoolhouse was all from one book, the only schoolbook his family possessed.  He learned every subject out of that volume and went on to finance his further education by hard labor such as picking cotton.  Yet Bill eventually ended up a dean at Columbia University where he headed a writing program.  When I met Bill I was an aspiring writer; he agreed to give me personal lessons, if in return I would transplant the overgrown rhododendrons that were blocking the view from his windows.

Bill became a close personal friend as well as a mentor.  After his funeral in 1990, his son offered me the wonderful gift of two clumps of snowdrops from Bill’s yard.  I moved them “in the green,” while they were actively growing, just after they flowered.  This is traditional practice with snowdrops, and though some horticulturists criticize it, saying it would be better to wait until the snowdrops go dormant, moving them in the green has worked brilliantly for me.  Indeed, when those two initial clumps expanded, my wife Suzanne lifted and divided them, while in the green and then replanted them around the garden.  Bill’s legacy is blooming all over my yard, now.

It is legacies such as this that make a garden special for me.  Plants with a history, planted according to traditional craft.  Such plantings root me into the landscape like no others.  I try to be generous with my plants, hoping that in my small way I can pass along the favor.

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Thomas Christopher

My father was a compulsive tree planter, but it was my mother who taught me the finer points of gardening.

Her homeschooling was followed by two years in the New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture, and then ten years as horticulturist at an Olmsted Brothers designed estate on the Hudson River Palisades.

I’ve worked as a horticultural journalist for 35 years, contributing to publications ranging from Martha Stewart Living to the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society and The New York Times.  My most recent book is Nature Into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill, which is a tour of the lessons to be learned from that great public garden.  I’m currently focusing on my new podcast (at which features weekly interviews with leaders of environmentally-informed gardening.

My special enthusiasms include sustainable gardening, especially sustainable lawns;  heirloom chicken breeds; and recreating vintage New England hard ciders.


Contact Tom by email


  1. Wonderful story. I transplanted by snowdrops “in the green” actually in bloom, from under fruit trees in our erstwhile orchard and transplanted them in a bed near the house where they would get sun earlier and I would get to really enjoy them everytime I passed by. There was no problem. There were out of the soil for about five minutes and never seemed to notice.

    • Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are supposed to beardy in zone 8 — so they should be okay in central Texas, though not along the Gulf Coast. After a period of growth in spring, they go dormant from summer through the following winter.

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