We’ve received a letter from Sylvia on a bulb I know very little about – snowdrops. And it explains why my few spasmodic attempts to grow them have failed.
Snowdrops are a common flower in the UK; I don’t mean the hundreds of expensive varieties with very little difference, that galanthophiles (collectors of snowdrops) love. I mean our single snowdrop Galanthus nivalis, which is found in hedgerows, woods, and gardens. Apparently snowdrops were introduced to Britain in the dim and distant past and naturalised clumps are a sign that there has been occupation at sometime in the last 1,000 years (more or less depending on what you are reading).
My first memory of snowdrops is on our farm, where I lived as a child, the wood on a small hill was covered in snowdrops. I wonder who lived there and when – no sign of occupation now. Snowdrops will always conjure up the memory of my childhood and that wood, now gone. One of the owners after us, dug them up and sold them! One day I will go back to see if just a few survived, you never know, snowdrops are survivors. Snowdrops increase by seed as well as producing new bulbs as offsets which is why they spread very gently over time.
Fast forward a lot of years to my own garden. I buy snowdrops ‘in the green’ at this time of year, they are dug from the field and posted, this way the bulbs do not dry out. I am not sure why you can buy dry bulbs because their success rate if very low, less than 10% in my experience. The galanthophiles like to transplant in June after the leaves have died down. I do find that bulbs take a while to settle, the first year after planting I will get a few flowers, but the year after the clumps will start expanding.
They like shade and moist soil, which is why they are often found in woodland. They also thrive in woodlands because they don’t get disturbed. I find they don’t like being moved (although I have seen lots of advice to divide them each year), so I am careful where I plant them – I don’t want to dig them up each year. I have snowdrops under a shrub, where they are planted with hellebores and pulmonaria and either side of a new (2008/9) path. On one side I put all the snowdrops I had to move when we took a hedge out, these are flowering sparsely this year and on the other side of the path I have just planted 100 bulbs.
I have one other variety of snowdrop, the double form Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Flore Pleno’. These are planted under a small weeping willow, Salix caprea ‘Kilmarnock’, they are completely shaded in the summer, not ideal, but they manage to flower each year. The double form are lovely but do not have the memories or magic of the single form, for me anyway. These are really winter flowering coming out at the end of January just as we are often having some of our coldest weather but as the days are beginning to lengthen and the sun gets higher. They are the first to flower in the new year and they shine aainst the dark earth in my garden but they are also seen in lawns and with green leaves and ferns in the hedgerows and banks.
Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Flore Pleno’
Do you have somewhere to plan snowdrops? Somewhere cool, shady and moist – where they won’t mind the heat of summer. I think in your climate they would need to be slightly moist. Similar conditions to your moss bank, they look lovely growing out of moss! The leaves of G. nivalis are not too big, so though they are around until May, they are not obtrusive. They are happy in pots as well, this is how galanthophiles often grow theirs. I have never grown them in pots, I want them in the garden where I can see their ‘beacons of hope’ or along the roadsides where the little white flowers stand out reminding me that spring will soon be here.