If I had a pound for every time I’ve read that snowdrops are ‘a sign that spring is just around the corner’, I’d have saved up quite a kitty by now. Everyone’s familiar with these beautiful little flowers so it’s hard to avoid the clichés, but they’re clichés because they’re true! There really isn’t anything more uplifting after months of dark nights and freezing weather than seeing those slender shoots pushing upwards through frosty soil, giving gardeners visible hope that an exciting new growing season is not too far away.
Although snowdrops look delicate, these bulbs are tough with a capital T. While everything around them is dormant, they spend winter steadily developing, hidden below the surface of the soil. Then all of a sudden their shoots appear, bolt upright at first and then gradually bending over as the white flower is formed until they’re dangling daintily.
But it’s remarkable how different snowdrops can be; some dangle more than others, and have longer pedicels (the thin bit that connects the flower to the stem), while others have different markings on the inner and outer petals. Those petals can be shorter or longer, flared out or closed and in some varieties there are more of them, giving us double flowers with inner layers like a petticoat. There are even collectors who seek out all the different varieties (there are hundreds!). It can develop into quite an obsession and these collectors, called galanthophiles (snowdrops’ Latin name is galanthus), pay the flowers so much attention they can spot miniscule differences that would probably pass most of us by. The most coveted bulbs can also demand quite a price, some special bulbs fetching hundreds of pounds – each!
But for most of us, the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis (shown above), is just as special and one of the best for creating natural-looking drifts below trees and shrubs. Unlike other spring-flowering bulbs, which are planted as dry bulbs in autumn, snowdrops are best planted in spring when they’re in leaf – known as ‘in the green’. Look out for them in February and March and plant in small clumps of a couple of bulbs. They’ll soon clump up to give a beautiful display, and your very own annual sign that spring is definitely on the way.
MUST-BUY PLANTS… Muscari
Floppy grass-like leaves emerge in autumn before the mid-blue spires of flowers appear in mid-spring. Will spread itself around, quite invasively.
Muscari Valerie Finnis
Much better behaved and with spires of flowers in a lovely shade of pale baby blue. A muscari you won’t regret planting!
- Garden News magazine is packed full of practical tips, inspiration, plant and product news and great money-saving offers! On sale every Tuesday, or subscribe and try your first four issues for just £1. Visit Great magazines (t&cs apply)
- More gardening tips plus everything you need at 50+, in Yours Magazine - join us for a friendly catch up every fortnight!