My first experience of trying to grow something was planting snowdrop bulbs in a small delft pot. The pot lived indoors on the kitchen window sill, eagerly watched for signs of life and frequently watered. Too frequently I think as the promised green blades never appeared, there were no delicate white flowers and the soil was eventually emptied into the garden and the delft pot used for spare keys and other bits and pieces.
What did germinate, however, was a fascination with this pale and seemingly fragile flower that emerges in what often still feels like the dead of winter, weeks before more garishly coloured bulbs push the spring out of the warming earth.
While we more often associate the poet with golden daffodils, William Wordsworth was also inspired to immortalise the “chaste snowdrop, venturous harbinger of spring”. He wasn’t the only poet to write about them, even though DH Lawrence famously wanted to “trample on the snowdrops” in his longing for spring to get a move on.
How to grow snowdrops
Despite the lack of results from my first attempt to grow snowdrops inside, it isn’t all that complicated. While I think they are best enjoyed outside in their masses, you can grow them in your house or flat as long as you remember they need a prolonged exposure to the cold to thrive. Your container can be placed on a north facing window sill and should be well drained and the bulbs not allowed to dry out but certainly not saturated with water as this will cause them to rot, which was probably the fate of my first snowdrops.
As with outdoor snowdrops, once the flowers have finished, don’t be tempted to cut back the greenery. Allow them to die back in their own time as they will continue to photosynthesise and feed the goodness back into the bulb for next year’s growth.
Snowdrops are best planted in the spring when the flowers have died back and they still have this greenery. If you have an established patch in your garden then it’s a good idea to gently dig them up during this time and divide and replant the clumps as this will enable them to thrive the following year and put on an even more spectacular show for you.
In spite of not being a native species to the UK, snowdrops have been around for centuries and there are 20 wild species here and more than 2000 cultivated varieties of various shades.
Their appearance might be delicate but they are well adapted to the late winter or early spring and contain a natural form of anti-freeze that enables them to bounce back if a freezing spell makes their green shoots wilt. The outer petals will only fully open once the temperature reaches 10 degrees to enthusiastically greet their bumble bee pollinators who come out of hibernation at the same temperature, in one of nature’s great pieces of natural planning.
While for some people it’s a host of golden daffodils or a carpet of bluebells that ignite their passion for spring, for others it is snowdrops all the way. These people have become known as Galanthophiles, after the snowdrop’s Latin name Galanthus. While you may not want to travel as far and wide as some people do in order to walk in snowdrop covered gardens, there are few sights more inspiring than enjoying the flowers en masse, blanketing an otherwise bare winter woodland floor with dazzling white flowers while the air is still cold and fresh.
The first place I happened to watch spring unfurl from winter in the form of thousands of snowdrops was at Horsepasture Wood, within Hodsock Priory, in Nottinghamshire. This was a serendipitous find as I had never heard of Hodsock but was driving home from a completely different activity (would you believe we race sled dogs in the UK?) and noticed a road sign for the Hodsock Snowdrops. Obviously I didn’t want to arrive at a country house with a van full of excitable huskies so I made a return trip the next weekend.
Hodsock boasts many special snowdrop species in its collection and has many available for sale if you want to begin to create your own snowdrop walk. You can visit the snowdrops at Hodsock from February until the flowers give way to an equally dazzling display of bluebells with more information here.
The season is relatively short and there are enough beautiful and famous collections across the UK to fill those February and March weekends with sensational snowdrop walks.
The good news is, no one is probably too far away from a snowdrop walk and it’s easy to find out locations. An excellent resource listing some of the best walks can be found here.
One of the national collections of snowdrops is housed at Cambo Estate in Fife. More than 350 varieties carpet the 75 acre woodlands from the end of January until around the middle of March. The flowers have been a passion of the Erskine family for a few generations with many hours spent each year digging, dividing and replanting the snowdrops and forming a mail order business sharing their love of all things snowdrop since 1986.
You don’t have to be a passionate Galanthophile with an encyclopaedic knowledge of snowdrop varieties to enjoy a walk through the snowdrops. Even if your interest is only a passing one, it’s a perfect excuse to get yourself wrapped up and bathe in the unique surroundings of our amazing late winter woodlands.
Melanie Hannam, @Charoite Siberian Huskies
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