Spring’s just around the corner – the snowdrops are about to bloom.
There are many different varieties of these beautiful little flowers available. Some varieties are so rare they can go for £50 pounds a bulb!
Snowdrop fanciers – or galanthophiles as they’re known – will hate us for saying so, but we’re not that particular about the subtle markings that distinguish one variety from another. Good vigour, the ability to spread quickly and the length of the flowering season are more important.
Galanthus nivalis, the common snowdrop, was brought to the UK by the Romans. It has a double-flowered sister, ‘Flore Pleno’, and both are reliable and easy to obtain. Both are ideal for naturalising in grass or planting in large drifts under deciduous trees. They look fantastic combined with crocuses. For a natural look literally drop fistfuls from waist height and plant where they fall.
Tall Galanthus elwesii, from Turkey, and the early varieties ‘Atkinsii’ and ‘James Backhouse’ are also suitable for naturalising. All spread quickly and flower with little fuss.
Does a scented snowdrop sound appealing? Try ‘Sam Arnott’, with its big bold honey fragrance. The variety ‘Straffan’ is equally vigorous and sweetly scented but blooms a month later from late February onwards. Grow both in containers or down front in beds and borders so it’s easy to catch a wonderful whiff!
Huge flowers come with early ‘John Gray’, ‘Galatea’ and the stunning ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’; these can easily hold prime position as this time of year amongst short perennials in mixed borders.
Unlike most spring bulbs snowdrops don’t establish well when planted as dry bulbs in the autumn. It’s better to buy them after they’ve finished flowering when they’re still in leaf. These are known as being “in the green”. Plant them 10cm (4in) deep leaving the leaf tips showing just above the soil surface.
Snowdrops hate dry soils and full sun, so a semi-shady site is necessary. Dig in a little compost or leaf mould when planting but never use fresh raw manure. Good drainage is essential, so if it’s really heavy clay that isn’t easily improved with grit perhaps grow them in troughs and containers. Snowdrops do particularly well on chalk as a slightly alkaline soil suits them best.
Once established, snowdrops need little tender-loving-care and the vigorous varieties will spread quickly, each bulb producing another one every year. To encourage more dig up each clump after flowering and roughly divide them every 2-3 years.