For many gardeners the sightings of snowdrops herald the end of winter and mean that spring is not far off. Some of the snowdrops along the walk to school have already started to fade. There was a vibrant group nestled beside an old oak tree that I was eager to photograph and gazed longingly at them each time we raced by with the buggy and scooter on the school run. But there is no time to stop and admire snowdrops or even carry a camera when you are juggling a mound of bags and shouting safety instructions at the children.
Still the snowdrops are beautiful to see and one can visually distinguish them although with over 2000 varieties this is best left to the experts. In the UK, the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, can bloom any time from late December through to March. Galanthus in Latin means “milk-white flowers”. I was interested to discover that there is even a name for snowdrop lovers – Galanthophiles and I guess if there is a name for them they certainly must be more common than I expected.
Snowdrops like rich moist soil and positions that are partly in the shade. Some of the obvious differences in snowdrops can be seen in the leaves that are usually slender and grey-green for the Galanthus nivalis variety but can also be folded along the edges with a central silver stripe as in the Galanthus plicatus variety. The main differences in the flowers pertain to the green markings and in particular to their colour, number and location although the size of the flowers can also vary considerably. Deer and rodents tend not to eat snowdrops and human ingestion may lead to a mild stomach upset so please don’t put them in a salad.
The common snowdrop grows from a bulb and does not seed so requires lifting and separation approximately every 2 years to proliferate as congested bulbs will no longer flower. Bulbs can be planted either when they are dormant in autumn or shortly after flowering in spring. They do not grow well in pots. Bulbs for the more rare varieties are sort after and an avid collector bid £725 on eBay last month for a snowdrop with a yellow based flower known as Elizabeth Harrison (Galanthus woronowii).
The snowdrop has a special place in literature too:
“Beautiful Flower!” said the Sunbeams, “how graceful and delicate you are! You are the first, you are the only one! You are our love! You are the bell that rings out for summer, beautiful summer, over country and town. All the snow will melt; the cold winds will be driven away; we shall rule; all will become green, and then you will have companions, syringas, laburnums, and roses; but you are the first, so graceful, so delicate!” The Snow Drop – Hans Christian Andersen
I like the thought of snowdrops being the bells that ring out summer, makes me even happier to see them!
Vanessa Lee Thomas