Pick a Plant – Snowdrops

Here in the east of Scotland we are accustomed to long, cold winters. Snowdrops are often the first flowers we see after the turn of the year and they are always welcomed with great expectations that Spring isn’t so far away. 

Galanthus (from the Greek, gala meaning milk and anthos, flower) are easy to grow and come back bigger and better for years, provided, like all bulbs, they are allowed to recover properly.

Originally known as Candlemas Bells, because of their appearance around the 2nd of February, they were deemed an emblem of purity and were widely found in monasteries. It’s believed that monks may have brought the flower from Italy in the 15th century.

How to Grow
Snowdrops are woodland plants so they like shade and their roots kept cool. They prefer humus-rich soil that’s moist but well drained and doesn’t dry out in summer. Like all bulbs, their leaves should not be cut back after the flower has died. Instead, lift clumps every three years or so, split them apart, taking care not to damage the roots, and replant or give to friends.

To grow snowdrops indoors, your best bet is to leave them in the ground until October, when they can be lifted and planted in gritty bulb fibre with their tips just showing. Keep them in a dark, cool area and water occasionally. When the leaves begin to show, bring them into the light and continue to water lightly. Once the flowers have died back, return them to the garden. Or at least plunge the pot in the garden to keep them cool and well watered.

Snowdrops, other than the species, don’t come true from seed, but they cross pollinate if left to their own devices. To propagate specific varieties, you have to slice up a bulb and grow it in low light – a process known as twinscaling, which is usually best left to the experts.

Although it is possible to buy snowdrops as dry bulbs in packets, they are best bought in summer, when they are dormant – specialist suppliers will supply them damp-packed. Make sure they have not dried out. Buying them ‘in the green’ refers to the practice of selling them with flowers and leaves on.
Note: It is illegal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) to uproot snowdrops without the landowner’s permission.

Recommended varieties
Believe it or not, there are over 100 species and cultivars.
Galanthus nivalis, the common snowdrop, is one of the first to appear. ‘Flore Pleno’ pictured here, is the double-flowered variety.
Galanthus nivalis Scharlockii has grey-green leaves and droopy, closed flower-heads.

Galanthus plicatus is from Russia and has distinctive pleated leaves. ‘Augustus’ has chunky, textured flowers.

Galanthus reginae-olgae is from the Mediterranean area and flowers in autumn, with more open flowers and fewer leaves. It requires a dry site in partial shade.
Galanthus elwesii is originally from Turkey and is a good plant for the back of any display as it can reach 25 cm tall. It has much larger flowers, with two green marks on the inner segment of the petals and a honey scent.

As part of Homecoming Scotland, Scotland’s Gardens and Cambo Estate present the 2014 Scottish Snowdrop Festival which runs from 1 February to 16 March. It features at least 53 venues, many of which are free to visit, and between them they will display hundreds of varieties of this delicate white flower.

Another site enthusiasts might like to visit is http://www.judyssnowdrops.co.uk


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